October 27, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Wicked City”


WICKED CITY:  Tuesday 10PM on ABC – Change the Channel

CBS and ABC both took their time before introducing their last new dramas of the fall.  But while Supergirl flew into town on clouds of carefully planned hype and positive buzz, WICKED CITY was preceded by behind-the-scenes changes and reshoots.  The show is another entry in the very spotty record of broadcasters trying to replicate the feel of “adult,” “dark” cable/streaming dramas, and like True Detective and Fargo (and ABC’s own American Crime and Secrets & Lies), it’s intended as an anthology, with a new story and cast each season, although it’s not clear whether creator Steven Baigelman would remain beyond Season 1.  Not that issues beyond Season 1 are likely to be a problem.

In its current incarnation, Wicked City feels totally synthetic, an exercise in violence and cliche that doesn’t even manage any nasty thrills.  The locale is Los Angeles in 1982 (a nonstop Greatest Hits soundtrack is there to remind us of the decade in case we might forget for a second), and our killer de jour is Kent Grainger (Ed Westwick), whose ritual includes calling for a dedicated song on the radio, slicing off the heads of women as they’re trying to perform oral sex on his limp organ, and having sex with their corpses.  He forms a sick romance with Betty Beaumontaine (Erika Christensen), a single mom and nurse who squashes spiders in her hands when her kids aren’t looking, and who gets turned on by playing dead so Kent can complete intercourse with her.  Meanwhile the forces of law are represented by LAPD detective Jack Roth (Jeremy Sisto), who hates his maybe-squealer new partner Paco Contreras (Diego Luna), and who cheats on his nice wife Allison (Jaime Ray Newman) with Dianne (Karolina Wydra), a cop who’s undercover as a stripper/coke dealer.  The ingenue of the piece is Karen McClaren (Taissa Farmiga), an aspiring reporter who briefly had contact with Kent without knowing who he was.

Even if Kent’s crimes cultivate ugliness for the sake of ugliness, those could have been the pieces of a decent enough thriller in the right hands.  But Baigelman’s script is false from the start, never managing to lift Jack or Kent from the many models that preceded them, and the signpost dialogue everyone is forced to speak has no texture at all, aside from the period references forced into every second line.  (Worst of all are the scenes between Kent and Paco, which feel almost like a parody of mismatched cop partner stories.)  And although no one would wish for the aggressive smog-o-vision of Aquarius, the year’s other period LA multiple murder story, Tom Shankland’s direction lacks any personality at all.

Most of the cast does what it can.  Westwick’s Gossip Girl character was three-quarters of the way toward a sociopath anyway, so Kent isn’t much of a stretch for him, and Christensen seems to enjoy playing a role that’s worlds removed from her Parenthood mode.  Sisto, though, appears to be thinking more about where he’s going for dinner after the day’s shoot is over than about playing his character.

The 10PM slot on Tuesday has been a black hole for ABC for the past several seasons, and Wicked City isn’t likely to change that, especially against two other crime stories on CBS and NBC, Limitless and Chicago PDWicked City barely even counts as a waste; it’s just a botch that tries to make up for its lack of inspiration with an overload of overused tropes.

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."