3 out of 5
Created by: Chris Fedak and Sam Sklaver
Covers season 1
Coming across as a lighter, less moody Hannibal, Prodigal Son is, at times, delightfully goofy, and scores with some key characters whose personalities are kept consistent and logical in a way that TV often avoids – which is obviously a plus – but then feels the need to bog down its story with a forced mystery box angle, which isn’t all that interesting. And so we’re very much split in two – when we’re spending time with eccentric NYPD profiler Malcolm Bright (Tom Payne), who has that darling fictional detective-adjacent habit of throwing himself right in the middle of deadly cases, watching him ping pong off of the straight man crew of his fellow police officers (lieutenant Lou Diamond Phillips, detective Aurora Perrineau, detective Frank Harts) while he whips up fantastical profiles from the slimmest of details – Prodigal Son is a hoot. It leans in to Bright’s weirdness almost jokingly: he’s the son of a prolific and infamous (and currently incarcerated) serial killer, ya see – played by Michael Sheen – and its given him quite a complex persona that requires meticulous eating habits and chaining himself up at night so his violent nightmares don’t have him careening around his apartment; but while the show is happy to spritz us with the gore of the case-of-the-week kills, and makes it clear that Bright’s father is quite unhinged, Bright always seems to have a smile on his face, and plainly admits to his personality flaws that require his commitment to work so he doesn’t go cukoo himself. On the other hand, when visits to his father and recurring nightmares start to trigger thoughts of some literal mystery box he opened as a kid, but of which he cannot remember the contents, the show tries to build up some simmering ‘what’s in the box’ reveal and tie it to a spoooky past with his dad and Malcolm’s repressed memories and… this bit is pretty tired. It doesn’t feel terribly important – it doesn’t feel like it will necessarily change anything once it’s resolved – and the dip in tone it requires means we’re no longer allowed to just be kinda goofy.
Sheen is great. Payne is great. The cases are wonderfully manic and Malcolm’s other assorted family members, each kooky in their own way, all form a fun recurring cast alongside the police crew. Prodigal Son, as a procedural with a dark sense of humor, is a lot of fun. But Prodigal Son as a slowburn mystery about Bright’s past is pretty dry.