Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Exclusive Interview: ‘Prodigal Son’ Showrunners Chris Fedak and Sam Sklaver Answer Our Burning Season 2 Questions

With just one week left until the highly anticipated premiere of season 2 of Prodigal Son, Nerds and Beyond had the pleasure of talking with the showrunners of the hit series, Chris Fedak and Sam Sklaver. The pair answered our questions about that big twist, teased the road ahead for our favorite characters, and more. Read on for our exclusive interview!

Spoiler warning: this interview includes references to the events of season 1 of Prodigal Son. Read at your own risk! 

Image courtesy Fox.

Nerds and Beyond: So, starting off with that big twist at the end of season one, the trailer that was just released makes it seem like Malcolm is going to be taking the fall for Ainsley going forward. Can you tease anything about that coming up in season two?

Chris Fedak: Well, first off, I’d just like to say that I just saw that video. I was on your website as we were about to start the interview. I was like, “Oh, wait a minute, Sam, they know more than we do, they have more information!” So, I’m not quite certain if I’ve actually watched that yet. You might know more than we’re ready to spill, but we’ll spill whatever you want [laughs]. We’re real wimps when it comes to that, just twist our arm.

Sam Sklaver: I do think what’s fun about that tease, that Bright takes the fall, is that we’ve always kind of been telling two stories in Prodigal Son. We’ve been telling the really fast-paced police procedural, with thriller elements that take place within the NYPD major crimes department. But we’ve also been telling the family story, the family of one of the world’s most notorious serial killers, The Surgeon and his wife and his two kids.

So, the fact Bright helps Ainsley out, is it really a surprise? Not to me, at least, because this family does a lot of things together. But that just opens up so many more family stories for us to tell, because if Bright is going to help his sister do that, it makes me worried that other people might find out about it as well. It’s harder to keep secrets, especially when not everyone is on the same page. So, the way that this activates our family of the Whitlys, that’s something that is so exciting for us in the launch of season 2. Because as far as I’m concerned, the more Whitlys the better when it comes to this show, it’s a fascinating family to see on television.

Chris Fedak: There’s something about Tom [Payne]’s performance that is just so anxiety-ridden, that the more we kind of put stuff on him, the more fun he gets to watch. [laughs] Maybe it’s just because he’s so handsome! It’s just we want to torture him in some way and that’s probably what Sam and I are doing.

Image courtesy Fox.

Nerds and Beyond: And it looks like you’re complicating matters even further, because it seems like Ainsley truly does not remember what she did in the finale. So, with the idea of Ainsley being this “prodigal daughter” going forward, who doesn’t really remember what’s happened to her – will we be seeing more of her memories in her childhood, the same way that we saw Malcolm’s memories of childhood early in season one?

Chris Fedak: The answer is yes.  For us, our show is “Sherlock Freud”, that’s one of the ways we like to look at it. And for us, the psychology of any person is a mystery, if you’re not that person. Even if you are that person, sometimes your own psychology is a mystery, how you see and think and feel and what you actually remember. So for Bright, Ainsley is now another mystery to add into his murderer’s row of mysteries that he needs to solve. So it’s a big part of the show this year.

Nerds and Beyond: And so much of that is going to be shared with Halston Sage this season, whose performance had to grow over the course of the season to accommodate that huge twist. Can you tease anything about her coming up in season 2 and whether her journey is significantly impacted by this?

Chris Fedak: Yes, absolutely.

Sam Sklaver: I think it’s always interesting, when we kind of launched Halston’s character, Ainsley was of the mindset that she was too young to remember the crimes of her father. But really when you do the math of what a five-year-old can remember from their youth and be affected by, there’s a lot there. So, the truth is that although Ainsley thinks that she doesn’t remember a lot from her past and she thinks that she hasn’t been as affected by her father as her brother was, she does remember. Growing up, I think Bright’s character was probably the one who got a little bit more attention, maybe he was in therapy more. Everyone knew his relationship with his father and they worried about him and people didn’t worry as much about Ainsley and she didn’t give that reason to worry.

