Prodigal Son

Pilot Script Review of Prodigal Son

Greg Berlanti's latest crime procedural is darkly comic and totally over the top.
  • Tom Payne, Bellamy Young and Michael Sheen in Prodigal Son
    Editor's Note: Ever wonder how TV executives wade through the dozens of pilot scripts they're pitched each year? They have staff script readers, who provide what's called "Script Coverage," an executive summary and a recommendation for each script. Now, thanks to Primetimer's own resident script reader, you too can preview some of the season's most buzzed about pilots. Note that all opinions are our own, and all plot, casting and other creative details described here are subject to change.

    Greg Berlanti has three pilots in the running this season: The CW’s Batwoman, The CW’s Riverdale spin-off Katy Keene and FOX’s Prodigal Son. Although that would be a lot for any producer in town who’s not Dick Wolf, Ryan Murphy or Shonda Rhimes, for Berlanti it’s very little. He already has more than a dozen shows in production, and probably more coming for the future WarnerMedia streaming platform. As for Prodigal Son, we’re in territory he knows well, after Blindspot & Deception: a crime procedural with a provocative lead character and a comedic tone. And while there's a long list of shows with similar concepts in recent memory (The MentalistCastleThe Blacklist or even gone-too-soon Forever all come to mind), is this trend, like so any others on the networks, on its way out? Their international sales potential aside, these shows tend to underperform in their US first-run ratings. For this reason, very few procedurals were picked up to pilot this time around. Still, FOX will try their luck.

    Berlanti has assembled an impressive cast, starting with Michael Sheen and Bellamy Young. Iron Fist‘s Finn Jones was originally hired as the lead, but was recast after the first table read -- apparently producers felt he wasn't a good fit with the character. Tom Payne (The Walking Dead), who tested for the role earlier, ultimately won the part.

    WRITTEN BY: Chris Fedak & Sam Sklaver
    DRAFT DATE: Revised Network draft 1/14/19
    PAGE COUNT: 58 pages

    SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: In 1998, a young MALCOLM BRIGHT watches as his father DR. MARTIN WHITLY (aka "The Surgeon) is arrested for a string of murders. Twenty years later, Malcolm (now in his 30’s), tracks down serials killers himself -- first for the FBI (where he's let go for punching a sheriff while on a case), and then for the NYPD, where he's hired by DETECTIVE GIL MARTINEZ (60’s) to help find a killer who's mimicking his father’s murders. Together, Malcolm, Gil, DETECTIVE DANI COFFER (20s), and DETECTIVE JT TARMEL (30s) work to figure out who is killing women who frequent sex dungeons.

    Back in his hometown New York City to work on the case, Malcolm reunites with with his younger sister, TV News Reporter AINSLEY, and his mother JESSICA (50’s), who begs Ainsley not to include Malcolm in her coverage of the copycat killer. In search of answers, Malcolm eventually visits his own father in prison...

    COMMENTS: Every pilot season, there are one or two very well-crafted procedural pilot scripts that you just know will make it to air. Prodigal Sonis this year’s BlindspotLuciferForeverDeception and Whiskey Cavalier -- all produced by Warner Bros. Television, by the way. Writer Chris Fedak is one of the best in this department, alongside Matt Miller & Martin Gero. But as I've said before, no matter how well it’s done, you can’t make similar shows year after year and expect the same results. Like so many before it, Prodigal Son shares this cynical ambition, and only time will tell whether audiences bite again.

    Among the many things going for the show are its characters. The four leads work well, both individually and together. And with these actors, they should be a real pleasure to watch. Let’s start with Malcolm Bright. Intelligent but deeply damaged, he gets by with a self-deprecating wit and a surprising level of compassion. In other words: he’s not Gregory House. But he is very much like Henry Morgan, Patrick Jane and Cameron Black. And the writers make it clear that he also happens to be handsome as hell -- you’ll get your shirtless scene, don’t worry. Interestingly, while he projects confidence to others, on the inside he’s full of insecurities. This vulnerability, combined with everything else, makes it hard not to like him.

    On the other hand, we have his father Martin Whitly, an intelligent, wealthy and charismatic man who also happens to be a predatory sociopath. Who wouldn’t want to see Michael Sheen in this role? As seen through flashbacks, Martin was once a devoted family man and a successful cardiothoracic surgeon with high-profile patients. Despite being in prison for more than 10 years, he still has great connections. His cell is impressive and luxurious (and no, that doesn't make a lot of sense, but Prodigal Son never really tries to be realistic). Martin is fascinating, but I wouldn’t say he's a terribly innovative character. He’s similar to The Blacklist‘s Raymond Reddington and even closer to The Following‘s Ryan Hardy. The scenes between Malcolm and Martin are strong and will sell the show, but after a few episodes, I’m not sure their association will bring anything new to the table, unless they reveal that Martin is manipulating his son and that he’s behind most of the crimes happening out there.

    Jessica, Malcolm’s mother and Martin’s wife, is less present but every time she appears, it’s a pleasure. An elegant WASPy New Yorker who wields sarcasm like a samurai sword, she taught Malcom well. As the wife of a serial killer, she is a disgraced member of high society, but refuses to hide from her truth and wishes her son would follow suit. (So far, he doesn’t.) It’s a role made for Bellamy Young. Her daughter, Ainsley, who’s Malcolm’s younger sister, is a successful TV journalist with a good sense of humor. More normal(ish) than him, they have a good relationship but she’s an emotional spark plug. She’s a promising character, too.

    As for the investigation itself, it works smoothly -- it’s fast-paced and uniquely set in the BDSM world (more precisely, in a sex dungeon). It could be a lot of fun or it could be ridiculous, depending on how it’s directed. It’s consistently over-the-top, which is both good and bad -- you won't be bored, but you may be rolling your eyes. Brace yourself for heads in jars, a bomb threat and a hand amputation while the “patient” is totally awake, among other things. What about romance, you ask? That may be the most surprising thing in this pilot: there is none! We’re so used to the sexy partnerings in these shows that it almost seems like a risk not to feature one. It’ll probably come later, but for now there's just one flirtatious scene when Malcom meets Edrisa, a slightly off-center medical examiner who’s very responsive to his charms.

    FINAL RECOMMENDATION: Prodigal Son is a by-the-book darkly comic procedural, but it manages its own distinctive charm thanks to its characters and family-driven plot. Critics and a portion of the audience may find it too over-the-top, while others (including international buyers) will take great joy in the same. As New FOX works to formulate what it is and where it stands, this project seems like a no-brainer, a safe bet. 

    OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:
    [   ] PASS
    [   ] CONSIDER
    [X] RECOMMEND

    BEST FIT: Hard to predict what New FOX is going to look like at this point, but it could pair fairly well with 9-1-1 on Mondays.

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