“Prodigal Son”: Taking Crime Drama Tropes to a New Persepctive

With only seven episodes so far, American crime drama series “Prodigal Son” has managed to capture its viewers with its unique take on a twisted family, its realistic set designs and its intricate characters.

November 9, 2019


Photo Courtesy of Fox's YouTube Channel

Fox Broadcasting Company’s show bumper for their crime drama series, “Prodigal Son”, that airs weekly on Monday nights at 9 p.m.

Fox Broadcasting Company’s “Prodigal Son” stars Michael Sheen as Dr. Martin Whitly, Tom Payne as Malcolm Bright, Bellamy Young as Mrs. Jessica Whitly, Halston Sage as Ms. Ainsley Whitly and Lou Diamond Phillips as New York Police Department (NYPD) Detective Gil Arroyo. The new crime drama series makes its recent debut on the Fox channel, taking crime drama tropes to a newfound perspective.


“Prodigal Son” follows NYPD forensic profiler Bright who solves murders in order to divert himself from his biggest distraction: his serial killer father, Dr. Whitly – nicknamed “The Surgeon.” Raised by an infamous serial killer and having close connections with his father, Bright has to deal with his own severe mental illnesses, which include Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and night terrors. This hinders his day-to-day life.


The American crime drama series takes place years after a young Bright informed NYPD Detective Arroyo of his father’s crimes years after adolescent Bright routinely visited his father in the Claremont Psychiatric Hospital. Now, Bright works under his surrogate father, Detective Arroyo, and the NYPD to solve murders. On the side, Bright also has to deal with his manipulative mother, Mrs. Whitly, and his journalist sister, Ms. Whitly.


The first episode – the pilot –aired on Sept. 23rd, 2019 with about 4.05 million United States (US) viewers. After its success with its pilot, the show consistently captures 4 million US viewers on a weekly basis. It is the first television (TV) show pickup of Fox’s fall TV season, ordering nine more episodes for a total of 22 episodes in the show’s full season.


The “tortured detective” trope within “Prodigal Son” is similar to other various crime drama series. However, it does take on its own unique perspective.


For instance, Bright is similar to the character of Sherlock Holmes as both possess the deduction expertise and skills to recreate the crime scene by the mind. Nonetheless, the two characters have a distinguished background that sets them apart. With a serial killer for a father, Bright is able to think as the killer. Furthermore, he makes mistakes due to his traumatic symptoms, something that reminds audiences that he is merely human and not always perfect.


In fact, “Prodigal Son” can be seen as a “replacement” for Fox’s crime drama series. After three seasons, Fox canceled “Lucifer,” a crime drama series, in 2018 – thankfully, its production team was given to Netflix. The similarities between “Prodigal Son” and “Lucifer” are striking; regardless, each show brings its own unique take on crime drama series. 


Both shows include “tortured detectives” that has some type of family drama and solves crimes that usually tends to coincide with their own personal life. Nonetheless, the two shows are both unique in their own ways. “Lucifer” focused on what would happen if Satan himself decided to live in Los Angeles, the City of Angels, and what that would mean for Heaven and Hell. “Prodigal Son” focuses on what would happen if the son of an infamous serial killer decides to solve murders while occasionally working with his father to solve the murder cases. Each show provides its own distinguished approach with family issues and the “tortured detective” trope.


Dr. Martin Whitly stands at face level with his son, young Malcolm Bright, before he is taken away by the New York Police Department (NYPD) after being accused of murder. (Photo Courtesy of Fox’s YouTube Channel)

The show definitely stands alone as an amazing show, even with the similarities it has with many other crime drama series. The outcomes of each crime per episode are unpredictable; yet, it does follow the typical trend that the least suspected is the guilty murderer. With each crime solved in the 45-minute run time, the episode keeps a quick pace with the investigation, sometimes making it seem unrealistic how fast each crime is solved. Despite that, the short episodes also force the viewers to continue waiting for the next episode, with each episode leaving the viewers wanting to know what will happen to Bright and what memories shall resurface for Bright regarding his father.


“Prodigal Son” relies a lot on its intriguing characters and its realistic settings. The show takes a new approach with the “family issues” trope with a manipulative mother, a serial killer father and a journalist sister who ultimately affects Bright as a tortured detective. With its special set of characters, the show gives a fresh and new storyline on how a serial killer father can change the course of his family. To make matters worse, he still wants to bond with his children. Thus, Bright is in constant pressure under his twisted family telling him what to do and what not to do, leaving him to distract himself with solving crimes.


