Hit or Sh**: ABC’s WICKED CITY
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
I should start by saying that, in theory, the concept of a world where my mother can aimlessly scroll through network television and find a show about a serial killer who likes having sex with corpses is an interesting one indeed. That being said, it would be far more interesting if WICKED CITY, the show in question, was good enough to keep her watching despite her presumed revulsion. Although my opinion may be biased due to a long sabbatical in the land of HBO, content this tepid simply doesn’t belong on anyone’s watchlist. Featuring one of the laziest titles around and eager to beat the viewer over the head with its prestige-television-inspired “edgy” subject material, WICKED CITY is comparable to a plastic handle whiskey diluted with lukewarm tap water.
The visual equivalent of this
WICKED CITY stacks the cards against itself by taking place in Los Angeles in the 80s, a locale and era never having been portrayed in media ever. What’s even more frustrating about this is the fact that, much like the previously reviewed RED OAKS, nothing inherent to the story’s narrative necessitates it being set in the 80s. Other than the increased production costs of licensing every song that played on the radio in 1982 and keeping food on the tables of innumerable costume designers, the setting quickly disappears into the background, unless someone needs to place a call on a landline or a teenager needs to fire off the names of anachronistically relevant movies lest we forget the era that we’re in. However, one of the “better” parts of the pilot involves a Billy Idol impersonator obscured in fog, his corporeal form emanating the opening strains of “White Wedding” without moving his mouth once, as an audience somehow jumps up and down without making a single sound; the licensing rights weren’t entirely wasted after all.
Just a year or two away from a boardwalk bash near you
The fact that the preceding sentence describes one of the better parts of the pilot should be reason enough to send you packing, but let’s roll up the gloves and get down to the nitty-gritty. It’s hard to believe that Jeremy Sisto wasn’t performing the part of detective Jack Roth as some sort of meta-commentary on the dogged masculine aggression that was popular when Reagan sat in the Oval Office. In one particularly noteworthy scene he finishes a sweaty workout and has steamy shower sex with his mistress while a bottle of whiskey rests in the dead-center of our vision; it wouldn’t be possible to put more hair on this man’s chest. Delivering lines like the clunky cement that must coalesce out of his vocal gravel, it’s legitimately surprising that Roth doesn’t look right into the camera and stare dead in our eyes as he delivers each pressing missive. His partner, Gabriel Luna’s Paco Contreras (come on, guys) doesn’t fare much better, existing mainly to offer incredulous commentary that could only come from a “Cool Ethnic Guy With Glasses”. As is the norm, the female characters apart from Betty Beaumontaine (but more on that later) exist solely to be dependent on Roth, whether it be as lover, husband, or father. And for goodness sake ladies of the Sunset Strip, you go down faster than Tony Soprano wearing concrete boots! At least make sure he’ll return the favor!
Now, to its credit, WICKED CITY was at least halfway there in terms of creating interesting villains. As mentioned briefly before, I’m inherently interested in a mainstream network television show dealing with the topic of necrophilia. Unfortunately, ABC shoots themselves in the foot by making this a major plot point, as they must have known going in they couldn’t really massage the subject material due to censorship restrictions. Other than hammer-and-nail exposition delivered by Roth, the closest we get to seeing serial killer Kent’s predilection for the recently deceased is when he forces his girlfriend Betty to remain entirely silent and still during sex. This contributes to the best scene in the pilot by a landslide, but leaves more…open-minded…viewers frustrated. In addition, Kent’s modus operandi is rather incoherent, considering that we only see him kill one victim. His serialized murder method, from what we can tell, involves blowjobs, necrophilia, decapitation, and Foreigner’s “Feels Like the First Time”; a recipe for disaster, but a whole lot of balls to keep juggling. Considering that the next time we see Kent ready to rumble he plays Joan Jett’s cover of “Crimson and Clover”, his consistency is brought into question, which is typically a key aspect of serialized murder. Betty’s main calling card is her sadistic tendency, which does contribute to a very tense scene wherein she roughly pulls the stitches out of a man she’s attending to as a nurse, but ABC pulls out before it’s even at half-mast. In addition, her total reliance on Kent is sure to become grating as episodes progress.
That hotline always blingin’ when Kent’s involved
Long story short, WICKED CITY failed during conception when it refused to gear itself to any sort of potentially dedicated demographic. Too gruesome for the old fuddy-duddies who haven’t embraced instant streaming and too flaccid for young viewers who live fast and watch hard, the pilot limps along until it’s only somewhat climactic finale. Necrophilia’s day in the sun will have to be postponed.
WICKED CITY airs on ABC on Tuesdays