A Prodigal Son Love Letter: The Heavy Price of Unconventionality and #SaveProdigalSon

We find ourselves here again.

Many of us are no strangers to the sting of favorite series getting canceled. Sadly, Prodigies have the misfortune of joining a bitter, overcrowded club.

It happens every season, and yet each series snatched from us too soon pierces the heart and sparks outrage and hurt.

Without a shadow of a doubt, as the news rolls in revealing the fate of many of our beloved series, Prodigal Son will likely be the most upsetting cancelation of the year.

You need only look at the frenzy to salvage it and the shockwaves across a cult fandom, and you’ll see the impact that this great series had on all of those who experienced it.

You can trust and believe that the outrage is warranted because Prodigal Son is unlike anything to come out of network television in some time.

The concept is wholly unique — a series that bucks at tradition and refuses to subscribe to the status quo.

In a sea of procedurals, medical, legal, and cop dramas, reality shows, and sitcoms, Prodigal Son didn’t slot into a predetermined space — it carved out one of its own.

For decades, we’ve begged and clamored for unique series with original concepts to break up the monotony and formulaic programming that plagues network television.

And Prodigal Son is the answer to our prayers.

It smartly gives us the familiar elements, part procedural, cop show, family drama, and dark comedy — a primetime chimera to appeal to the masses while maintaining an identity that’s so distinctly “Prodigal Son” it’s impossible to replicate.

It bolsters one of the best casts on television. Tom Payne routinely impresses and showcases why he’s a worthwhile lead of a series of his own.

He helms this series with unmatched discipline, talent, and refinement.

In the wrong hands, the series’ concept and the complexities of a character such as Malcolm Bright could err on the side of cartoonish or fall flat.

Payne delivers, finding that sweet spot for a character that could go disastrously wrong in a heartbeat if not played with skill.

Beneath the dark comedy, horror elements, and bonkers batshit craziness of this series lies a deep exploration of a mentally ill character that requires a level of care and thoughtfulness.

Malcolm’s Complex PTSD and the exploration of it is a rarity onscreen. While the series often toes the line with its portrayal only because its existence within the framework of this particular series would prompt scrutiny, consistency is the key.

Malcolm’s mental illness isn’t for show. It isn’t a prop pulled out for plot convenience, only to fade away when it’s no longer of use.

No, Malcolm Bright is one of a few mentally ill protagonists on the air depicted as surviving his PTSD every day.

The daily routine of Malcolm taking his meds, normalizing a stigmatized act, is quietly groundbreaking in its own right.

And with the importance of Malcolm maintaining a fulfilling job, holding the respect and esteem of his colleagues, forming friendships, and even teasing a romance despite his litany of issues, it sends a message that this mentally ill man is worthy of love, friendship, and acceptance.

It’s one of many reasons people flocked to the series, expressing how meaningful the representation is and how this show and character makes them feel seen.

Yes, this zany little show does that. Payne’s portrayal of this character has that effect.

The esteemed Michael Sheen has a similar effect, transforming himself into a charismatic, prolific serial killer who dons Dad cardigans and tells dad jokes.

Sheen’s ability to shift from an alluring teddy bear to a chillingly menacing nightmare in a blink of an eye is magic in motion.

Martin Whitly is the perfect example of how serial killers end up with groupies. We know he killed 20+ people, you guys, but he’s so charismatic and snuggly!

His charm is unparalleled, and no other could pull off the level of wit and charisma that makes this character one you hate to admit that you love.

At the center of the series is that bond between Malcolm and Martin. It ventures into something that no show has taken the time to explore in depth like this before.

What does life look like for a child of a serial killer? Is there a matter of nature versus nurture?

And how does one grapple with a father who in part made one’s life a living hell who is deemed a monster by the public but was a good father to you?

While the series plays with the extremes for the drama of it all, there’s something innately relatable about this series delving into the toxicity of familial bonds — how complex those relationships are.

Sure, most of us don’t know the plight of a killer parent’s notoriety looming over every facet of our lives. But pernicious blood bonds and inner/external conflicts are things everyone can identify with in some capacity.

That indefinable dynamic between Malcolm and Martin fuels the series. But these two heavy hitters are backed by a stellar supportive cast of compelling characters, too.

Lou Diamond Phillips’ effortlessly cool Gil Arroyo is such a breath of fresh air. Arroyo leading an entire unit of color is much the same.