Dr. Whitly continues to be brilliantly executed as a character who believes he is a good father and does not think his murders outweigh the millions of lives he has saved as a professional surgeon. With this portrayal, the audience is split on whether to see him as a desperate father trying to bond with his children after years of separation, a surgeon who has miraculously saved lives or a serial killer who murdered for pleasure. His complex character plays with the audience’s morals and causes conflicts between the other characters within the show.


Surrounding this deceptive character, Bright paints his father as a bad man after being emotionally damaged, leaving him with severe mental illnesses. Bright goes out of his way to make sure his family and others understand how cruel Dr. Whitly is. On the other hand, Ms. Whitly never had a close connection with her father. So, she paints him as a good man. These contradicting viewpoints feed the audience with twisted moral questions.


Then, there is Mrs. Whitly. She comes off as unlikeable and over-possessive; she tries to take control of other people’s lives without listening to anyone other than herself. It is also frustrating to see her try to fix other people’s problems when her own problems have not been resolved yet. Her obsession with her family portrays her as a very manipulative mother and an unappealing character.


The scriptwriting and set designs for each episode make it apparent that the show was written with the insight from professional advisors. The crime and set productions in each episode seem real because the science is real. Everything is written, prepared and executed properly with professional advisors on set to make it as accurate as possible for the viewers. 


With the realistic sets, the actors can be as immersive as the viewers. Everything goes hand-in-hand with one another to create an environment that proves that each detail was meticulously planned and created for its specific purpose.


This show is excellent for audiences interested in the psychological reasons behind why people behave the way they behave. Not only is each criminal broken down psychologically by Bright to determine the patterns of a serial killer, but Bright is also broken down psychologically. Viewers get to see Bright interrogate his own mind with each haunting memory resurfacing a new question about his blurry past.


With its newest seventh episode, “Q&A,” which aired on Monday, Nov. 5th, the show further develops its characters’ family dynamic and plot’s thrill. In the show’s newest installment, the viewers get to follow the dramatic events that occurs when the Claremont Psychiatric Hospital has a lockdown with Ms. Whitly, Ms. Whitly’s boyfriend/colleague, Bright and Dr. Whitly trapped inside.


Ms. Whitly becomes an easily hated character in this episode when she prioritizes her journalism career over the safety of herself and others. After Dr. Whitly saves Ms. Whitly’s boyfriend from a stab wound inflicted by an inmate, Ms. Whitly persists in the idea that her father is a good man willing to help. However, she is oblivious to the fact that Dr. Whitly will do anything to look good for his children, even if it means creating a dangerous scenario where he can save the day and mask himself as a savior.


These contradicting opinions between the Whitly family is seen in full effect in this newest episode. The viewers are pulled by every side with Bright arguing that it is too dangerous to give Dr. Whitly a scalpel to save Ms. Whitley’s boyfriend while Ms. Whitly argues that Dr. Whitly has saved enough people to save one more soul. The heated argument creates tension and suspense, with the cinematography adding onto it. The set designs and choices with the light effects and the background music all causes a buildup for the audience, leaving them on the edge of their seat.


Mrs. Jessica Whitly, Ms. Ainsley Whitly and Malcolm Bright sit at the dining table whilst arguing over the fact that Bright had decided to visit his father after ten years. (Photo Courtesy of Fox’s YouTube Channel)

The show’s seventh episode is a one-of-a-kind as the first episode in the series where the crime will take more than one episode to solve. It also introduces a secondary main antagonist, a friend of Dr. Whitly, since Dr. Whitly has been moved to solitary confinement after the lockdown at the psychiatric hospital. 


Overall, this episode left more questions unanswered than answered. Audiences will now have to wait a week to find out where Ms. Whitly will go with her positive opinion of her father, what Ms. Whitly will do with the footage of her serial killer father saving someone’s life, if Dr. Whitly will ever be seen again now that he is in solitary confinement, what else Bright will remember during that one mysterious camping trip he had with his father, what actually happened at the camping trip, who the unknown secondary antagonist is and how they are connected to Bright and if Bright will discover a truth that turns his life upside-down.


“Prodigal Son” deserves a nine out of ten stars overall, a deserving rank for its ingenuity. Despite its frustratingly slow pace with its character development, the crime drama series makes an exceptional show with its detailed set designs, characters, psychology and science. Catch the show weekly on Monday nights at 9 p.m. on Fox.

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