Sam Sklaver: But the car that we’re turning over right now is that Bright is going to be worried about his sister. And he’s going to be worried about his sister, probably for the first time in his life in the sense that it’s not “like father like son”, but what if it’s “like father like daughter”? I’m not saying that it is, but I know that’s the thought that’s going to go through a lot of people’s minds this season. And Halston Sage is just going to nail it, she’s just such a talented actor that we can put her in the darkest deepest places and just know that she’ll find a way to shine in her performance. It’s all very exciting.

Image Courtesy Fox.

Nerds and Beyond: Something else that we all found really fascinating while rewatching the show is how much attention you pay to the characterization of Malcolm’s mental health, really portraying complex PTSD in a very realistic way. Was that something you prioritized when you were writing the character?

Chris Fedak: Absolutely. I think that when we first started working on the story, we imagined what it was like to come from a parent, who would cause such trauma in your life and complex PTSD seemed like it would be tied to Bright from the get-go. In Tom’s performance, it’s one of those fascinating things to watch. It’s like someone who is both charming and handsome and all those amazing actor things, but also you can watch him be tortured, because it’s not something that’s always fascinating to watch on television. And Tom is able to visualize that very kind of complicated thing and it’s fascinating to watch. So, we knew that Bright’s psychology would always be front and center in the show and be it a shaky hand or his being tortured looking into his past, that’s part and parcel for the show. So, I think even from when Sam and I were working on the pitch, that was going to be the heart of the show.

Sam Sklaver: Yeah. We have a lot of different consultants who we employ to read our scripts and give us notes. And we have a medical consultant who tells us if we’re performing our medicine correctly. And we have a cop, a former cop, who tells us if the cops are doing the right thing. And then we have a guy named Tim Ainger, who’s [a neuropsychologist]. But he really just tells us if what we’re doing is correct in terms of all of the mental things that we’re talking about, if we’re describing different patients and if we’re describing different disorders.

The big part of us for our cases is that, well, this week we are looking for a “justice killer”, this week we are looking for someone with a complex personality disorder. And yeah, that we get that right is crucial to the show, because it’s just better. It feels more real when it is more real and the same totally goes for where Malcolm Bright is in his headspace with this complex PTSD. So, we’re fortunate enough to have smarter people than us telling us exactly what it’s supposed to be and then we do what they say, but make the language a little more flowery and joke it up. But it’s always been crucial that if you’re going to do a “Sherlock Freud” type show, if you’re going to talk about all these different conditions, that you do it correctly. We kind of make it up as we go along and then in every step we make it more real and do more research, it’s always exciting action.

Nerds and Beyond: One of the things you sort of touched on, is that your show is unique in that you have to balance having an interesting case of the week, with also moving along the serialized plot. And this season especially, it seems like you’re going to continue to have very interesting, very dark cases of the week. How do you create that balance of making whatever case they’re working on that week entertaining, but still giving the answers to the larger arcs and the larger question?

Chris Fedak: It’s really a structure, it’s a scaffolding that you build the show on top of. So, the fact that you have a case of the week isn’t a bad thing. It allows you to explore a specific theme and story. And because we as writers are allowed to choose what case and how we want to attack it and what world we’re going to be going into, we’re usually trying to find a way to kind of blend the theme and the character work along into the case itself. So, it’s not always like a one to one. Bright’s not always trying to solve a case that has to do with bad dads, but they’re always using the case to kind of help us along.

But I think that we also figured out last year is that, there are episodes where we twisted the way the case works, be it episode 11 or the finale. And the show can handle it. The show doesn’t have to be “there’s a body at the end of act one,” but sometimes we can change that up a little bit. So, that’s a real kind of testament to the cast and our team, but it’s exciting for us.

Image Courtesy Fox.

