The old adage about "sins of the father" takes on an all-new meaning in Fox's upcoming crime procedural Prodigal Son. The series introduces audiences to profiler Malcolm Bright (Tom Payne) as he puts his superior mind-hunting skills to use solving crimes and tracking down murderers for the NYPD. Bright knows a lot more about these maniacs than most; in addition to being a whip-smart criminologist, he's also the son of the notorious serial killer Dr. Martin Whitly (Michael Sheen), aka The Surgeon. As it turns out, Bright's personal relationship to the work is both a blessing and a curse.
On the one hand, Bright is incredibly intelligent and incisive on the field. Flashbacks to his childhood reveal that his father carefully curated his fascination with science and anatomy from an early age, a field of expertise that Bright continues to put to use in his career. On the other, Bright is still plagued by the trauma of his father's heinous double life and struggles with night terrors so intense that he has to chain himself to his bed while he sleeps. The one moment, in particular, that continues to haunt Bright's thoughts is a memory from when his father was arrested for his crimes and told the 10-year-old Bright in parting, "I will always love you, because we're the same."
Bright has spent his entire adult life countering that characterization, but he seems to fear there's some truth to Martin's belief. Like his father, Bright exudes charisma, but can be numb and calculated. Bright is also exceedingly gifted at putting himself into the mind of the killer that he's targeting, becoming visibly alight while pondering their methods and motives. Despite Bright's requests over the years, Martin cannot — or will not — tell his son why he killed so many people, making it clear that Bright's career path isn't just about helping save other victims to make up for what his dad did; he's also in search of his own answers.
Tom Payne told TV Guide that Bright's emotional conflicts will be a consistent struggle for the character, particularly as he attempts to parse through his feelings toward Martin. "His father was a very good dad to him, and he has good memories of how he treated him," Payne explained at the Television Critics Association summer press tour. "The serial killer side of it was obviously awful. ... But that's the center of Malcolm's character, is how to deal with his father and the love that he has for him, but also the fear and hatred."
By the time we meet him in the series premiere, Bright has put a decade of distance between himself and his father, but before that, he'd been the only member of his family to give Martin the time of day. His mother Jessica (Bellamy Young) and younger sister Ainsley (Halston Sage) cut Martin out of their lives completely following his arrest. Yet Bright was strangely compelled to visit his father's prison cell and "talk shop" up until the moment that he had to cut Martin off to pursue a career at Quantico, a decision which devastated his father. That's why, when a present-day series of murders reminds Bright of his father's notorious killing spree, he has to wonder if Martin is aiding this new killer in order to get his son's attention again. If so, it's an utter success.
Bright is once again drawn into his father's orbit in the series premiere, but he isn't venturing into this dangerous territory on his own. Having been kicked out of the FBI after they had enough of Bright's, shall we say, impulse control issues, he is brought back into the crime-solving fold by Gil (Lou Diamond Phillips), an NYPD investigator with a connection to Bright's past.
"There's a history between Gil and Malcolm which we are going to reveal as this series goes along," Phillips teased, adding how relationships like this make Prodigal Son more than just a straightforward crime procedural. "The dynamics between these characters are so interesting and so compelling that [they] will take [the show] beyond the crime-of-the-week aspect."
"It is very dark. It's very edgy," added Halston Sage, whose character Ainsley is (at least outwardly) less affected by her father being a murderer than Bright. But while Ainsley and Bright have coped with the trauma in very different ways, like her brother, Ainsley has also devoted herself to the pursuit of truth and justice in her career as a television journalist. "It's very different than what you're used to seeing in a crime show," Sage continued. "Each week you learn more about their relationships."
It won't just be these past connections that get explored on the show either; as Bright moves from the FBI to the NYPD, he'll have to prove himself to his new coworkers, Detectives JT Tarmel (Frank Harts) and Dani Powell (Aurora Perrineau), who are initially wary of working so closely with the son of the notorious Surgeon.
For JT, Harts told TV Guide, the apprehension stems from the question of "why Gil brought this guy in to work with us so closely and why everybody seems to be trusting him so much so soon." While Dani shares some of these concerns, she simultaneously recognizes something of herself in Bright, particularly after witnessing one of his night terrors in the NYPD squad room. "Her and Bright kind of have an interesting connection and this underlying anxiety that they share," Perrineau told TV Guide.
Keiko Agena, who portrays the in-house medical examiner Edrisa Tanaka, added that the seriousness of the crimes and familial dynamics in Prodigal Son often give way to moments of unexpected humor, which help the show from becoming overbearingly grim. "The fact that [executive producers] Chris [Fedak] and Sam [Sklaver] have written, and [executive producer] Greg Berlanti created, an environment where, because of its honesty and because of its rawness, you get these comic moments that come out, it's so lovely. It's not down dark. It's edge of your seat kind of exciting, vibrational dark."
Prodigal Son is also not afraid to get creative — or push boundaries — when it comes to the criminal investigations Bright, Gil, and the team will take on. "I think the writers have really challenged themselves to do clever, interesting, crazy things, and on a weekly basis I've been sort of amazed," said Phillips. "It's like, OK, we're going to go there. We're going to take the gloves off and we're going to do this. And it is a lot of fun, and [the cases are] not out of the realm of possibility when you read these stories every day where truth is stranger than fiction.
"We will never do anything by rote on this show, that's for sure."
Prodigal Son premieres on Monday, Sept. 23 at 9/8c on Fox.
Additional reporting by Sadie Gennis