Prodigal Son overview – the place's Hannibal Lecter when you want him?

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When it comes to a show predicated on the notion that the child of a serial killer grows up to be an FBI investigator and is eventually forced back into contact with his father by the advent of a copycat killer, I know that the main thing on my mind should not be that the title of Prodigal Son (Sky One) is wrong. But it is, so let me just state for the record: prodigal means “wasteful, profligate, an abuser of grace who thinks nothing of spaffing his unearned riches up the wall and then returning home and learning nothing because his father greets him with open arms and kills a fatted calf to celebrate”. It does not simply mean “returning after a long time away”. And especially not after a long time working hard to distance oneself from one’s ghastly formative years as the offspring of Dr Martin Whitly, AKA “The Surgeon”, who savagely yet skilfully butchered at least 23 people.

Then again, perhaps it is all of a piece with a drama that at no point appears to know quite what it is doing. I wish it did, yet why should our showrunners break the mood of 2020 with unwarranted demonstrations of competence or signs of an active intelligence? To almost quote Sarah Connor – in an insane world, perhaps Prodigal Son’s gallimaufry of gothic-lite grotesqueries is the sanest choice.

About Prodigal
The Prodigal is a 1955 epic biblical film.
The Prodigal, Prodigal or Prodigals may also refer to:

Prodigal Son review – where's Hannibal Lecter when you need him?

About review
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And what a richly bonkers soup it is. There are severed heads pickled in jars, victims chosen for their unblemished skins (the Silence of the Lambs allusions are so blatant and bountiful that we leap over “homage” into rip-off territory long before the first act is done), a plastic-lined BDSM apartment, an amputated hand. And those, really, are just the decorative croutons atop the bowlful of steaming chaos beneath, which goes roughly like this. Our hero, Malcolm (Tom Payne), the adult child of a notorious serial killer and overtly acknowledged by his bosses to have “complex PTSD and narcissistic tendencies” himself, works as a profiler for the FBI, who uses his experience to delve into the minds of murderers.

When he is at last fired from this post, he is immediately scooped up by Lt Arroyo of the NYPD to work on the copycat case. Plus, his father now lives in a panelled, book-lined cell from which he is still … he is still allowed to practise. Also, Arroyo is the officer who, back in the 90s, visited the family home after what he assumed to be a prank call from a boy about Dr Whitly and, after Malcolm murmured a warning not to drink the tea his father was preparing for him, ended up as the arresting officer on the case. He has looked out for the lad ever since. And you know what they say – caring is … always bringing a traumatised mentee on to the investigation of a copycat of his killer father.

Prodigal Son review – where's Hannibal Lecter when you need him?

Michael Sheen plays the murderous Dr Whitly – mostly, it seems, as Wesley Snipes from 30 Rock. Prodigal Son doesn’t stint on laugh lines or good throwaway gags (Malcolm has plenty and Payne is at his best in a generally scattergun performance when delivering them), and Sheen delivers the lightly comic element as brilliantly as you’d expect. He’s far less convincing at conveying the menace that supposedly lies beneath, or the homicidal rage when crossed. Maybe if he had more time on screen it would all work better, but the makers seem to have decided to ration Martin’s moments – another take on The Silence of the Lambs, perhaps, and Anthony Hopkins’s iconic, and indeed almost overwhelming, turn as Hannibal Lecter. They should probably just have added another pickled head.

It’s fine. It’s fine. The enclosing bowl is a solid, formulaic one, perfectly fit for purpose. A murder per episode (or four at once in the second instalment, plus stitched-lips and snakes) plus a little more insight into the truth or otherwise of the body in the family basement Malcom dreams about each night. Besides, there is a bit of Sheen strewn about – enough, one hopes, to fund his next passion project, which one equally hopes this is not. And Bellamy Young as Malcolm’s manipulative, pill-popping waspiest of Wasp mothers, Jessica, is a joy. You’ll have fun. In an insane world, it is the sanest choice.

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