Why Prodigal Son is a Must-Watch Show

Allison Brennan peels back the layers of FOX's new serial killer show Prodigal Son. Plus, comment on the post for a chance to win Allison's new thriller The Third to Die!

A year ago, I saw the trailer for Prodigal Son, a new series on FOX, and loved the premise: the son of a serial killer becomes a profiler while battling his own demons and missing memories. It was one of those ideas I wish I’d thought of.

But as we all know, great ideas can fall flat with poor characters or lackluster writing. And in crime fiction—and the plethora of crime fiction television shows—character is doubly important. Virtually every crime scenario has been done. So if you don’t care about the characters and their story arc, it’s just ho-hum.

All the acting is strong in Prodigal Son—I mean, the amazing Lou Diamond Phillips has a supporting role. He gives the show gravitas and confidence. But the show is mostly about Malcolm Bright (played by Tom Payne, from The Walking Dead) and his father, Dr. Martin Whitly (Michael Sheen) a notorious serial killer called “The Surgeon” who went to prison after a young Malcolm called the police on his father.

Fast-forward 21 years. Malcolm, an FBI profiler, is fired by the FBI but by the end of Episode 1 is consulting with the NYPD and Detective Gil Arroyo (Phillips)—the cop who arrested Dr. Whitly.

Honestly, most of the “crimes of the week” are interesting, but not all that original (though the storylines get stronger as the season progresses.) What is original, or at least done well by Payne, is the complexity of Malcolm Bright, his character. He’s in therapy, he has hand tremors, he has night terrors, and he can barely take care of himself. On the flip-side, he’s brilliant, he sees things other people miss, he has an acute understanding of human nature, and he can profile anyone (which makes for a wonderfully tense and uncomfortable scene when he’s goaded into profiling his date.) He uses sarcasm and self-deprecating humor to hide pain and sorrow. His relationships with his mother and his younger sister feel real and just as complex. These are three people who had their world changed forever when they learned that their spouse/father had killed at least twenty-three people. How they each deal with it feels authentic and the conflict—both internal and external—is deep and compelling.

See Also: 5 New Crime Shows You Need to Check Out!

As a writer, I don’t particularly like writing blood and gore. It’s in my books by necessity—at the crime scene, or because I’m in the killer’s POV—but the violence is secondary. The important thing for me is how the characters react to the crime. How the killer reacts (Why does he do what he does? How does it affect him?); how the survivors react (grief, anger, something else?); how the cops react. Showing the impact of violence more than the violence itself makes a far more compelling book—and television series. And in Prodigal Son, they do this extremely well:

  • How catching “The Surgeon” impacted young officer Gil Arroyo and why he took troubled Malcolm Bright under his wing.
  • How learning her husband was a serial killer affected Jessica Whitly.
  • How young Ainsley Whitly, who barely knew her father and was never allowed to visit him in prison, impacted her and her decision and drive to become a crime reporter.
  • But mostly, everything about Malcolm’s life. His past relationship with his father, how he came to terms with who his father was, the holes in his memory, his trauma, and how he is clearly a brilliant profiler…but at what cost?

The supporting cast of characters—cop Dani in particular—are strong and necessary, but they are still a supporting cast. This show is about Malcolm Bright and how his father’s legacy has shaped him—and continues to shape him.

Michael Sheen as Dr. Martin Whitly doesn’t get much screen time, but when he does, he shines. At first, you can’t imagine that he was guilty of the horrific crimes of which he was convicted. But as time goes on, you see the arrogance and cunning and intelligence. He’s a superb actor who ups the level of the show even when he’s not on screen. Just the hint of his presence is enough.

An aside about Malcolm’s mother Jessica and sister Ainsley. I didn’t really care much for the characters at the beginning, but they both proved to be more interesting and complex as the show went on. And while I don’t agree with all the decisions Jessica has made, I understand why she’s made them—and that is ultimately the sign of great writing and acting.

Read an Excerpt from The Third to Die!

I’ve also been watching Evil, another new series. While Evil has a different premise (proving or disproving demonic possessions or miracles) it has similar dark themes. Evil is smoother, seems more in control, and the acting is just as strong. But for me, Evil almost feels too planned and predictable. And while I like the characters, especially Mike Colter as seminarian David Acosta, I don’t love them (or hate them.) What Prodigal Son did was give me a cast of complex, flawed characters living under the shadow of a notorious serial killer. Yes, Prodigal Son is a bit over-the-top at times, but in some ways, that’s why I love it.

