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It has been exactly five years since Prodigal Son premiered on FOX.
This bold concept emerged from a sea of reality television series, reboots, and revivals, carving its own unique place in the television landscape.
Sadly, nothing has been able to replicate the specialness of this crime, police, and family dramedy that stole our hearts nor fill the void it left behind. Network television is still begging for everything a series like Prodigal Son provides.
In honor of the anniversary of Prodigal Son Season 1 Episode 1 dropping and changing our lives, we’re discussing everything we still miss about this late, great series.
Check it out below and hit the comments with any additions!
Snuggly, Diabolical Serial Killer Dad
It’s no secret that in a series that was fantastic from top to bottom with no complaints or drawbacks, Martin Whitly stole the show.
Michael Sheen’s ability to shift from joke-telling, a subtly manipulative but doting dad, Martin Whitly, to the sinister, sociopathic “The Surgeon” from one second to the next was utterly fascinating and enough to have you glued to the screen.
It’s also why it was so easy for Martin to win our hearts, even though we knew who and what he was. If you ever wondered how anyone could fall in love with a known serial killer, Martin made a good case for himself with his complexities, making him one of the most interesting characters to appear onscreen in the last decade.
It’s no wonder many of us had mixed feelings about his fate during Prodigal Son Season 2 Episode 13. And after that shocking cliffhanger followed by an even more stunning cancelation, it’s no wonder it didn’t spark our own villain origin story.
Tom Payne’s Remarkable Performance
Anyone familiar with Tom Payne’s previous work in series like The Walking Dead or other things knew without a shadow of a doubt that he was a talented actor who could helm his own series. But knowing that and seeing it are two totally different things.
And Payne truly shined and impressed as Malcolm Bright. He had a deceptively challenging role to make his own.
He had to capture the complexities of Malcolm’s conflicting emotions regarding his love/hate relationship with his father, navigating mental illness in an authentic and respectful way, and balancing a genre-bending series that required him to wear many hats, pulling off horror, humor, drama, and procedural elements.
Payne’s work on Prodigal Son was so nuanced and underrated, from his physicality to his diction, and we miss the hell out of it.
Rich, Complex Characters
There was nothing simple about any of the characters on this series. If, for a moment, you thought they were straightforward, you were proven wrong.
While Malcolm and Martin were undoubtedly the first to come to mind when considering complexity, each character had something to give in this regard.
Ainsley was a character that took a bit to evolve, but when she did, she became one of the most intriguing characters the series had to offer, rife with so much potential, and you could sense how much Halston Sage had fun playing this role.
Ainsley’s evolution from the seemingly “normal” child to the one with some of Martin’s tendencies made for such a compelling arc, and it was enough to have us wishing for a Prodigal Sister spinoff.
Bellamy Young’s role as Jessica was also impressive in that the character could’ve easily been written off as one-note.
Still, the series does fast work of dismantling any preconceived notions or boxes one would ascribe to her and showcasing the complexities of a woman who did everything she could to protect her children.
Dani was such a multifaceted and layered character who matched and balanced Malcolm out well.
It was genuinely one of the strongest aspects of the series that we slowly got to peel back layers about her, and she was unlike any other female detective we’ve seen in traditional procedurals.
JT was a classic scene stealer, set up to be an antagonist to Malcolm only for things to flip, becoming a great counterbalance to Malcolm and the two, forging a bromance that was fun to see evolve.
They brought a buddy-cop element to the series that nodded at the traditional procedural but put a quintessentially Prodigal Son spin on it, making it something refreshing and new.
And he was a consummate straight man to the shenanigans, amusing viewers with his dry wit and one-liners.
And Lou Diamond Phillips truly nailed the role paternal role of Gil, giving us this wonderful blend of a flawed but sage leader. His grounding force to the series made so many of the elements click.
While Edrisa was the quirky, nerdy character who came off as a popular archetype on the surface, the series would turn things on its head in such interesting ways that implied that Edrisa was so much more than she’d seem.