And Prodigal Son never gives us diversity for the sake of it, making its dedication to it as authentic and genuine as it gets.

Arroyo’s contrast to Martin is one of the most appealing aspects of the series, vying and claiming the coveted role of “dad.” He’s integrated so deeply into the Whitly family, serving as a bridge between Malcolm’s familial life and professional one.

Prodigal Son marks Phillips’ return to primetime as a series regular since his laud-worthy Longmire days, and his distinct blend of humor, charm, passion, and commanding strength makes Gil the very soul of the series.

Aurora Perrineau shines as the guarded, unassuming, and loyal to a fault Dani Powell. In the days where female characters on cop shows can feel cookie-cutter, Dani is such an unconventional take, layered and captivating.

Her troubled past she survived, her raw and honest depiction of someone overcoming addiction and succeeding, and how she doesn’t run from the darkness of the job or her partner endears.

It’s one of the many reasons the Brightwell ship captures the hearts of fandom. Dani serves as Malcolm’s voice of reason — a grounding force that keeps him on solid ground when his family, or his mind, or circumstances could send him spiraling.

Her no-nonsense, guarded demeanor, smarts, beauty, and vulnerability in the quietest of moments draw you in, and, understandably, Malcolm gravitates to her.

Keiko Agena is an absolute pleasure as the quirky Edrisa Tanaka. While the character could easily veer toward clichéd, she infuses more depth and rounds the character out.

This smart, confident, quirky female character having such an unapologetic command of her sexuality and feminity is invigorating. It, too, is a rarity onscreen.

Bellamy Young’s Jessica could’ve easily been a one-note character. However, the multi-layered socialite exudes elegance, vulnerability, and raw devotion to her children in such a manner that she became one of the most compelling characters of the series overnight.

Halston Sage’s Ainsley delivers with a bold, brash, cocksure feminist icon of a character, sharing scene-stealing quality with Frank Hart — who breathes life into the dry-witted, lion-hearted JT Tarmel.

Combining these characters with unpredictable, jaw-dropping writing, plots, twists and turns, and the show’s deliberate, perfectly curated chaos made for a unicorn of a series.

Prodigal Son is pure insanity with intention. It’s organized, well-crafted, purposeful chaos.

It leans into the crazy, the foolhardiness, and madness, succumbs to illogical and senselessness, and that’s what makes it so damn fun.

And that’s the thing about Prodigal Son; it’s pure, unalloyed FUN. Anything can happen on the series, and everything has happened on it, but the series is committed to insanity.

It knows what it is, and it doesn’t apologize for it. It embraces its quirks and derangement, every bit as much as its protagonist cheekily accepts his particular brand of “crazy.”

It doesn’t pretend to be anything outside of what it is, and that boldness and confidence are unfounded on the landscape where everything is attempting to fit a mold to survive.

It’s everything we could ask for in that regard. And yet, once again, it’s evident that there is no space for it.

There’s no space for creative and original content.

And the attempts made by the innovative risk-takers bold enough to traverse the well-beaten path of safe bets are more often than not rewarded with cancelations for their efforts.

Thus, Prodigal Son joins a graveyard of creative misfits taken too soon for having the audacity to revel in unconventionality.

It’s infuriating, discouraging, and cumbersome.

It isn’t the first time a beloved network like FOX has hurt us like this. FOX is every bit like Martin Whitly himself, charms us into the fold, lures us in with its irresistible programming and magnetism, and then, sometimes, when our guards are down, they sadly snatch away that which we hold dear.

Forgive me, I love FOX with my whole heart, but I’m still recovering from the Pitch, Lucifer, and other cancelations as I wait with bated breath for The Resident, 9-1-1, and 9-1-1: Lone Star renewals. Ahem.

Alas, it’s the nature of a business that sadly still relies on a previously outdated rating system that has only grown obsolete in the wake of a global pandemic.

We can unpack the many reasons why shows like Prodigal Son end up cut during their prime. Or we can discuss the inability to cultivate a functional system to surmise what can/will make money that matches or exceeds that which they dole out is a primary one.

We can also look at the chicken and egg results where viewers refuse to tune into a show live, too fearful that it’ll get canceled from underneath them, thus causing the very fate they feared due to low viewership.