Prodigal Son ranked in the middle of the fall premieres—not a stand out success, but not a failure by any means. Critical reviews were poor, but I don’t really listen to critics much. In fact, many of the movies I saw last year had poor critical commentary, but fans loved them (Star Wars was great, critics panned it.) FOX ordered a full season after only a couple of shows, so that bodes well. The slightly rocky beginning smoothed out, but I liked it from Episode 1, and it’s exponentially better by the mid-season finale. It’s my favorite new show of the season.

Top photo courtesy of Fox.

About The Third to Die:

An edgy female police detective… An ambitious FBI special agent. Together they are at the heart of the ticking-clock investigation for a psychopathic serial killer.

Detective Kara Quinn, on leave from the LAPD, is on an early morning jog in her hometown of Liberty Lake when she comes upon the body of a young nurse. The manner of death shows a pattern of highly controlled rage. Meanwhile in DC, FBI special agent Mathias Costa is staffing his newly minted Mobile Response Team. Word reaches Matt that the Liberty Lake murder fits the profile of the compulsive Triple Killer. It will be the first case for the MRT. This time they have a chance to stop this zealous if elusive killer before he strikes again. But only if they can figure out who he is and where he is hiding before he disappears for another three years. The stakes are higher than ever before, because if they fail, one of their own will be next…

Comment below for a chance to win a copy of The Third to Die by Allison Brennan!

To enter, make sure you’re a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.

The Third to Die Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at https://www.criminalelement.com/why-prodigal-son-is-a-must-watch-show/ beginning at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time (ET) January 30, 2020. Sweepstakes ends at 10:59 a.m. ET February 13, 2020. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Sponsor: Macmillan, 120 Broadway, New York, NY 10010.

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  1. Randi

    I will have to check this show out. Love your books.

    • Allison Brennan

      Thank you so much! I hope you like the show; it just came back from it’s mid-season hiatus and I loved the last episode, it was one of my favorites.

    • mobdro

      This show is worth watching. I have enjoyed it.

  2. Laurie Widenmaier

    I haven’t watched because I don’t watch much TV except ID. I might check it out if I can watch it on Netflix or something else, where you don’t have to spend weeks watching. I’m reading Abandoned right now.

    • Allison Brennan

      I much prefer binge watching, too! But I record this show on my DVR and watch when I have time. I saw the first 4 episodes in two nights, now I watch weekly …

  3. Christopher Aumick

    Love this show

  4. Sabrina Norris

    I absolutely love this show .

  5. Karen Schatsiek

    Love the series! My daughter and I are addicted!Please keep writing. I really admire your talent

    • Allison Brennan

      Thank you so much Karen! I’ll keep writing, I love it 🙂

  6. Lisa Ellis

    Great another show to watch, I need some new ones since some of mine are in their last season.

    • Celia Ruther

      Can’t wait to see the show and read your book

  7. Donna Linefsky

    I will have to see that it sounds interesting.

  8. Cindy Overton

    I was happy to see both Prodigal Son and Evil in last Fall’s TV line up. Both right up my alley. I agree with everything you’ve said about PS but at times it gets to much into its own head. I’ve liked some shows more than other (I enjoyed the last one – what a twist at the end!!). Evil (before I saw the first show) I was thinking OHH its going to be a spin a The Exorcist – was very excited. It too has had hit or miss shows for me. Hopefully they both hit their stride and get renewed for 2nd seasons..

    • Allison Brennan

      I’m catching up on EVIL … I don’t love it as much as Prodigal Son, but there are some very interesting elements. I like supernatural thrillers, I just am not quite sure that’s what this is. I’ve only seen 4 or 5 episodes, but I should be caught up this week (I’m traveling for the book tour so will do a lot of reading and a lot of watching TV on my iPad!

  9. Deborah Hearne
  10. Deborah Hearne

    I’ve been watching Prodigal Son from day one! It’s an amazing combination of mystery/thriller/comedy/drama show! The acting is wonderful..it makes me think about every scene! I look forward to Monday night so I can see what happens next!!

    • Allison Brennan

      I loved the episode this week — it starts with a power outage at the police station, but nothing is exactly what you think … I think it was one of the best episodes to date, to be honest, and one of the few times I didn’t figure out the ending until the end.

  11. Rose Ward

    I never had watched this

  12. Elizabeth Flores

    I loved watching this show from the beginning. Last weekend’s episode (the 1st new episode after the break) really reminded by of a slasher movie a bit. I couldn’t imagine if Malcolm was a real person what this would really do to them. I really hope FOX keeps this show. I love your books and I’ve even gotten my mom into them.

