All pictures courtesy of ABC
Just what we need, another crime drama. Yayyy! Once again, we're back for another look at a new series' first three episodes. As always, I will point you to the # premiere week link above to read my initial thoughts on this show, but as a refresher I will say that I wasn't too keen on this show as I knew little about it as with most later season premieres. This wasn't as highly promoted as some of the other ABC shows and the little I read of it made it seem like another so-so drama. So, is Wicked City (#WickedCity) as wicked as it needs to be?
Wicked City is an ensemble narrative that follows the exploits of both the killer(s), the detectives following them and the journalists covering the story. The setting: 1980s Los Angeles, Sunset Strip. There, a supposed charismatic killer named Kent played by Ed Westwick stalks the night. A cunning liar, he deceives young, naive women into thinking he works as whatever they might want or need at the moment. She wants to be a singer, he's a music producer, an actor and he's a casting director. Convinced they can sleep their way to the top, they leave the club with him and take a car trip out to a ridge overlooking the starlit city. There, as they perform fellatio or other sex acts on him, they hear their name on the radio in what is supposed to be a special dedication to them. It is during this time that he kills them, usually by stabbing. He then will decapitate the victim and either leave their head in a safe somewhere for the cops to find, or leave their body out in the open to taunt the cops.
With all the murders going on resembling another serial killer, the real life Hillside Strangler, Detective Jack Roth played by Jeremy Sisto both takes on the case and a new partner just as hungry for fame as the journalists and the killer. Not without his own demons, Jack is a married man with a teenage daughter and a mistress who works undercover in the war on drugs. Though it is never said nor implied, somehow I feel that his wife knows about this other woman as their relationship seems more than just a recent development.
With the players set, the pieces move each at their own pace, allowing the audience to figure out who they will and won't root for and why. The life-altering event taking place for Kent is personified in Betty. Though he wasn't actively looking for it, Kent believes he found a soulmate in Betty. While her hypocrisy is shown when she crushes a bug after telling her children not to kill it because it deserved life too, her desire to move up from bug to something more fleshly isn't given much gravitas. A clear victim of a long-suffering broken heart, Betty is mentally malleable enough to go along with things she's never done before. In the second episode, she is convinced with nothing more than an extended hand to come home with him for a threesome with a girl he plans to kill.
Picking up in the second episode, she listens to his lies to the girl as he told Betty something completely different, even changing his name by a letter when he first introduced himself. Still down for whatever, they take the girl back to a room, tie her up and he does the same thing to her as he did to Betty, only this time watching as Betty does what I think we're supposed to believe is her first lesbian "kiss." From terrified to jovial, the girl laughs off the wicked games as she is the third wheel in the sexcapades.
Meanwhile, after seeing the gruesomeness of her first murder scene and being the near next victim of a serial killer, the reporter decides that not only does she doubt her ability to cover the art and culture section of the rag she writes for, but wants to run home because the big city is too much for her. After a tumble in the sheets with Evan Ross, her boss, she receives a personal envelope with info inside it from the killer. And so his game starts. Just as the Zodiac killer before him, he sends clues, riddles and little quips to her knowing that she'll share them with the police, hoping they'll follow his wild goose chase through the streets, apartments and libraries of LA (a clue left in episode three is in the library). What we don't know, however, is if he is a high-level genius like everyone else on TV seems to be or is just a normal guy who takes great care to toy with the law. He is seen working at a garage as a mechanic and while he does read, little is known about his other indulgences.
The detective and his partner squabble every so often about how to work the case or try to keep the reporter "kids" from getting themselves killed. For everything the detectives have going for them, I actually find their side of the story to be the most boring so far, unfortunately. Somehow, the inability to root for the good guys doesn't diminish the show. There was a brief scene where Jack ran into his mistress undercover and had to bust her for buying drugs. They argued that he could have blown her cover. She says that while stopping a serial killer would be great, illicit drugs kill far more people in a year than the psychopath can murder in a life time. Outside of that, not much is really going on with the detectives even into the third episode.
In the third episode, Detective Jack gets into another skirmish with his partner about how they should be working the case. His partner suggests that he should be the lead and not Jack, which the man ignores. During the second episode they found a body buried under the floorboards of an old rundown building. Head on, it belonged to a woman that had been murdered years before. The address was given to them through the clues left by the killer for the reporter. Not until the third episode does Detective Jack really work on the back story of the found woman.
Going back to the place where they found the body, he dares to get into the hole where the body had been stashed. Covering himself up with the floorboards, he notices an old-fashioned heart carving presumably by the killer. From there and a few other pieces of evidence, he deduces that the woman was special to the killer, that he loved her, that he had to be in her life for a while, and that the killer made her his bride after her death as she wore a ring on her decayed finger. Her clothes had been laundered and her wig was almost new at the time they found her meaning that she was like a security blanket which he returned to often. Their question: what has changed for him to give up his security blanket/love of his life to the police? Again, Betty is the change.
