Prodigal Son” (Mondays, Fox) does a lot of things right, but they are the same things a lot of other shows have done right. This serial killer procedural/ongoing mystery mix makes nice use of lived-in, almost rundown Big Apple buildings, and the relationships are well defined in the first episode, notably incarcerated serial killer Dr. Martin “The Surgeon” Whitly (Michael Sheen) and his son, profiler Malcolm Bright (Tom Payne, who plays “Jesus” on “The Walking Dead” but who looks way different without the beard and long hair).
Created by Chris Fedak and Sam Sklaver, veterans of “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” “Prodigal Son’s” debt to “Hannibal” can’t be ignored. It’s also broadly in the same boat as the classic “Millennium,” the upcoming “Evil” and dozens of other shows about the authorities (and particularly one troubled but good man) pursuing deranged murderers. Despite its technical competence and the fact that I’m going to list a lot of good things about it, in the end it doesn’t hook me.
Part of the turn-off is the tone. There’s a sense of self-awareness, a wink and nod to viewers that it’s incongruously fun to watch shows about serial killers and the profilers who must get into their minds. Granted, this vibe comes out more in Fox’s previews than the program itself, but it’s still there, for example, in the way officer JT (Frank Harts) is like “Oh hell no” in his attitude about working with The Surgeon’s son.
I prefer the “tracking down psychopaths and sociopaths” genre to be either pitch-black, like “Millennium,” or over-the-top with its staging and methods of kills, like “Hannibal,” where I don’t know whether to laugh or be shocked. “Prodigal Son” is in the middle — safe and slickly produced.
While the father-son relationship is the most hyped up, I like that the mother, Jessica (Bellamy Young), and sister, TV reporter Ainsley (Halston Sage), are also on hand. Bright has a surrogate father in detective Gil (Lou Diamond Phillips), and a solid police partner in Dani (Aurora Perrineau), who is Brooklyn tough but sympathizes with his night terrors. “Gilmore Girls’ ” Keiko Agena, as coroner Edrisa, has flirty banter with Bright that’s supposed to be comic relief: two people with grim jobs finding commonalities such as a keen eye for recognizing that bondage marks are pre-mortem.
The ongoing mystery is mildly intriguing. Bright has flashes of memories of a woman trapped in a trunk in his basement, from when he was a kid. He already knows his dad is a serial killer – indeed, 10-year-old Bright called the police and turned him in – so there’s more to these flashbacks than the mere fact of his father’s exploits.
The pilot’s mystery-of-the-week is remarkably bland, a mere sketch of a series of murders. We know they are copies of what The Surgeon did, but they aren’t memorable. Bright’s profiling skills aren’t notably amazing, either. He tracks down the guy, but it’s because the teleplay says he tracks down the guy, not because he has an extra level of profiling ingenuity.
Honestly, “Prodigal Son” is a good show overall, and it could get better if the writers have something clever for that girl-in-the-box mystery that’s trapped in Bright’s mind. But in this era of so many great dark mysteries – such as Netflix’s “Unbelievable,” which I’m totally engrossed in — a good one doesn’t make my DVR cut.