    • Allison Brennan

      Are you talking about the episode that resolved the climax from the end of the first half, or the first episode after they resolved the Junkyard Killer storyline? I just saw the one that starts with a power outage at the police station, and then Malcolm is being evaluated by Internal Affairs … then it goes to 12 hours earlier. It was really good. … Thanks for introducing my books to your mom! Word of mouth means everything to an author! 🙂

  13. Pati Balady

    I haven’t seen the series, hadn’t even heard about it. But the premise is interesting. I will have to give it a try.

    • Allison Brennan

      It’s on FOX, and I think FOX shows it’s shows on Hulu or Netflix after the original showing. I’m not 100% positive though … hopefully they’ll replay over the summer!

  14. Georgia

    I personally love watching The Prodigal Son on Hulu. I’m a big fan of criminal shows and books. I love reading your books.

    • Allison Brennan

      Good to know it’s on Hulu! I have my cable box set to record, and usually end up watching when it’s on. I’m glad you enjoy my books! 🙂

  15. Debbie Fox

    Will need to check this out . Ty for the suggestion 😉

  16. Angy Cox

    I totally agree about this show. The acting is above board and the premise is so different that it made me want to check it out as soon as I heard about it. Of course, anything Michael Sheen takes part in will generally be excellent so I knew I had to check it out when I found out he was attached.

    • Allison Brennan

      I, too, wanted to see it from the beginning. The premise intrigued me — one of those “I wish I’d thought of that!” set-ups.

  17. Sheila Golding

    I have not watched it, wasn’t sure what it was about. You have given a great explanation and made me curious enough to give it a try.

  18. Vickie Watts

    Sounds like an interesting show but not one I would likely watch.

  19. Cristal Bain

    Watch it every week. Love your books.

  20. Kerri Weir

    I have not watched this show, but might have to check it out after reading your recommendation. Looking forward to reading your latest book while patiently waiting for the next Lucy & Sean 🙂

  21. Sherry Myers

    I love this show. I started watching it because I liked Tom Payne on TWD and fell in love with his character right away. He is has flaws and is brilliant at the same time.

    • Allison Brennan

      Loved Tom Payne as Jesus. He was such a great character. I remember when I told my son that the actor was going to star in another series and he said, “Oh, they’re going to kill him off TWD!”

  22. Nancy

    I DVR prodigal son, I think I’m about 4 episodes behind. It’s really interesting I also DVR evil I like both shows. Of course I love criminal minds.

  23. Janet Kloepfer

    Love this show! I keep wondering if Malcolm’s mother Jessica is as
    “Innocent” as she seems. Would be a good twist!
    Love your books!

    • Allison Brennan

      I think there’s more to Jessica than meets the eye. I don’t know if she’s guilty of a crime, but I’m wondering if she knew more than she let on to Gil, or if he didn’t see something because he was infatuated with her.

  24. Patricia

    Love the Prodigal Son! Even my daughter likes to watch the show.

  25. Barbara
  26. Barbara

    Love prodigal son it’s very fast pace and unpredictable

  27. Cindy weber

    I’ll need to check out this show. I’m always looking for new things to watch.

  28. Whitney Rothermich

    I love this show. I started watching because of Tom Payne leaving The Walking Dead and I’m hooked. I look forward to every episode!

  29. Jill James

    I love Prodigal Son. It fills that hole I vaguely realized I was missing. What happens to the family of a serial killer after he/she is caught? Ainsley and Malcolm were young when their father was caught. Do they wonder if psychopathy is a trait you inherit? Do they feel they must make repentance for what he did? How do you go on with that in your past? Can’t wait to see what else is revealed and happens on this show.

  30. Darla

    I just watched my first episode. Thanks for the recommendation. It will keep me busy during our next snow.

  31. Rho

    Loved this show from the start. It has dark humor and a darker story. Great cast. You describe it so well. Can’t wait for your new book!!!!

  32. Bonita Parrack

    Really enjoy this show. Just when you think you’ve figured something out, you’re wrong. Like your books. I do love a good mystery! The characters are so strong. We always watch 2-3 episodes in new shows to see if it makes the cut and this was certainly did.

  33. Heather Tobin

    I love this show!! It always keeps you guessing

  34. lasvegasnv

    haven’t seen it

  35. Sherry Stull

    I think that Michael Sheen is brillant at portraying Dr. Whitly. When Ainsley was interviewing him a little bit of his self control cracked and we could see just a sliver of man who is dubbed The Surgeon. I hope they explore that more as the season goes on.

