It’s hard to pen criticism of a TV series which has had only one episode. Yet that is precisely what I will be doing with Prodigal Son.
On the surface it seems like a novel idea: a TV series about the son of a serial killer, who is a gifted yet haunted profiler.
The problems are many, however, beginning with the criminal misuse of Michael Sheen, who plays the father and was a serial killer. Sheen is a gifted actor. Take a peek at his work in Masters of Sex or Good Omens to understand what an acting juggernaut he is. In Prodigal Son he is reduced to shmarmy grinning to make him creepy.
The main character Malcolm is haunted . . . perhaps too haunted. The stereotype of the gifted yet haunted profiler is well documented by now, especially with Hannibal’s Will Graham. Malcolm is depicted taking at least half a dozen pills, suffering from night terrors, having trouble sleeping in general, potential suicidal ideation, amongst others. All of this coupled with his preoccupation with his father and murder in general. Yes, he’s haunted, but the show dove right into the deep end with Malcolm. It would have been more interesting to have Malcolm seem like he has everything together, and then, throughout the series, expose the cracks in his veritable armor as he grows closer to his father.
Next is the portrayal of “evil” via anti social personality disorder (formerly called psychopathy) and sociopathy. Evil is a nice cliche in this series: a glittering grin, a sweet looking man in a sweater, a thuggish bald white man. Evil has no name, no face. It’s just a hammy thing sent to do harm. In order to be effective, evil must have a name and a face. It must be multifaceted. It must speak with its own voice. To do otherwise is to do a disservice to victims, survivors, and to our essential humanity.
The world of the story is hammy too, screaming at you at the highest decibel. There is no subtly and it does not do any service to the plot.
Speaking of which: I think this is why Prodigal Son may be experiencing severe growing pains, and why the series, in a nutshell, is having trouble finding its footing. Fox is foolish enough to try and cram their novel idea into a humdrum police procedural. In doing so, they loose the originality and vitality of the series, and the chance to explore the characters.
I will keep watching it (I admittedly love psychological thrillers), but with reservations.