First look UK TV review: Prodigal Son
Ivan Radford | On 11, Aug 2020
“I need answers and there are only two people who can provide them – a convicted serial killer and you.” That’s the kind of dialogue you can expect to hear in Prodigal Son, Sky One’s new crime thriller that is one part Hannibal Lecter and two parts complete absurdity.
The serial killer in question? That’s Dr Martin Whitly, better known as “The Surgeon”, a man who murdered almost two dozen people. His on, Malcolm, is our protagonist, an FBI profiler who has an uncanny insight the way that killers think – an instinct that’s part intellectual and, he fears, part genetic. Are his childhood flashbacks teasing some horrific truth that he can barely remember? What did his sociopathic father do behind closed doors when he was growing up? And where’s the line between nature and nurture?
All of those things collide when a copycat killer emerges and begins bumping people off in the style of The Surgeon. And so Malcolm finds himself visiting his dad to quiz him for professional help, not to mention a side dose of personal catharsis.
Tom Payne plays Malcolm with the kind of brooding intensity we’ve come to expect from our crime thriller heroes, all barely concealed baggage and haunted stares into the middle distance. It’s a shame, then, that he’s not given much to do, with each case-of-the-week episode failing to make much of an impression – although a sequence involving a snake in Episode 2 is a strikingly bizarre flourish.
The reason to tune in, then, is The Surgeon himself, who is played with what can only be described as pure glee by Michael Sheen. The national treasure, chameleonic performer and all round good egg is clearly having a ball as the villainous doctor, lacing each of his lines with a sing-song hilarity and just enough wide-eyed mania to unsettle.
Bellamy Young tries to bring serious drama as Malcolm’s secretive, sharp-tongued mother, Jessica, who inevitably disapproves of her son visiting his dad. But the show is best when it abandons any pretence of prestige telly and embraces its dark silliness. “He does not control me,” declares Malcolm with all the subtlety of Brian Blessed holding a vuvuzela. “I just watched you throw yourself out a window,” comes Jessica’s waspish reply. If there were lambs in this, you could expect them to be very noisy.
Prodigal Son is available on Sky One, with episodes airing at 9pm on Tuesdays. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it live and on-demand legally on NOW TV, for £8.99 a month, with no contract and a 7-day free trial. (An Entertainment Pass auto-renews at £8.99 a month until 1st September 2020, £9.99 thereafter unless cancelled.)