29 July 2020 12:31
In the United States, if television drama is to be believed, the most common kind of crime is serial killing. This necessitates whole divisions of grim-faced gumshoes when serial murder should probably just be downgraded to a misdemeanour and all those resources – on Criminal Minds they have a jet! – reallocated to uprooting electoral fraud and white-collar crime. In the formulaically entertaining, gently self-aware Prodigal Son (Sky One, Tuesday) our hero is Malcolm Bright (Tom Payne), a consultant who specialises in both wilful eccentricity and profiling serial killers. We see him in the middle of an FBI raid, stopping to give a short lecture on cicadas before punching his boss.
This is just the kind of thing geniuses do, I guess. (I've waylaid many a departmental meeting with my delightfully random thoughts and violence.) The creation of a television detective is pretty simple. Okay, says the network, we need to give our detective character at least three dimensions. How about: he fights crime, he moonlights as a baker and he has a limp. Or: he fights time, he's a bus conductor and he has terrible eczema. Or: he fights crime, he is a professional life coach and he is a woman – yes, I've just decided women can be detectives too #notallmen. They really go to town on Malcolm. He fights crime; he gives know-it-all lectures for no good reason; he straps himself into bed at night to stop him assaulting people with his night terrors; he has a spacious loft apartment that is very nice and suggests the police are overfunded. Oh, and his father is a serial killer. I probably should have led with that. When Malcolm was a boy his father was a celebrated city surgeon who was secretly a killer known as The Surgeon. This suggests an admirable amount of brand consistency for a murderous lunatic. We get flashbacks of a traumatised child Malcolm. We see police cars. We see a news report in which someone is "shocked that one of New York's prominent families may have produced a monster". (The notion of "prominent New York families" producing "monsters" has been normalised more recently, so I assume this programme started development during the Obama administration.) In later life Malcolm becomes a serial-killer investigator, which is a bit of a slap in the face for his estranged pa. But now, in the first episode, Malcolm discovers a grisly new killer with his father's signature style, and so Malcolm visits him in prison. I'm not saying the New York State is soft on crime, but Malcolm's da is somehow still permitted to perform surgery on rich people and has a lovely cell with big bookshelves and a nice patterned rug. When Michael Sheen's on holiday from more nuanced film roles, the man just loves to go on gastronomical tours of television sets. There are teeth marks in everything He is also played by Michael Sheen, so there are teeth marks in everything. I've enjoyed Sheen's telly oeuvre ever since he turned up on The Good Fight and proceeded to gnaw his way through a whole season. When he's on holiday from more nuanced film roles, the man just loves to go on gastronomical tours of television sets. If he were a catfish living in a local pond he'd be called Old Chompy. Old Chompy agrees to help his son with crime stuff in return for visits/charismatic cameos. Sadly, he does not say, "You truly are my" – turns to camera – "prodigal son." But I'm pretty sure it must have been in the original script. Malcolm has, by now, been fired from the FBI but been recruited by a police department headed by the former Brat Pack star Lou Diamond Phillips. It's unclear.) He proves his eccentricity by having violent night terrors in the office and demonstrates his profiling abilities by wandering around a crime scene being rude to his colleagues and saying gnomic things (much like you at work). Then Malcolm chops someone's hand off, an apartment explodes and a baddy is shot to death just in time. It's a pretty eventful first day. Prodigal Son is daft, but it's also gruesomely fun. I look forward to seeing what Malcolm and his da maim or explode next week.