SERIES TITLE: Prodigal Son
GENRE: Crime Drama
LOGLINE: Malcolm Bright knows how killers think, how their minds work. Why? His father was one of the worst — a notorious serial killer called “The Surgeon.” That’s why Bright is the best criminal psychologist around; murder is the family business. He will use his twisted genius to help the NYPD solve crimes and stop killers, all while dealing with a manipulative mother, annoyingly normal sister, a homicidal father still looking to bond with his prodigal son, and his own constantly evolving neuroses…
Pilot Cast: Tom Payne (The Walking Dead, Luck), Michael Sheen (Masters Of Sex, Good Omens, The Good Fight), Bellamy Young (Scandal, Criminal Minds, Dirty Sexy Money), Lou Diamond Phillips (Longmire, Stargate Universe), Aurora Perrineau (When They See Us), Frank Harts (The Path, The Leftovers), Keiko Agena (The First, 13 Reasons Why), Halston Sage (The Orville)…
Series Creators: Chris Fedak (Chuck, Deception, Forever) & Sam Sklaver (American Housewife, Deception).
Pilot Director: Lee Toland Krieger (Riverdale, You, Celeste & Jesse Forever).
Producers: Greg Berlanti, Sarah Schechter, Chris Fedak & Sam Sklaver.
Studios: Warner Bros. Television & Berlanti Productions.
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 you too can preview some of the season’s most buzzed about pilots and find out whether we’d recommend them for pickup. Note that all opinions are our own, and all plot, casting and other creative details described here are subject to change.
You’ll Like It If You Already Like: The Blacklist, The Following, The Mentalist, Deception, Forever, Lucifer, Criminal Minds…
Likely Timeslot: It’s hard to predict what New FOX gonna look like at this point. But it could pair fairly well with 9-1-1 on monday.
WRITTEN BY: Chris Fedak & Sam Sklaver.
PAGECOUNT: 58 pages.
DRAFT: Revised Network draft 1/14/19
BACKGROUND: Believe it or not, mega-producer Greg Berlanti only has three pilots in the running this season! The CW’s Batwoman, The CW’s Riverdale spin-off Katy Keene & FOX’s Prodigal Son. It would be a lot for any other producer in town who’s not Dick Wolf, Ryan Murphy or Shonda Rhimes, but for him it’s very little. He still has many shows in production (close to 15!) and probably more coming on the future WarnerMedia streaming platform. Regarding Prodigal Son, we’re in a territory he knows well after Blindspot & Deception: something that has the ambition to be a fresh take on a crime franchise with a provocative and outrageous lead character and a comedic tone. Others did it well too, and before him, with The Mentalist, Castle, The Blacklist or even gone-too-soon Forever. Is this trend, like many others on the networks, is dying? Outside of their international sales potential, they tend to underachieve in their US first run ratings. Very few procedurals were picked up to pilot this time around, compared to previous years. Still, FOX will try their luck!
Berlanti was able to assemble quite an impressive cast, starting with Michael Sheen and Bellamy Young, while the lead had to be recast after the table read. Iron Fist‘s Finn Jones was the first choice, it was a straight offer and his deal closed on the eve of the pilot’s table read. Seeing him embodying Malcolm Bright for the first time, the producers realized that he was not a good fit with the character (it was pretty obvious!), which led to his quick demise. Tom Payne, who had tested for the role previously, was finally chosen down to the wire.
SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: In 1998, DR. MARTIN WHITLY –THE SURGEON, is arrested for murder as his wife, daughter and son, MALCOLM, watch. In 2019, MALCOLM BRIGHT (30’s), is now an FBI agent, who tracks down serials killers. After he punches a sheriff in Tennessee while on a case, he is let go. When he goes back home to NYC, DETECTIVE GIL MARTINEZ (60’s) hires Malcolm to work alongside his team to find a killer who is mimicking his father’s murders. Malcolm works alongside Gil, DETECTIVE DANI COFFER (20s), and DETECTIVE JT TARMEL (30s) to figure out who is killing women who frequent sex dungeons, which Malcolm guessed by the bruising on the victims arms. AINSLEY, Malcolm’s younger sister and a TV News Reporter blackmails Malcolm in to dinner with their mother. JESSICA (50’s), Malcolm and Ainsley’s mother, begs Ainsley not to include Malcolm in her coverage of The Surgeon’s copycat. Malcolm visits his father, to figures out who could have gotten access to his drawing to copy his methods. Martin’s drawing were stole from his room when they rebuilt his cell…
COMMENTS: Every pilot season, there’s one or two very well-crafted procedural pilot scripts you know their network will bet on. Prodigal Son is this year’s Blindspot, Lucifer, Forever, Deception and Whiskey Cavalier which were all produced by Warner Bros. Television by the way. It can’t be a coincidence. They definitely know how to make those. And writer Chris Fedak is one of the best in this department, with Matt Miller & Martin Gero. But as I said before, no matter how well it’s done, you can’t make similar shows year after year and expect the same results. People are not stupid and they know when they’re offered something that was entirely built for them based on their previous favorites. And they don’t like that. Nobody likes to be considered predictable. Prodigal Son has this cynical ambition and it’s hard not to see it to concentrate on the result only. So yeah, it’s good. But the impression of déjà vu is quite high.
