Review by C.J. Bunce
British actor Michael Sheen is one of film and TV’s best actors, and he proved that again in the first episode of a new Fox mystery series, Prodigal Son. Don’t expect that comical chap from Good Omens, this is the kind of mix of the dramatic and the strange that might just net him an award or two. Although the second episode teetered some, some tight writing, quick action, and witty banter plus an engaging cast is turning out to be the recipe that may get viewers to come back for more, even if this is just a spin on the villain’s story from Silence of the Lambs.
Sheen plays The Surgeon, a serial killer who murdered 23 people before being caught. All along during his crime spree The Surgeon was being a good father to young son Malcolm. Flash forward a few decades and Malcolm (the series lead, played by another British actor, The Walking Dead’s Tom Payne) is a troubled victim of PTSD and some other maladies prompted by his unusual father, while he’s also a genius profiler of the Sherlock Holmes and House, M.D. school of sleuths. In the first episode Malcolm is fired by the FBI and hired by the NYPD, thanks to a long-time relationship with a police detective, played by Lou Diamond Phillips. Malcolm’s relationship with the detective provides some of the secrets of Malcolm’s past that unfold during the pilot episode. Malcolm is close with his sister, a broadcast journalist played by ex-crewmember of The Orville Halston Sage, and their mother (and The Surgeon’s ex-wife), is played by Bellamy Young, who primetime audiences watched grow into playing mom roles from her beginnings guest starring on every other major crime show back to Law & Order and The X-Files. Young never goes for the straightforward stuff, and there’s more than enough peppered in the initial two hours to suggest her character may have been more aware of what her husband was up to. How much and how far will certainly be what is ferreted out over the first season.
The show is led by Chris Fedek (Forever, Chuck, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow), Sam Sklaver (Deception), and master comic book-to-screen adapter Greg Berlanti. It has bits and pieces reminiscent of plenty of prior genre series: The tone of Castle, the quirky lead in Forever, and the supporting sibling relationship of Tru Calling all come to mind.
There’s definitely a level of dark to the series, and a little much on the laughing at crime scenes could stand ironing out. The series seems to be stretching while building up support characters–for one it’s trying to expand the medical examiner’s role (played by Keiko Agena) with its own spin on Sherlock’s quirky and doting Molly Hooper. But the biggest misfire so far comes in the second episode, when Malcolm seems to re-hash the backstory in case you missed the pilot, and worse: he mansplains medicine to the medical examiner, and she acts like this medical thing is new to her. The writers are also going to need to quickly get Halston Sage’s character more engaged, otherwise she’s going to be relegated to providing new crime scene sound bytes for each new episode.
The series is pressing the boundaries of what audiences will tolerate by way of real-world violence and putting Hannibal Lector types on pedestals, like it’s the gangster era again. The showrunners would be better off over the long term coaxing Sheen toward the subtle and away from making his character more and more like Jack Nicholson’s over-the-top Joker.
Keep an ear out for whether that is really Sheen listening on his headphones to Daft Punk’s soundtrack to Tron: Legacy (in which Sheen co-starred), in his cell block in the second episode.
Prodigal Son airs Monday nights on Fox.