"What if your father was a serial killer?" asks Prodigal Son co-creator Sam Sklaver. "But he was also a really good dad?"
That's the conundrum driving the latest in a long line of TV serial killer shows.
The father is Welsh star Michael Sheen (Good Omens), who puts his inscrutable smile to excellent use as Martin Whitly, a New York society doctor unmasked in the 1990s as a prolific killer known as The Surgeon.
The son is Malcolm (The Walking Dead's Tom Payne), who called the cops on his dad when he was a boy and grew up to become a gifted profiler who hunts down serial killers.
Called in to consult when a Surgeon copycat begins killing in New York, Malcolm reaches out to his estranged, long-incarcerated father for help.
Their renewed relationship forms the tense heart of the series. Malcolm is (understandably) distrustful of his father, but benefits from their interactions, which evoke the scenes between Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs.
"Those scenes are so interesting for me as an actor to explore," Sheen tells TimeOut. "Because you think: can this man feel anything? Can he feel empathy? Can he feel love? He was hiding a part of himself that was very fundamental, from the people that matter most in his life. What's real and what's not becomes very interesting and challenging."
In addition to examining how Malcolm's childhood trauma defines him, the series also explores how his mother, Jessica (Scandal's Bellamy Young) and sister, Ainsley (The Orville's Halston Sage) cope with having an infamous killer in the family.
"It's not about bad people doing nasty things," says Sklaver. "It's about what good people do when nasty things happen. It's about how to survive."
Payne discovered some real-world equivalents in preparing for the role.
"There's a podcast called Happy Face, about the daughter of a serial killer," he tells TimeOut. "It follows her journey to talk about her father, directly and indirectly. And the intense pain that having a father as a serial killer can cause. My character is in pretty much the same position and has a lot of walls up but is intent on trying to understand his father and the similarities that may exist in him."
Sheen, whose big-screen bio includes The Queen, Frost/Nixon and various entries in The Twilight Saga, brought some of his own professional experience to the performance.
"I spent a few years working on a script on what became known as the Green River Killer case," he says. "It was very useful in giving me a broad background on these personality traits. Also, there was a documentary about the British doctor Harold Shipman [a GP thought to have murdered 250 patients], the idea of how a doctor, someone very trusted in the community, very loved, very admired, could also be doing these terrible things."
Sheen says he's excited to reveal his character's many facets.
"We go back and forth between Martin before he came out as The Surgeon and who he is now that he's been in prison. So in prison, perhaps we see more of who he really is. How much he keeps hidden and how much is transparent has many levels and layers. It's like an onion."
• Prodigal Son premieres on TVNZ 1 on Monday at 8.30pm.
Bloody good - infamous TV serial killers
Bob (Frank Silva, Twin Peaks, 1990-91)
Eventually revealed to be more of an evil spirit, Bob's murders were investigated by the FBI as those of a serial killer, and forever changed how such things were portrayed on television. Silva, who died in 1995, was a set dresser on the show who co-creator David Lynch cast due to his creepy look.
Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall, Dexter, 2006-13)
The dismal latter seasons (and dire finale) somewhat undermine how fresh this innovate take on the serial killer genre felt in its early days. Hall's charismatic performance made Morgan, who (mostly) killed people who deserved it, arguably the first truly sympathetic serial killer.
Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen, Hannibal, 2013-15)
Danish star Mikkelsen was a hoot in this underrated series, breathing new life into a character that had become tired on the big screen. Remixing elements from Thomas Harris' novels, showrunner Bryan Fuller leaned into Lecter's palpable chemistry with FBI profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), inspiring much breathless fan-fiction.
BTK (Sonny Valicenti, Mindhunter, 2017 - 2019)
A real-life serial killer (the self-applied acronym stands for "bind, torture, kill") sparingly glimpsed throughout both seasons of the late 70s/early 80s-set Netflix drama. His on-screen presence is made all the more chilling by the knowledge he wasn't apprehended until 2005.