No one wins during those instances, even though both thought processes are sensible. How can we expect a series to survive when viewers are too afraid to tune into it?

How can we expect people to tune in for a series when they’re cut short with a startling and frustrating frequency?

It’s an issue that spans across the board, and it isn’t going away anytime soon, with a confirmation bias on both sides that they’re in the right.

Networks are too scared to commit to anything short of a sure thing because of ratings. Meanwhile, the audience and consumers would rather avoid getting invested in anything that’ll lead to heartbreak and cancellation.

It has to be a method of finding common ground or an alternate way of rectifying the issue. Everyone suffers for it, and worse yet, it is becoming a killer of creativity.

We need only look at the slew of reboots and revivals displacing novel concepts and ideas.

It’s also a matter of considering how unfair and disproportionate it is to expect a niche series such as Prodigal Son to garner the same type of ratings of a run-of-the-mill procedural or reality series.

We have to stop judging all show types as if they’re the same. As long as any network goes into matters expecting different kinds of series to pull similar numbers, fans and creatives of alternative programming will continue getting screwed.

Prodigal Son’s fate is disheartening, and many lamented the shift to a new night, assigning some of the blame to a schedule switch that placed it directly against heavy-hitter juggernaut series on other networks such as This Is Us and FBI.

And to be frank, it’s simply wrong to assume that there’s no overlap in viewership, especially with an eclectic series with both family drama and crime/cop procedural elements, right?

And hell, in an age where more people are cutting the cord and flocking to alternative methods and streaming services, which sustained our entertainment when the globe came to a screeching halt during the pandemic, there’s always the hunch that Prodigal Son could perform better elsewhere.

We’ve seen FOX’s former series Lucifer find success on Netflix.

Prodigal Son could be right at home on the streamer and find a larger audience that would hit the numbers that the show needs and deserves. It has the makings of a sleeper hit for a streamer, breaking out in the same vein as YOU when it shifted from Lifetime to Netflix.

It has the elements, darkness, and appeal of hit series like Mindhunter, which further supports that it could feel more at home on a streaming service. It would also grant the series the ability to go all out, free from the confinements and restrictions of network television.

It already pushes the envelope, so can you imagine where the series could go with more leeway? More gore, gnarly cases, drama, colorful dialogue, and hell, even some sex, too. Why not?

Of course, HBOMax currently streams the first season of the series, so fandom’s pleas for someone to pick up this series doesn’t have to fall exclusively on Netflix or Hulu.

Any streamer will do, yes? Better yet, anyplace will do if it means more of this beloved series.

Post-cancelation, the Prodigal Son fandom is galvanized, and the #SaveProdigalSon campaign is going strong.

Whether or not it’ll be successful remains to be seen, but it speaks volumes that this series has sparked such an outpouring of passion from the masses.

Ratings or not, that has to account for something, doesn’t it?

I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing this series for the past two seasons. Despite the couple of thousand words that I devoted to inarticulately voicing why this series is dear and deserves saving, I don’t have the words to express how disheartening this cancelation is personally.

Ironically, as seemingly dark as the series seems, for me, Malcolm Bright and the gang managed to serve as a bright spot during the bleakest days of the pandemic.

I’ve long since lamented the lack of escapist television and how too often it dies a quick death before it has a chance to take off.

Prodigal Son makes you laugh, and cry, and squeal in delight. It entertains, shocks, and thrills. It leaves you on the edge of your seat, cupping your cheeks or holding a hand over your heart.

It prompts wild theories and speculation, incredible fanart, engaging discourse, and friends.

It has one of the best and most engaging casts, crew, and fandoms on the air. And to echo the sentiment of Payne and Phillips, damn if this show didn’t do everything in style.

Now, more than ever, we need escapist television and original programming.

Prodigal Son delivers.

We hope that it can continue to do so, but if this is the end of the road, there’s comfort in knowing that Prodigal Son dared to defy network television’s ubiquity, and we’re all the better for it.

Over to you, Prodigal Son Fanatics. Hit the Show Comments button below with your gripes, feels, petitions, and more.

Feel free to check out our Prodigal Son Reviews and our list of 17 Reasons Prodigal Son is So Good It’s Killer, too. 

If you want to relive all the things that make this series great, or you want to know what the hype is about, you can watch Prodigal Son online here via TV Fanatic.

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Jasmine Blu is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.

You can view the original article HERE.

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