Ask Matt: The Setting of the ‘Prodigal Son’

Prodigal Son Tom Payne Michael Sheen
David Giesbrecht / FOX
Prodigal Son

Welcome to the Q&A with TV critic — also known to some TV fans as their “TV therapist” — Matt Roush, who’ll try to address whatever you love, loathe, are confused or frustrated or thrilled by in today’s vast TV landscape. (We know background music is too loud, but there’s always closed-captioning.)

One caution: This is a spoiler-free zone, so we won’t be addressing upcoming storylines here unless it’s already common knowledge. Please send your questions and comments to [email protected] (or use the form at the end of the column) and follow me on Twitter (@TVGMMattRoush). Look for Ask Matt columns on many Tuesdays and Fridays.

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The Son Will No Longer Rise at Fox

Question: I was saddened to read that Prodigal Son has been canceled. From my point of view, when you put a show up against the ever-popular This Is Us, most assuredly it is asking for ratings trouble. Is there any chance that the show could find another home or the powerhouse that is Greg Berlanti could come up with a solution? — Robyn

Matt Roush: Longtime readers of this column will know my standard answer to this question is: Probably not, although this time I sure wish there was hope that a show so original and enjoyably suspenseful could land elsewhere. There were a lot of factors stacked against Prodigal Son’s second season: A long gap between seasons because of Covid, keeping the show off the air until January, then another month’s break in March further killing momentum, presumably for similar reasons. Airing opposite This Is Us is no picnic, but they’re very different types of shows. It didn’t help that Fox moved Prodigal Son away from another over-the-top hit like 9-1-1, although something this bizarre was always going to have to be a self-starter.

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By all accounts, Fox’s creative execs believed in the show and wanted it to work but were disappointed in the ratings, even after adding another marquee star in Catherine Zeta-Jones as the deranged Dr. Capshaw. It’s hard to know where they could pitch this show, except to WarnerMedia’s own streaming outlet: HBO Max, and while its brand identity leaves a lot to be desired, HBO was never in the habit of taking anyone’s castoffs.

Before we move on, a few more reactions from the mailbag:

From Debbie: “I am sure you will be getting a lot of mail about Prodigal Son being canceled — add me to the list of complainers! This is such an amazing show with a great cast, and leave it to Fox to cancel it. Why?? And the networks wonder why people don’t want to invest in their shows.”

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Ratings dip has resulted in high profile show getting axed by Fox.

Matt Roush: I hear this a lot anytime a broadcast network cancels a show, which still tends to get a lot more attention than when the same fate befalls a streaming or even cable series. But in this case, I also feel that if a show like Prodigal Son can’t scare up an audience or if Fox isn’t able to protect or nurture it, this isn’t a good sign for the networks to be able to keep trying to raise their game and compete.

From Gail: “I love this show. I can’t get enough of Michael Sheen’s “Surgeon.“ He plays the psychopath so well, I’d be afraid to go to sleep next to him. All of the actors are exceptional in their playing of their characters. I will really miss this show.”

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Matt Roush: Me too. Of all the shows signing off voluntarily or otherwise — and there will be more unhappy news coming out of the network Upfronts next week, I imagine — this and Mom will leave the most gaping voids.

Keeping the Plane Mystery Aloft

Question: I want to know what is happening with the renewal of NBC’s Manifest. I read an analysis from Deadline Hollywood about some sort of “deficit-financing” issue with the show and them looking at increasing episode count to get sales on the backend via streaming? Not sure what all that means. I probably already know the answer to all this but wanted to see what you had to offer. — Isa

Matt Roush: I know this can all sound like a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, but what interests me about some of these industry trade reports is how the fate of certain “bubble” shows — jargon for shows that sweat out renewal each year, rarely getting early pick-ups — could hinge on complicated financial deals involving compensation for streaming and their viability on other platforms beyond weekly network broadcast. I doubt Manifest is in any real danger this year, but it’s a real sign of the times that several other shows — including one of my personal favorites, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist — might even end up migrating to streaming, and we probably won’t know for sure until well after the upfronts are over. Regarding Manifest, the calculus involves the studio (Warner Bros.) weighing the cost of producing the show, which isn’t fully covered by NBC’s license fee, with the potential back-end of the show’s lucrative streaming afterlife if it goes beyond the current third season. This is why they call it show business.

