Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 8, 2021)
While other genres come and go, the police procedural remains an eternal staple of TV series. For a new entry, we go to Fox’s Prodigal Son.
This show comes with a twist. As described by publicity, “Malcolm Bright (Tom Payne) knows how killers think and their minds work. Why? His father is Dr. Martin “The Surgeon” Whitly (Michael Sheen), a serial killer who has taken the lives of more than 20 people.”
That sounds like a provocative concept, so we’ll see if it holds up across 20 episode of Prodigal Son’s first season. This four-disc set includes all of these shows. The plot synopses come from the series’ website.
Pilot: “Criminal psychologist Malcolm Bright helps the NYPD solve crimes.”
Obviously that summary simplifies matters intensely, and the “Pilot” mainly acts as Malcolm’s “origin story”. We see how he ended up with NYPD as well as the mental issues he carries due to his family.
I went into Son because I find serial killer-related stories interesting, and a whole series based around that sounded intriguing. That remains true, though if “Pilot” sets the tone, it might become a long season.
Not that “Pilot” feels like a bad launch, as it manages some excitement. However, it relies so heavily on Malcolm’s quirks and various contrivances that 19 more episodes like this might wear thin.
Annihilator: “Bright deals with the repercussions of seeing his father for the first time in years.”
Two shows into S1 and I sense a pattern, as it appears we’ll get essentially a “serial killer of the week” format. If Son can come up with clever stories, that’ll work, and “Annihilator” manages a pretty compelling tale. It avoids some of the contrivances of “Pilot”, so hopefully we’ll get into a good groove now.
Fear Response: “Gil (Lou Diamond Phillips), Jessica (Bellamy Young) and Ainsley (Halston Sage) catch wind that Malcolm has been seeing his father again.”
After three episodes, the “killer of the week” concept seems locked and loaded, along with themes related to Malcolm’s family alluded to in that brief synopsis. I assume the latter – emphasized by Malcolm’s memories of a young girl his dad kept in a box – will continue to develop, but so far, that side seems meh. This show’s nutty murderer feels less than stellar as well.
Designer Complicity: “Malcolm’s childhood memories surface. Malcolm, Gil, Dani (Aurora Perrineau) and JT (Frank Harts) hunt for a stalker.”
The usual family melodrama seems lackluster, and the case about the stalker also doesn’t really ignite. A few clever moments arise but overall this feels like a mediocre episode.
The Trip: “Malcolm discovers a secret about Dani’s past that draws them closer together.”
Though we get the perfunctory criminal case here, “Trip” mainly explores personal relationships, with hints of romance in various domains. These don’t really come together.
All Souls and Sadists: “Malcolm focuses on the repressed memories from his childhood psyche.”
Malcolm’s family remains at the core here, though it works a bit better because we spend more time with Martin than usual. Sheen camps it up a bit but makes his scenes fun. Toss in a decent new murder case and “Souls” rebounds from a few sluggish shows.
Q&A: “Malcolm’s quest for answers about his childhood leads him to a junkyard where he faces gunfire.”
As it mixes family drama with various crimes, “Q&A” can come across as awfully contrived, even for a series like this. Nonetheless, it brings an exciting episode despite its ludicrous elements.
Family Friend: “Malcolm realizes that the suspect in the ‘Junkyard Killer’ case may have a connection to his father.’
A follow-up to “Q&A”, “Friend” disappoints to some degree. While it provides some drama, it seems a little sillier and more on the nose than its predecessor. Perhaps the absence of Sheen becomes the main negative.
Pied a Terre: “The NYPD tracks a new homicide that’s linked to an elite underground sex club.”
“Pied” benefits from a looser feel than many episodes, as it manages a somewhat lighter side at times, especially the way it depicts Malcolm’s attempts to spice up his life. The actual case seems decent but a little less intriguing.
Silent Night: “Knowing that the ‘Junkyard Killer’ was in cahoots with his father, Malcolm investigates further.”
Best known as Alfred on Gotham, Sean Pertwee offers a good guest turn here – albeit with a bad take on an American accent. “Night” manages good intrigue along with positive advancement of the season’s main plot.
Alone Time: “The FBI and NYPD band together to save Malcolm from the ‘Junkyard Killer.’”
One-on-one confrontations come to the fore here, and they add tension to the tale. With a ticking clock as well, this turns into a pretty tight episode.
Internal Affairs: “Following a catastrophic incident in the precinct, Malcolm faces an internal affairs review.”
After various big events, “Affairs” offers a bit of a wrap-up, and it uses a semi-stale approach via the investigation. Nonetheless, it turns into a frisky use of the format and manages to bring a good summary, and it takes some clever paths.
Wait & Hope: “Malcolm hunts for a killer who is mimicking homicides from one of his favorite children’s books.”
“Wait” brings gimmicky twists, as Malcolm’s failed attempts to go on vacation blend with a flamboyant new killer and a visit to Martin. These combine into a lively episode.
Eye of the Needle: “Jessica is confronted by a new killer who has a very public vendetta against the Whitlys.”
Jessica feels like a weak link for the series, as Sage comes across as too lightweight for the role. Since she plays an important part of the episode, “Eye” becomes less substantial and impactful than I’d like, and the rest doesn’t quite compensate.
Death’s Door: “The NYPD teams up with Edrisa (Keiko Agena) to go undercover at a convention of funeral directors.”
The partial emphasis on Edrisa and the black comedy of the morticians as suspects gives “Door” a spark. Toss in a good guest spot from SNL alum Ana Gasteyer and this becomesa winning show.
The Job: “A motorcycle gang robbery turns into a murder. Malcolm and old friend Vijay Chandasara (Dhruv Sing) work to find the murderer,”
The inclusion of Vijay adds a spark to the show, as the character both seems interesting and he also opens up a look at Malcolm’s past. Throw in some action and this becomes a solid episode.
Stranger Beside You: “A famous blogger’s husband is mysteriously stabbed just days after their baby is born,”
The world of “social influencers” adds an intriguing spin to “Stranger”, but the episode doesn’t explore this domain all that well. The episode feels a little more like melodrama than I’d like.
Sheherazade: “A ballet dancer (Joseph Melendez) is mysteriously poisoned. Jessica reunites with an old friend.”
As with the universe of bloggers, the realm of ballet comes with some potential twists, but the episode doesn’t do a lot with it. This becomes another decent but not great show.
The Professionals: “Malcolm and Ainsley are convinced there’s more to Nicholas Endicott (Dermot Mulroney) than meets the eye.”
With little time left in S1, “Professionals” ratchets up the drama. The introduction of a major new character so late in the season feels a bit contrived, but “Professionals” still acts as a good push toward the climax.
Like Father…: “Malcolm continues to unravel as the mystery of the girl in the box comes to a head.”
Contrived as various elements of the last few shows might be, it still becomes an exciting conclusion – and given that the entire series veers toward the ludicrous side of the street, I can’t complain too much about potentially silly plot notions. If you made it 20 episodes into Son, you agreed to go along with these stretches of logic, so don’t bail now.
Assuming you can deal with the nuttiness, “Father” ends S1 on a dynamic note. Of course, it leaves some threads hanging for S2, but it still becomes a good finale.