Prodigal Son Recap: An Enjoyably Gonzo Red Dragon Ripoff

September 24, 2019
Jonathon Wilson 0
TV, TV Recaps
3.5

Summary

Proudly bonkers and undeniably watchable, FOX are onto a potential hit with this delirious new crime drama.

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3.5

Summary

Proudly bonkers and undeniably watchable, FOX are onto a potential hit with this delirious new crime drama.

This recap of Prodigal Son Season 1, Episode 1, “Pilot”, contains spoilers.


In just Prodigal Son Episode 1, we have serial killers, copycats of serial killers, the estranged offspring of serial killers, BDSM enthusiasts bolted to chairs and bombs, and a thoroughly demented, manic energy that keeps the whole thing rocketing along at an enjoyably breakneck clip. In this new Fox crime drama, Chris Fedak and Sam Sklaver have ripped off Red Dragon with admirably unrestrained enthusiasm, and the result is great fun, even if it isn’t necessarily of great quality.

Some of the quibbles one might have with Prodigal Son are symptoms of its nature; it’s difficult to take seriously because it obviously doesn’t have much intention of being serious. The knowing absurdity is a large part of what makes the show fun — this material given a self-serious makeover would somehow be even more ludicrous, and a lot harder to like. As things stand there are problems, sure, some of them probably enough to turn away a sizeable contingent of potential viewers, but the dizzying overall effect is, I think, enough to feel distinct among other broadcast shows, despite the familiarity of its narrative machinery.

That machinery sees The Walking Dead‘s Tom Payne as criminal psychologist and profiler Malcolm Bright, who just so happens to be the biological son of the notorious serial killer Dr. Martin Whitly (Michael Sheen), aka “the Surgeon”. The experience of growing up with — and, as we later learn, turning in — the sadistic murderer of at least 23 people has left Malcolm with certain issues, which include having to handcuff himself to his bed every night due to incredibly severe night terrors. We’re supposed to assume, I think, that Malcolm has at least some of his dad’s nutcase tendencies, which, at least in Prodigal Son Episode 1, is mostly put across by Payne performing as though he’s plugged into the mains.

Either way, we meet Malcolm employed by the FBI and then see him fired for his erratic methods, only to be welcomed with open arms as a freelance consultant for the NYPD by his surrogate father-figure, Gil (Lou Diamond Phillips). On the loose is a copycat killer who is recreating a quartet of the Surgeon’s kills, and in order to get inside the perpetrator’s mind Malcolm has no choice but to visit his old man, who he hasn’t seen for ten years, and who spends his days manacled to the walls of a bizarrely well-appointed cell stuffed with medical files and literature.

Prodigal Son — a title said aloud in this episode, at it happens — strings its nuttier moments together with fairly rote procedural beats, but there’s plenty of untapped silliness in the relationships between the show’s various supporting players; Halston Sage plays Malcolm’s reporter sister Ainsley, Aurora Perrineau and Frank Harts play his NYPD colleagues Dani and JT, Keiko Agena has a fun turn as Dr. Edrisa Guilfoyle — basically a direct lift of Louise Brealey’s Molly Hooper from the BBC’s Sherlock — and Bellamy Young lives up to her name as Malcolm’s absurdly youthful-looking mother, Jessica. I have no idea whatsoever what Prodigal Son plans to do with any of these people or their relationships, and that’s exactly why I’ll keep watching. I imagine plenty of other folks will too.


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