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That Sinking Feeling About ’Shipping on NCIS

Comment: I have been watching NCIS since 2003 (the beginning) and unfortunately I have to say I’m very frustrated with the current episodes. Please, please don’t think Torres and Bishop can ever in a million years replace Tony and Ziva: wrong direction. Actually a bad direction for the show. They aren’t that good. In fact, I’m not a fan of Bishop. I want you to know I feel bad saying that, but she’s not that good. She will never be Ziva or Kate. You need someone like Ziva or Kate. Bishop just doesn’t cut it. I already know of several people who have stopped watching NCIS because of Bishop. Seems incredible but it’s true. You need someone like Missy Peregrym. I can’t even think about Gibbs ever leaving. I’ve never done this before, but I felt strongly about my feelings and just had to give you my comments. — E Forte

Matt Roush: And here I thought the Bishop backlash had died down. Apparently not. The downside of any long-running franchise is that fan favorites are rarely going to stick around forever, and NCIS has lost more than its fair share (Tony, Ziva, Abby). They’re not coming back, except in rare cases for a ratings stunt, so NCIS is playing with the cards they’ve been dealt, even if it feels like a pale imitation of what came before. That said, they’ve done the workplace romance at least one time too often, so I agree for everyone’s sake that this might be better off if it were nipped in the bud.

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Some Heartfelt Praise

Question: My husband and I really enjoy Bob Hearts Abishola on CBS. The cast is incredible! Everyone adds to the story’s humor, but I have a question about Christine Ebersole, who plays Bob’s mother. The part about her stroke and ongoing recovery gave my husband a lot of laughs over a difficult subject. She plays the part so perfectly my husband could identify with her character. He has had two strokes and wondered if Christine actually suffered one in real life. Maybe it was worked into the storyline in order to keep her in the show? — Isabella

Matt Roush: I’m happy to say that’s just good acting. And Christine Ebersole, a two-time Tony-winning pro, is merely pretending to be in recovery from a stroke. A smart storyline, though, to get Abishola more intricately involved with the rest of Bob’s family.

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Will Grey’s Keep Us Hanging for Another Whole Season?

Question: So Ellen Pompeo‘s new deal that just got announced, triggering the renewal of Grey’s Anatomy, is for one year only, but ABC/Disney is unwilling to designate next year of Grey’s as the final one. I’m happy that the show is going to be back. And I get it from a business perspective that they do not wish to lose a huge asset like Grey’s. But refusing to designate it in advance as the final year means that they’re just going to be back in this position negotiating with her again a year from now on another renewal. I’m not saying I want to have Grey’s leave, but the length of time it took to get to this renewal seems indicative that she will want to walk away sooner rather than later. I’d much rather have Grey’s get a designated final renewal at whatever point so that it gives Krista Vernoff (and, hopefully, Shonda Rhimes) time to come up with an ending and not just the last handful of episodes they happen to make. What do you think? — Jake

Matt Roush: I obviously agree that when the time comes to end the historic long run of Grey’s Anatomy, the showrunners and the network need time to adequately process, promote and produce the last chapters. While negotiations at this level are always tricky, I never believed this would be the final season of Grey’s, with production affected by Covid and Meredith in beachfront limbo for so long. (This ranks with Denny’s ghost as one of the show’s more boneheaded decisions, as nice as it was to see McDreamy and a few other ghosts from the past.) What they can’t allow is for the Powers That Be to dither at such length again. When the time comes to pull the trigger, it needs to be transparent and done with enough forethought to give the series the farewell it and its fans deserve. Case in point: While I’ll miss This Is Us, I’m glad to know well in advance that next season will be its last, part of an overall creative plan.

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What Century Is This?

Question: The writers of historical dramas often assign 21st-century attitudes and social mores to their characters and storylines. One example is PBS’ World on Fire. The character of Lois is unmarried and pregnant, yet she tells her father she intends to keep the baby instead of placing it for adoption. Also, she is entertaining the troops while heavily pregnant. This would not have happened in the 1940s. Why do writers do this? It’s not a truthful depiction of social history. — Kathryn, Wichita Falls, TX

Matt Roush: Maybe Lois is just ahead of her times? That’s an interesting thing to play, if not always make credible. And while my memory of this series (which first aired on Masterpiece more than a year ago) is a little fuzzy, my take on Lois (played by Julia Brown) in my initial review was that she was Fire’s “greatest asset … a spunky heroine whose streak of independence and pride keeps her from being just another war bride.” I doubt I was jarred by her decision to keep her baby, but I do remember thinking it was odd that she was allowed to keep performing while obviously expecting. Anything for the troops! The good news is that there will be a second season of World on Fire, though it will likely be quite a while before we see it.

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That’s all for now. We can’t do this without your participation, so please keep sending questions and comments about TV to [email protected] or shoot me a line on Twitter (@TVGMMattRoush), and you can also submit questions via the handy form below. (Please include a first name with your question.)