What could save it from being dumped after one rendez-vous with the audience is the characters. The four leads work both individually and all together. And with those actors, that should be a real pleasure to watch. The fact that they form a very special family makes it distinctive from previous similar offers. Let’s start with Malcolm Bright. He’s intelligent but also deeply damaged. He has a self-deprecating sense of humor, he’s a narcissist of course but he also has a surprising level of compassion. In other words: he’s not Gregory House. But he’s very much like Henry Morgan, Patrick Jane and Cameron Black. And the writers don’t forget to mention that he’s handsome as hell. You’ll get your shirtless scene, don’t worry. What’s interesting about him is that he’s not so confident. He gives to others the impression he is, but on the inside he’s a big mess. It’s hard not to like him honestly.
On the other hand, you have his father, Martin Whitly, an intelligent, wealthy and charismatic man, who also happens to be a predatory sociopath who murdered more than 20 people. Who wouldn’t want to see Michael Sheen in that role? As seen through flashbacks, Martin once was a devoted family man and successful cardiothoracic surgeon with high-profile patients. For that reason, he still has great connections despite being in prison for more than 10 years. His cell is impressive and luxurious. It just doesn’t make sense, but Prodigal Son never really tries to be realistic. Martin is fascinating, but I wouldn’t say it’s an innovative character. He’s similar to The Blacklist‘s Raymond Reddington and even closer to The Following‘s Ryan Hardy, remember… 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 something new to the table. Unless they serialize it more by revealing Martin is manipulating his son and he’s behind most of the crimes happening out there… It’s obvious but it’s the only right way to go.
Jessica, Malcolm’s mother and Martin’s wife, is less present but everytime she appears, it’s a pleasure. She’s 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 she refuses to hide from her truth and she wishes her son would follow suit. So far, he doesn’t. It’s a role made for Bellamy Young. I would have loved to see her in a very different role -too bad ABC didn’t order False Profits last year- but at least we know she will perfect here. 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 promising too.
What about the investigation, you’re probably asking? It’s a special one since it’s about a Whitly’s copycat. The easiest way to raise the stakes. Well. It works smoothly, it’s fast-paced, it’s pretty dark and surprising in terms of setting since it embarks us in the BDSM world, and more precisely in a sex dungeon. It’s a bit unusual, especially for a pilot, and it goes far beyond what I expected, like when Malcolm has to fight with a dominatrix. It could be a lot of fun, it could be ridiculous, depending on how it’s directed. It’s constantly over-the-top, which is both good news and bad news. The good news is you never get bored, the bad news is you’re rolling your eyes a lot. But you might like it. So there are heads in jars, a bomb threat and a hand amputation while the “patient” is totally awake, among other exciting things. Wjat about romance, you’re probably asking too? That’s probably the most surprising thing in this pilot: there is NONE! We’re so used to the sexy partnerings in those shows that it almost seems like a risk not to feature one. It’ll probably come later, but for now there is just one flirtatious scene when Malcom meets Edrisa, a slightly off-center medical examiner who’s very responsive to his charm.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: Prodigal Son is a by-the-book dark comedic procedural like we’ve seen many before, but it manages to have a distinctive charm based on its characters and its family-driven plot. It’s poised to be considered by critics and a portion of the audience as something way too over-the-top and unrealistic but another portion and the international buyers might find it attractive enough to give it a chance. While New FOX is trying to understand what it is and where they stand, this project seems like a no-brainer, a safe bet.
OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:
[ ] PASS
[ ] CONSIDER
[ X ] RECOMMEND