When you’re cooped up in your home for days on end, you tend to try to find activities you can do while in your humble abode. Me, I have tried making changes to my exercise routine, trying to learn a new craft and even practice my cooking skills. Ultimately, however, the draw to either play video games or watch TV becomes just a little too strong and it overpowers your will to do something constructive with your time.
On one of these bouts, I came across a CBS show called Prodigal Son. It looked interesting but the thing that really drew me in was that it had Michael Sheen as one of the cast members. I loved him in Good Omens a bunch. He was the angel there but, in Prodigal Son, he played Dr. Martin Whitly, who is also known as The Surgeon, a serial killer who was eventually caught. Well, that’s a change… but it’s Martin Sheen! I just had to see the entire show.
And so I did. I did eventually finish the entire season after a good while and here’s my review of the show.
Prodigal Son actually follows the exploits of Malcolm Bright, the son of The Surgeon. He was basically taught by his father all about psychology and how the mind of a killer works. He also was taught an extreme amount of knowledge regarding the human anatomy and medicine because, once again, he’s the son of a serial killer. He uses this knowledge to help the police solve crimes as he himself can think like a killer. However, this has taken a toll on his personal life as his psyche was scarred when he realized his father, the man he idolized, was the notorious Surgeon. Unfortunately for him, he sometimes has to consult with his father in order to solve the more difficult cases he encounters.
Right off the bat, the shining star of Prodigal Son is Michael Sheen as Dr. Martin Whitly. He pulls off an extremely charismatic performance as a serial killer who was put behind bars. He likes to keep a very mild mannered appearance but that’s one of the reasons why it also comes off as very creepy. There’s also just the manner of which he speaks as he comes off as very calm and deliberate with his word choices. But there’s a certain level of control he likes to exert in his speeches as well as he can manage to pick out little tidbits of useful information in the replies he receive.
Another standout performance comes from Bellamy Young, Malcolm’s mother. It comes of as an almost over the top caricature of a socialite super concerned about her status, which, in retrospect, is understandable since, well, her husband was found out to be a serial killer. She comes of as extremely desperate to cling on to her former status in high society. I also love how she tries to guilt Malcolm and his sister, Ainsley Whitly, into doing the things she wants them to do.
Speaking of the children, I do kind of wish their performances were just a smidge better. I’m generally okay with Tom Payne’s performance of the damaged Malcolm Bright but there are times when he gets those weird puppy dog eyes when he feels depressed and I just don’t buy it. On the other hand, Halston Sage’s Ainsley is just generally flat. A lot of it isn’t really her fault as she doesn’t get to do a whole lot throughout the entire series until the very end. She’s just there to show that she’s the “normal” one because he was just a baby when her father was arrested. I do like her showing ambition during the later episodes, even going so far as to capitalize on being the daughter of a famous serial killer just to get a scoop.
The people who play the police do an adequate job but they don’t really add a whole lot. Lou Diamond Philips is okay and both the actor and the actress who play the other two detectives assigned to Malcolm’s cases are fine but the issue I have with them is that they don’t really get to be competent in their job all that much. Most of the crime solving falls to Malcolm following the clues and then going off on his own while the rest of the police try to catch up. It’s fine for the first several episodes but it becomes a frustrating pattern later on.
This does bring me to the cases that are taken in Prodigal Son. They are mostly hit or miss for me. Some of them are ingeniously written, with some excellent twists that, while I could see coming, were executed in a dramatic enough was to be engaging. Some, unfortunately, do fall really flat on their face as they’re either not inventive enough or not done in an entertaining way. I’m sorry, but when a show is about hunting down serial killers, I expect something a little more crazy with the motives.
I do have to talk about the main overarching storyline of the first season. Normally, I don’t care for the one big story that ties each episode together. But with Prodigal Son, I felt the opposite. I really wanted to know what happened in the past and if Malcolm really did see a girl stored in a box all those years ago! Until the last few episodes, anyway.
There were times when they wouldn’t really tackle the “girl in the box” story and then, during the last few episodes, everything just seems to pop in and fit together in a deus ex machina sort of why. It was kind of disappointing, to tell you the truth, as it’s like the writers knew they had to complete the arc but they couldn’t really figure out how so they just threw this together at the last minute. If they spaced it out better and introduced things gradually instead of just spamming everything during the final episodes.
It may seem like I’m expressing a lot of negatives about Prodigal Son and I realized that. But what kept me from watching episode after episode were the cinematography and, ultimately, the atmosphere. I’m not sure if I’m overanalyzing things but it always seemed like the outside world looks a little more gray and colorless. It looks and feels less joyful. But whenever Malcolm visits The Surgeon’s humble abode, the place looks much brighter and more saturated. In a strange way, The Surgeon’s cell feels like a much happier place than the outside! And, every scene after that, even the outside world is more saturated in color. Like I said, maybe it’s just me but I did notice that in a couple of episodes.
This gives each episode some weird balance, like talking to The Surgeon is a turning point. It feels like when things do pick up at that point. Of course, it generally feels that way because that’s when we get Michael Sheen performing up a storm!
All in all, Prodigal Son is engrossing enough as a crime drama thanks to the overall atmosphere and entertaining performances from Michael Sheen and Bellamy Young. The actual crimes could use some work at times and the first season’s pacing was backloaded too much. Still, I am glad CBS renewed it for a second season just so I can get some more Michael Sheen.
Have you seen Prodigal Son? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments section below!