November 4, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Pilot + 1 Review: “Wicked City”


WICKED CITY:  Tuesday 10PM on ABC

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at SHOWBUZZDAILY, we look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on WICKED CITY:  In 1982 Los Angeles, serial killer Kent Grainger (Ed Westwick) is slaughtering young women he picks up on the Sunset Strip.  He’s recently acquired a new playmate, Betty Beaumontaine (Erika Christensen), a single mom and nurse with a very dark side.  Chasing Kent is LAPD detective Jack Roth (Jeremy Sisto), who hates his partner Paco Contrenas (Gabriel Luna), and who cheats on his wife Allison (Jaime Ray Newman) with undercover cop Diane Kubek (Karolina Wydra).  Aspiring reporter Karen McClaren (Taissa Farmiga) briefly had contact with Kent, and is reporting the case as well as helping the cops.

Episode 2:  The second hour of Wicked City was, if anything, even more disagreeable than the first, thanks to a plotline that had as its centerpiece a sequence that amounted to torture porn, as Kent and Betty had sex with a young woman whom we knew Kent intended to murder.  The sadistic three-way tried to push the envelope of broadcast standards, but merely demonstrated how strong that envelope is, and played as second-rate American Horror Story.

Beyond that sequence, the show was clumsily written by Co-Executive Producer Mick Betancourt, with a script that had characters baldly stating their aims and emotions when they weren’t making silly “hey, it’s the 80s” statements (one character explained MTV to another, who sneered that no one would ever watch a network that showed nothing but music videos), and with rudimentary performances from most of the cast under the direction of Jon Cassar.  The only mildly intriguing character remained Betty, who was finally introduced to Kent’s killing ways in the last minutes of the episode, but the show had nothing interesting to say about her mix of ordinary-mom concern and latent brutality.  Instead, we were asked to care about the budding relationship between Karen and her editor Diver (Evan Ross), who talked her out of going back home to Iowa, or wherever she’s from.  The lower post-pilot budget kicked in, too, making for a noticeably cheaper look, and the period detail was mostly reserved for a guest appearance by Joe Walsh (as one of those MTV video directors).

Wicked City had a lousy start in the ratings, and there’s no reason to expect any help from word of mouth.  The series is intended as an anthology that would switch its plotline and cast next season, so it may not necessarily be canceled altogether, but this season’s run may barely manage to complete its episode order before heading into hiding for a year.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  Change the Channel

PILOT + 1:  Not So Much Wicked As Inept


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."