Nerds and Beyond: Absolutely. It’s exciting to watch too, because you’re never really quite sure what’s going to happen next. Someone that everyone on our staff wanted me to ask about is Edrisa (Keiko Agena), who is very quickly becoming one of our favorite characters. She just has that great comic relief, but also this really wonderful sincerity to her. Are we going to be seeing more of her in the second season?

Chris Fedak: [jokingly] Maybe, I don’t know.

Sam Sklaver: Yes, a thousand percent, yes. We are equally enamored with and in love with Keiko. She actually, Chris, I haven’t even spoken to you about this, but she shot a scene yesterday where she’s been up all night working a case and the comedic timing, she’s just … Keiko is amazing at what she does and she’s essential for our show. And I think our writers are a lot like your writers, we first started up this season 2 with “how can we have more Edrisa in the show”.

Sam Sklaver: She’s just delightful in what she does and she’s also a very smart voice to work off of Bright. They’re both kind of fascinated by the same things. So, we really made it a priority that we would at least find one case where we could showcase Edrisa front and center, similar to how we did it with our mortician episode last season. We have a big Edrisa episode in season 2, and if we had more episodes, we’d have more big Edrisa episodes, she’s wonderful. We’re building an episode this year based around the Netflix documentary Don’t F**k With Cats.

Nerds and Beyond: Oh yes, that will be great!

Chris Fedak: Edrisa is deep into the world of online sleuths.

Nerds and Beyond: I have two final questions for you both that are sort of rapid-fire. The first one is, if you had to tease season 2 in one word, what word would you use?

Sam Sklaver: Oh, one word is so few words!

Nerds and Beyond: [laughs] I know.

Sam Sklaver: It can’t really be an adjective. I mean, one word.

Nerds and Beyond: If you can’t get a word, I’ll accept a sentence.

Sam Sklaver: Oh, no. I want to try and get it in a word.

Chris Fedak: Sam, what about “escape”?

Sam Sklaver: Oh! What about “escape-a-tastic”? Just to make it more exciting.

Chris Fedak: Escape-a-tastic, I like that.

Nerds and Beyond: Interesting …

Sam Sklaver: This is how Chris and I write, by the way, there’s just a lot of silence and then a “what about, what about”. [laughs] Well, I think it’s “amazing”. I know that’s a very cocky word to use, but I am very excited for season 2. I don’t know. I have to be honest with you, I know this is supposed to be rapid-fire, but somehow all of these COVID restrictions and everything that’s happened in our world, we’ve found a way to safely produce a show, that’s just as good as it was last season. And the scope is just as big and the laughs are just as hard and all the actors are performing and I’m just like, it’s thrilling. That’s a fun word too, I don’t know. “Escape” is great, but it’s a good time.

Image Courtesy FOX.

Nerds and Beyond: And this last one is also from our staff – we have our own theories about this, but will we ever find out what JT’s real name is?

Sam Sklaver: I don’t know. Chris, do you want to?

Chris Fedak: Sure. We can take pitches from your staff on what it is! We have an idea, but everyone in the cast likes to pitch on what they think JT stands for. What did they say Kramer’s first name was [on Seinfeld], Cosmo? What season did Seinfeld do that? Maybe we can follow that track.

Nerds and Beyond: That’ll be the series finale, we’ll finally find out!

Sam Sklaver: It’ll be the last secret revealed in the show.

Chris Fedak: What if we found out that his name was J-A-Y-T-E-E?

Our thanks to Chris Fedak and Sam Sklaver for taking the time to chat with us! Prodigal Son returns January 12 at 9 p.m. ET on Fox, with season 1 available on Fox Now and Hulu. Looking to refresh your memory before the premiere? Check out our Nerds Rewatch Prodigal series where we break down every episode from the first season, and be sure to follow us for more recaps as season 2 unfolds.

I am a nurse and dedicated nerd from Boston, MA. When I'm not at work, I'm rewatching old favorites like Supernatural or discovering my new obsessions (too many to count!). When not fangirling, I can be found reading, writing, or listening to a true crime podcast. You can find me on Twitter @juleswritesblog for more nerdy nonsense.

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