A son often looks to his father when making life and career choices, and that’s the case in Prodigal Son. In this show (9pm Mondays on FOX), Dr. Martin Whitly (Michael Sheen) is a serial killer who inspires his son, Malcom Bright, to hunt serial killers. Tom Payne plays Malcom, and told The Cocktail that it makes for an interesting family dynamic, “It’s not exactly a family that gives out a lot of hugs.”
You may recognize Tom from his role as Jesus in The Walking Dead. This time around he’s an extremely talented criminal profiler whose unconventional methods get him in trouble despite their effectiveness (he punches a sheriff and chops off someone’s hand in the first episode alone). The premise is hardly new and the premiere episode borders on the cliché, but it doesn’t cross the line and provides us with two very interesting characters. Malcom and Dr. Whitly are both characters worth developing, and when they’re sharing screen time their dynamic is strong.
“There are some issues there because his father was a very very famous serial killer who was taken away when Malcomb was around 11.” Yeah, that definitely puts a strain on the father-son bond. “Malcomb’s issues stem from the fact that he remembers his father as this wonderful, loving dad who he did all these great things with and then suddenly he became this other thing to everyone else worldwide and within his family.”
Malcom gets fired from the FBI and comes home to work with a detective with NYPD and reconnect with his superstar reporter sister and his substance-loving socialite mother. These secondary characters, at least in the first episode, are shallow and two-dimensional, and, honestly, that may be giving them one more dimension than they’re worth, but I’m keeping an open mind. I do have a feeling like the mom may be hiding some secrets about her complicity in her ex-hubby’s crimes.
But Tom hints this may all be part of a bigger plan. “It’s the show of extremes. But at the same time it does show family for what it is, and everyone recognizes themselves, their parents in themselves to a certain degree. You definately see that in the story, of how much of my father is in me. At what point did he become this person? When did he go down this road? And will that happen to me?”
The best moments of the show come when Malcom visits Martin in his well-appointed prison cell in the psych ward. “So it’s everything we might recognize in ourselves about our parents but as a much much darker thing that Malcomb could recognize in himself.”
Now, I’ve interviewed Michael before, and he’s always given off a potential-serial killer vibe. I think it’s the smile paired with the perpetually-filled mischievous eyes. “I’m telling him you said that,” Tom laughed. But he says it totally works in this role. “Obviously in the scenes that we do there’s a big serial killer vibe. We shoot in this amazing set that they built for his cell. Just walking in there is a great amount of focus, there’s a lot of emotions going on. I actually find those scenes quite exhilarating.”
And it’s clear Tom totally admires his chained up co-star. “Michael is one of those chameleon. The last thing he was on television for was Good Omens, which is completely differet character. First of all he looks completely different. And he’s not someone who likes to put a lot of fake noses on or whatever and change himself in that way. He feels the character and it just flows out of him. As soon as I found out Michael was playing my dad I literally jumped for joy because he’s such a wonderful actor. And you only get better working with great actors. it’s just been a great experience.”
Michael also seems to be reveling in the role. “He also has a lot of fun. He’s having a lot of fun with this character and torturing my character! So those scenes that we have together are all over the map. They’re a lot of fun.”
The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
bottle glass of 19 Crimes Red wine. The wine is criminally good, and blood red wine is perfect for a father-knows-best-even-though-he’s-a-serial-killer drama.