If you find yourself missing last season’s serial killer drama Aquarius, you’ll love this new ABC series. Set in L.A.’s 1980s Sunset Strip scene, Wicked City has lots of drugs, plenty of rock music and enough creepy sex and serial killing to make that Manson Family clan seem downright tame in comparison. Of course, the big question is whether viewers are really looking for yet another period procedural about sex (and murder) in the home of show business.
Even Killers Need a Mission Statement
It’s the 1980s in L.A. and the place to be is the Sunset Strip. At night, the area is filled with rock and roll, wannabe actors and lots of cocaine-fueled fun. And in the world of Wicked City, the Sunset Strip is also the home of a serial killer who is looking to be the next Hillside Strangler. Ed Westwick plays Kent Grainger, a vaguely creepy chameleon who spends his spare time trolling the clubs for his next victim. He lies about who he is, seduces a woman and then kills her in his car as the local radio station plays a song he’s dedicated to his victim.
Of course, every good serial killer needs a nemesis. In Wicked City, the local police investigation is headed up by Detective Jack Roth (Jeremy Sisto), the typical troubled TV cop. He’s haunted by the suicide death of his partner and of course he’s both married and having an affair with a policewoman who has gone undercover as a stripper in order to bust a local drug ring.
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It’s Hard to Find Time to Date in Between Killing Women
Sure, Kent might be a serial killer but he also needs love just like you and I. He meets nurse and single mother Betty Beaumontaine (Erika Christensen) and his initial intent is to kill her. But he changes his mind at the last minute as he recognizes on some level that she has a dark side that he can take use to his advantage. By the end of the first episode they’ve not only experimented with a bit of bondage, but they’re on their way to her first threesome. It’s pretty clear that this relationship is escalating quickly and it will very likely lead to a evil, evil place.
But lots of the characters in Wicked City are deeply flawed if not borderline psychotic. Det. Roth is living a double life and even in the first episode seems on the brink of letting his personal conflicts spin out of control. His new partner is the ambitious Paco Contreras (Gabriel Lunas), who seems incapable of making any move that isn’t at least tangentially good for his career. Officer Dianne Kubek (Karolina Wydra) is living undercover and she’s already living way past the point where her “real” life and her undercover one are so mixed up that she can’t keep her perspective.
Remembering the 1980s
The success of any period drama revolves in part about how successfully it captures the sounds and look of the era. Wicked City is jammed with music appropriate to the time and it looks as if a lot of time was spent making sure all the little details of 1980s Los Angeles are on the screen. From payphones and pagers to the look of clubs like the Whiskey A Go-Go, the show does a great job of bringing viewers into that world.
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So Is it Worth Watching?
Wicked City is a solidly written show and the acting is generally first-rate. Sure, I would prefer if the serial killer de jour didn’t have the creepy feel Westwick brings to the role. But he’s a good actor and that might just be my personal preference. There are a couple of stand-out performances, including Erika Christensen’s slyly dark Betty and Taissa Farmiga, who plays the ambitious and naive reporter Karen McClaren. The show is worth watching just to see what those two fine actresses can do with their roles every week.
The weakness of Wicked City has to do with the overall weakness of the premise. There are going to be a lot of times when you’ll feel as if you’ve seen this all before and maybe done a bit better. The broken police detective, the serial killer with mommy issues, the undercover cop who gets into the role a bit too much – these well-work procedural tropes will be familiar to even the most casual television viewer.
But if you can get past the over-used plot twists and predictable scenes, there is a potentially good series hiding below the surface. If you’re a patient viewer or if you just like period pieces set in the 1980s, than the show is well worth giving a shot. It’s not “must-see” TV, but it’s definitely a different vibe than what you’ll see on the other broadcast networks on Tuesday nights.
Wicked City airs Tuesdays at 10pm on ABC.
(Image courtesy of ABC)