Set in Los Angeles in 1982, "Wicked City" is the story of a serial killer. In the opening scene, he repeatedly stabs a woman while she is performing oral sex on him in his car. The camera pans to a close-up of her blood splashing across the dashboard. Later, the killer leaves her headless corpse in a cemetery. Seeing the headless woman, the detective assigned to the case turns to his soon to be partner and says: "To me she's a victim. To you she's a step up." With dialogue this stale, a paint-by-the-numbers storyline and violence against woman seemingly just for the sake of it, "Wicked City" is a crime drama you should skip.
Investigating the case is Detective Jack Roth (Jeremy Sisto) who is forced to partner with Detective Paco Contreras (Gabriel Luna). Paco is ambitious. Jack is all about the job. But he's also having an affair which is supposed to tarnish his good guy image. The characterizations are so unoriginal, it's hard to say anything more about them. Even worse is that the script is so basic, it's almost insulting. Jack's deep insight when profiling the killer is that the guy hates women and authority. Sisto, so good in previous roles on "Six Feet Under" and "Suburbia," struggles and fails to make a very dull character even remotely interesting.
Kent Grainger (Ed Westwick), the hater of women and authority, trolls the clubs of Sunset Boulevard for his victims. But for some reason, he has a soft spot for single mothers so when he meets Betty Beaumontaine (Erika Christensen) who interrupts yet another scene of oral sex in a car to check a pager message from her babysitter, Kent spares her the stabbing and decapitation. By the end of the first episode, she is the Bonnie to Kent's Clyde after he whispers some magical words into her ear. We are supposed to buy into this transformation because in previous scenes Betty, a nurse, smashes a spider and enjoys roughly pulling out a patient's stitches.
With nothing new or complicated to add to serial killer stories or the police procedural in general, "Wicked City" wants to capture your attention with gratuitous violence, sex and gore. One scene is a victim's head in a box. It's a cheap ploy that fails to distract from a flimsy and predictable plot. As for the characters, Westwick is giving a performance straight out of serial killer 101 and Sisto just seems bored. Christensen communicates Betty's sadistic streak with three facial expressions: doe-eyed, sly smile and vacant stare. Her character turns into a willing participate so quickly, it's almost comical.
Everything about this show feels lazy, including the eighties nostalgia it tries to create with club scenes featuring hair metal bands, extras with even bigger hair and an actor playing Billy Idol performing at the Whiskey a Go-Go. "Wicked City" is a ten episode "event" but save yourself some time and get your Billy Idol fix on iTunes.
"Wicked City" is on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. EDT on ABC.
Melissa Crawley is the author of "Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television's 'The West Wing.'" She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.