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When It Comes to Violence, ABC's New Drama Might Be Too 'Wicked'
October 27, 2015  | By David Hinckley  | 2 comments
 

ABC’s new Wicked City reminds us that if you’re going to build a show around the slaughter of pretty young women, you better have both a good reason and a good plan.

Or else, like Wicked City, you may shoot for suspenseful and too often end up just unpleasant.

Wicked City (Tuesday night, ABC, 10 p.m. ET) revolves around a string of serial killings in L.A. in the early 1980s and it’s not a whodunit, because the killer is immediately identified for us as one Kent Grainger, played with revoltingly skin-crawling creepiness by Ed Westwick (top, left).

The suspense lies in how many women he will filet while Detective Jack Roth (Jeremy Sisto) tries to find and stop him.

Grainger’s M.O. gets laid out early in graphic detail. He cruises the bars on L.A.’s Sunset Strip, particularly the Whisky A Go Go, telling eager young party girls what they want to hear – that he can get them a TV audition, that he can get them backstage, whatever.

He charms the victim, she leaves with him, he drives her to a secluded place, and she dutifully starts to perform oral sex. He reaches up to the visor and pulls out a big knife, with which he kills her while some early-’80s rock tune chirps away on the radio.

Then he cuts off her head, drains her blood and leaves her body someplace that taunts the cops.

But Wicked City isn’t just about a single psychokiller. One of Kent’s intended victims, Betty Beaumontaine (Erika Christensen, top, in a role quite unlike her Parenthood character), morphs into his accomplice after they discover they share a fondness for sexual fetishes.

Bonnie and Clyde 2.0.

Meanwhile, Jack Roth has his own basketload of neuroses, and he’s working in a world of other damaged people, including his ambitious new young partner Paco Contreras (Gabriel Luna), tempting undercover cop Dianne Kubek (Karolina Wydra), and Karen McClaren (Taissa Farmiga, right), an aspiring young journalist who may be in way over her head.

Truth is, almost everyone here may be in over their heads, and Wicked City works hard to make desperate tension the point of this series.

It aims to be character drama built around an effort to stop a very bad guy, and, in that general sense, it’s not very different from a thousand other cop shows.

The difference stems more from where the contemporary television bar has been set for graphic depiction of what bad guys do.

Like any other broadcast drama, Wicked City can’t be Breaking Bad or The Sopranos. It can still take violent acts far enough to suggest something just as raw.

The dramatic risk is that even that suggestion can define a show. Butchering and decapitating women may serve the purpose of making the bad guy more loathsome and his apprehension more urgent, but those images can also make a show tough to watch.

Fox’s Scream Queens circumvents some of the butchering problem by framing itself as camp horror, more cartoonish and satiric than disturbing, at least for fans who know the genre.

But it’s instructive that Scream Queens has lost 40 percent of its initial viewers, suggesting we may not have as much ongoing fascination for this style of entertainment as some TV executives might think.

Wicked City doesn’t seem to be trying to sell violence porn. It just hasn’t quite figured out how to straddle the line between getting our attention and making us turn away.

 
 
 
 
 
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2 Comments
 
 
Zeke
Women as victims of sexual predators has become the go-to. Variations on it are irrelevant... They are as prevalent as Cowboy shows were in the early 60"s-- Medical shows in the 70's and 80's.. Scientific Cop shows in the 90's...
But SO much more offensive. -- This trend cannot end too soon.
Oct 28, 2015   |  Reply
 
 
Dan
Dave,

What you describe relative to Wicked City is exactly why I already dumped this season's version of American Horror Story. While I am not a prude, nor am I shocked by sex infused fetish, it became apparent to me early on that for this season, AHS has gone off the rails, at least for me. Substituting gore and sex for a solid script with mystery and suspense is the easy way out. Hitchcock did it masterfully, in black and white. Unlike the first season's haunted house, and Asylum, two excellent seasonal offerings of AHS, this series has lost it's way wit HOTEL, Lady Gaga notwithstanding, and maybe it's time to pack it in. If Wicked City is more of the same, I'll pass.
Oct 27, 2015   |  Reply
 
 
 
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