Kooky, Unorthodox Cases and Interesting Villains
One of the best things about Prodigal Son was that it could appeal to lovers of procedurals while offering something different from the traditional procedural.
No series could match some of the genuinely out-there cases the team would take on and all the fun things that would transpire while attempting to solve them.
Prodigal Son cases would almost put 9-1-1 calls to shame, with snakes slithering out of mouths, creepy elevator deaths, Malcolm chopping off a person’s hand, sex dungeons, and that’s not even the long-arching cases like the Girl in the Box mystery.
And the killers, villains, and antagonists within the series were always a blast. They often included incredible guest stars like Michael Raymond James, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Dermot Mulroney, and Alan Cumming.
The Romance and Ships
Prodigal Son had damn good ships that you could enjoy without them necessarily detracting from everything else great about the series.
It was genuinely endearing to watch Malcolm and Dani’s relationship evolve as it did. They seemingly became fast partners and friends, confiding in each other as they opened up and became more vulnerable over time.
The tension between them built in a lovely way, and by the time they kissed, it was well worth the wait and earned. And the obstacles and complications that came into play for them made sense for the characters and what they were up against.
We’re still Brightwell Forever!
Meanwhile, the series didn’t hesitate to deliver on a secondary romance, and it was a real thrill when that relationship was between Gil and Jessica.
It’s not often that we get romances that cater to the over-50 crowd. Jessica and Gil really sizzled as a couple with their rich history, sexual tension, and the extra drama of having Martin’s presence constantly between them.
It was hard not to root for the two through it all.
The Dark Humor
Prodigal Son was funny. Plain and simple.
There isn’t a single installment of this series that doesn’t make you laugh out loud, whether it’s the zany antics of the characters that teeter into absurdity or the whip-smart, witty dialogue and snark.
It’s one of those rare series where every single character has a comedic identity that differs from the others, and they each get to shine in their own way because of that, catering to all the comedic styles while also balancing the serious, horror, and other tones.
Prodigal Son understood the art of dark humor and executed it well in each installment.
Twisted Family Drama and Dynamics
Nothing could ever top Martin and Malcolm’s twisted father/son dynamic.
The entire series hinged on the electric chemistry between Tom Payne and Martin Sheen and their ability to create and portray the intoxicating bond between Malcolm and his father.
Martin’s obsession with drawing out his son’s “inner killer,” hoping that he’d created a progeny who was the apple of his eye and the spitting image of him to carry on the serial killing legacy, was riveting.
And it made his every interaction with Malcolm, who spent most of the series questioning his own nature and what he was capable of while desperately trying to combat it, something that kept you glued to the screen.
But that wasn’t the only compelling Whitly dynamic.
Every interaction among the Whitly family was wonderfully complex and unique in its own right. The Whitly siblings had something truly special as Malcolm often worked to protect Ainsly at every turn, only to learn that she may have been the one who closely resembled Martin’s maturity.
Ainsley’s attempts to even be on her father’s radar was something the series could’ve easily explored in future seasons and made the familial dynamic more engaging than ever.
Jessica’s respective relationship with both of her children and her constant doting and attempts to protect them were so deeply rooted, while her equal parts alluring and deadly connection with Martin was mesmerizing to watch.
It’s a shame we had to say goodbye to the Whitly family. They’re unlike anything we’ve seen on television in some time.
Five years later, we still miss the series that won our hearts so much that we dedicated a Prodigal Son Love Letter to it.
Turning things over to you, Prodigal Son Fanatics. What do you miss most about this series?
If you want to relive it all over again or rewatch the pilot in honor of its anniversary, you can stream Prodigal Son on The CW app or catch up with our Prodigal Son Reviews!
Jasmine Blu is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. She is an insomniac who spends late nights and early mornings binge-watching way too many shows and binge-drinking way too much tea. Her eclectic taste makes her an unpredictable viewer with an appreciation for complex characters, diverse representation, dynamic duos, compelling stories, and guilty pleasures. You’ll definitely find her obsessively live-tweeting, waxing poetic, and chatting up fellow Fanatics and readers. Follow her on Twitter.