    • Allison Brennan

      That episode was truly perfect. The subtleties of his narcissism and we really got to see the man who could kill … chilling and so well done.

  36. John Smith

    The book sounds fraught with tension!

  37. Toni

    I trust your judgement on show implicitly…..but I’m not caught up on the last twelve shows you recommended! ::goes off to add another to the list::

  38. Candy G.

    I haven’t watched it but it sounds like something my daughter and I might like. My mother In Law is a huge fan of yours!

  39. Daniel M

    sounds like a fun one

  40. Pam

    Love prodigal son!
    Enjoy your books as well
    Lucy and Max make my day

  41. Mike

    A great review of a show which keeps getting better. I think the writers and actors really hit their stride around episode 7. Since then they’ve stuck the landing each time out.

    • Allison Brennan

      Yeah, it took a few episodes to really get in the groove, though I liked it from the beginning. The episode (maybe a 2 parter?) which took place in the prison with Aislynn interviewing her father … that was a powerful episode.

  42. Cheryl Keller

    This is my favorite show this year. Malcolm is such an interesting character. He is brilliant but so tragically messed up by his past. I think all the characters are well acted even if I don’t nlike them.

  43. Cindy DeWulf

    I also love the show!

  44. Jeana

    Prodigal Son is one of our must watch shows. I hope that the writers are able to continue to make the storyline interesting.

    • Allison Brennan

      Yeah, I worry about that sometimes, but I think there’s so much potential here they should be able to go 5 seasons. I was reading an interview with the creators about how the press conference that Jessica held before the mid-season finale is going to have a huge impact on the second half of the season.

  45. LeMinou

    Sounds fascinating. Thanks for the chance.

  46. keelz23

    This concept sort of reminds me of the book A Killing Fire by Faye Snowden, where the main character is a police officer and daughter of a serial killer. Will have to check it out!

  47. Desmond Warzel

    Count me in, please!

  48. Jana

    I’ve not seen Prodigal Son. Will have to check it out.

  49. Alice

    I haven’t watched Prodigal Son yet, but it really sounds interesting, and I don’t care what critics say either.

  50. Sally Schmidt

    I wasn’t going to watch Prodigal Son but after your review I am going to give it a try. It’s still OnDemand for Comcast so I can watch. And I definitely must read The Third to Die.

  51. Carolyn

    I haven’t watched Prodigal Son yet. I’ve seen the promos for it and thought it looked interesting, but after your recommendation, I’ll give it a try.

  52. Michael Carter

    Please enter me in this sweepstakes.
    Thanks —

  53. Karen Mikusak

    Sounds great! Would love to win.

  54. Michelle Willms

    I wondered about both Prodigal Son and Evil. Now, I know for sure I’ll have to watch both. I’m looking forward to reading your new book.

    • Allison Brennan

      I will say, that EVIL has gotten better. I didn’t really care for it after 3 episodes, but now I’m more invested in the characters. I don’t like it as much as PS, but I’m going to finish it!

  55. Karl Stenger

    I would love to read the book.

  56. vickie dailey

    Thanks for sharing your take on this series – I had not heard of it and will check it –

  57. Cindi Hoppes

    Hi, I just watched Prodigal Son for the first time, this week. The characters and the mystery are the exact mix of what keeps me interested in a book/program…I watched scenes from the upcoming episode! I am anxiously awaiting next week’s show.
    Thank you, Cindi

  58. bill norris

    the book sounds awesome, and i love the tv show.

  59. martin bodnar

    Thanks for the chance to win …. . . .. .

  60. JoAnne

    Prodigal Son freaks me out. I cannot look at the “surgeons” face and at the same time, I am compelled to do so. Evil, totally different but still find myself “jumpy” watching this show. Michael Emerson was so different in Person of Interest, it is hard to see him cast as EVIL. But he does it flawlessly.

    • Allison Brennan

      EVIL has definitely grown on me. And the finale … wow. I didn’t quite expect it. (Though there was one thing that I thought was a bit contrived for the storyline, but we’ll see …) I’m looking forward to season 2 (which I hope they do! I don’t think I’ve seen whether it’s been renewed.) And Michael Emerson is great in anything he does, he was also a bad guy in LOST. (I loved Person of Interest!)

  61. Kara Marks

    I love this show—really creepy at times, but must-watch tv at my house.

  62. Beth Harms

    Thanks for the opportunity!

  63. Elena

    I haven’t watched it but it sounds so thrilling!

  64. theresa norris

    I watch this and wonder about all the family relationships. The father seems to be able to get them to believe so much.

  65. Deb Philippon

    There’s so much showing on TV that’s it’s easy to miss good shows. Thank you for the heads up on Prodigal Son. It’s a show I’ll have to look for.

  66. carloshmarlo

    I haven’t seen Prodigal Son yet. I’ll have to give it a viddy. Thanks for the chance to win a copy of The Third to Die.

  67. Rose

    Since I haven’t seen the show yet, I will be watching it on demand late at night after my husband goes to bed.

  68. Susan T.

    I’ve watched and loved the show from the beginning too and I’m so pleased with how it has deepened and become even more interesting. I especially like all the women supporting cast, like Jessica and the Medical Examiner. They are just as strong of characters as Malcolm.

    • Allison Brennan

      I like how each character is unique and while they fit the role, they’re not exactly typical. Like the ME as you mentioned — she’s quirky but very smart. She’s one of my favorite secondary characters. Though I really like Dani, the girl detective. She has that strong, get-the-job-done vibe that I like.

  69. Janet Gould

    I love that show but sometimes it makes you a little crazy.

  70. Janet

    I saw reviews on this show way before fall previews and knew it was going to be a watcher-have 13 episodes on DVR to watch

  71. Diana Hardt

    I’ve watched Prodigal Son since it first started. It’s very intriguing.

  72. Toni A Laliberte

    I love Prodigal Son! It’s a great show! Thanks for the chance to win your book. It sounds awesome!

  73. Michelle

    I’m infatuated with this show!!!

  74. Anastacia Zittel

    I love the show and can’t wait to read the book!

  75. Patricia Campbell

    I have been enjoying Prodigal Son from day one. Love Michael Sheen, so spooky. Haven’t seen this good of a drama for a long time on TV. Its one of those show that you can’t wait for the next episode.

  76. Susan Morris

    I am a fan of both TV shows, but I agree that Prodigal Son is one of my favorites. Can’t wait to read your new book!

  77. TCasteel

    I enjoy Prodigal Son more than I thought I would and agree with her character/actors assessments.

  78. Helen Allman

    Appreciate your work!

  79. Pat Hoffarth

    I would love to win a copy of Third to Die. Please.

  80. Saundra K. Warren

    I haven’t watched it because if I like it they will almost certainly cancel it!! But I love your books!!!!!!

  81. Sharon

    I love the Prodigal Son – one of my favorites this year!

  82. techeditor

    I have to disagree about Malcolm’s mother. I can’t decide whether I dislike her acting or her lines, but I definitely dislike her. I think she should be older and speak more intelligently.

    • Elizabeth

      Oops! I wasn’t logged in.

      I have to disagree about Malcolm’s mother. I can’t decide whether I dislike her acting or her lines, but I definitely dislike her. I think she should be older and speak more intelligently.

      • Allison Brennan

        I didn’t like her at the beginning, either. (I do think they cast her too young, but I can overlook that.) She’s not my favorite character, but she’s grown on me.

  83. JULES M.

    I havent watched it yet, but it sounds intriguing!

  84. aztek2000

    I watch both Prodigal Son and Evil. Usually any program I like gets cancelled, so I’m hoping both of these will be exceptions to that fate!

    • Allison Brennan

      EVIL has already been renewed for season 2 … No word yet on Prodigal Son, but early on they extended the order from 13 episodes to 22, so that’s a good sign. Most of the TV analysts are leaning that it’ll be renewed. I really hope so.

  85. Teresa Warner

    Sounds like a show I’m going to have to binge!

  86. Riann Fletcher

    I love both Evil and Prodigal Son. I would love to win your book! 🙂

  87. Dawn Havens

    I love Prodigal Son and would love to read your book The Third To Die. GLTA

  88. Rhonda Stefani

    I remember seeing previews of the show & wanting to see what it was about, now going to make a point of catching it on Hulu! I’ve been looking for something to replace Criminal Minds, sounds really great & I love Michael Sheen.

  89. Lori Lowery

    It looks like I have a new show to binge watch!

  90. Karen Terry

    I like the show Prodigal Son and would love to read The Third To Die.

  91. Tiffany

    This looks hood

  92. Stephanie L Nelson

    I have heard both the show and the book are great! I haven’t had a chance to watch the show, but I am much more of a book person anyways.

  93. aema

    I haven’t watched it but it sounds so thrilling!

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