A story book night, episode 3 started with the murder of Kent's next victim in front of Betty. Believing her different, Kent finds the previous girl once more after losing her in the second episode after their threesome. Making her his victim, he ties her up and throws her into his trunk as he drives Betty out to the cliff. There, he and Betty get out of the car where he then pulls the girl from the trunk, takes her into the front seat of his car (he has a weird fetish of killing them while sitting in the driver's seat) and stabs her countless times. Her initial reaction to run, Betty takes off into the forest while telling the story of the wolf in sheep's clothing to her children later. Falling to the ground, she fears him then gives into passion as he comes for her.
The next 50 minutes is spent comparing what is happening with him and Betty to the Phantom Of The Opera--a beloved musical in my eyes. He has taken off his mask and shown his true colors, daring to fall in love with her though she might be a normal person. In luck, she shows him that she isn't a normal person as she hesitantly accepts his offer to belong to him. Her ex, a large married guy, comes back around trying to threaten her into sleeping with him again and she doesn't do it. Though Kent doesn't do anything to the man yet, the guy lingers around and sees his old girl going with this new gigolo-looking guy. At the end of the show, Betty is seen talking up a brunette at the bar on the strip where they met just so she can seduce the girl into being her and Kent's next victim.
Meanwhile, the journalists kept running around the city, switching roles with the detectives for the night as far as having the most boring story arc. They find the library clues and help the cops find another head locked in a box. They exchange pleasantries with the cops, absorb threats to stay away from the case and try to keep their relationship platonic after having goodbye sex when the young woman wanted to leave.
Detective Jack, meanwhile, gets out from the creepy crawlspace where the body used to be stashed and goes home to spend time reading Phantom. He falls for his teenage daughter's trickery to let her go with her friend to a party that was supposed to be chaperoned by adults. As it turns out, the party was nothing more than a crowded car of friends (mostly boys) driving around the city drinking and smoking. They mention how her dad happens to be working the case and, just to fit in, she tells them that the killer sexes the bodies only after killing them. Jack and his wife get into a fight about how easily duped he is and only then does he panic. He leaves to take a tip from the reporter about where the next body might be found just as his daughter gets back home to face her mother and things end there.
What's my grade? I give it a C+. Here's the thing, this series is in desperate need of a much more stylized form of storytelling. While I think the plot is intriguing (it is loosely based on the real life couple of Doug Clark and Carol Bundy--never trust anyone with the last name Bundy), the way it is filmed and told doesn't inspire much of anything, really. A more artistic hand could make the lights lighter and the darks darker. Right now, certain characters don't ring true and others don't feel like part of the story. It's quite hard to explain it, save for if I compare it to something like Breaking Bad or Mad Men. In those shows each scene oozes tension. There's nothing flat. Here, with the onset of every commercial break I kept pausing my DVR and rewinding it a little because I felt like I had missed something crucial. But I never missed anything, making the show bland in taste and texture.
Also, while I think Ed Westwick and Erika Christensen are killing it, and Jeremy Sisto is doing an OK job so far with what he's given, Evan Ross and Taissa Farmiga's acting sticks out. While I loved her in the American Horror Story franchise and wished she had gotten a role on Scream Queens instead of this, I feel like here she takes a step back in her growth as an actress. Everything about the role seems like it should be for a woman slightly older or someone with a richer sense of the character. Those who haven't seen her in anything else, if this was their introduction to her might be inclined to say that she can't act, and the role she plays here makes it hard for me to argue that.
Should you be watching it? The toughness of this is that I originally read this was supposed to be an anthology series like AHS or American Crime, each season telling a different story, meaning that this one doesn't have long to stay on your tube. With that said, I can only give the recommendation to take a look at the first two episodes and see if you enjoy the tone. It is different than the procedurals that plague our airwaves and is ABC thinking outside of the box for a change, but there's nothing there to really write home about so far. Maybe it's an ode to the slow build. Who knows.
What do you think? Am I being too rough on this freshman series? Is Kent and Betty's twisted romance entangling you yet? Have you even seen the show? If so, do you think Betty will survive to the end? Let me know in the comments below (hint: click the no comments button if you see no comments).
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If you’re looking for a scare check #AFuriousWind, #DARKER, #BrandNewHome or #ThePowerOfTen. For those interested in something a little more dramatic, check out #TheWriter. The full first season is out now NOW exclusively on Amazon. If you like fast action crime check out #ADangerousLow. The sequel A New Low will be out in a few months. Join us on Goodreads to talk about books and TV, and subscribe to and follow my blog with that Google+ button to the right.
Until next time, "come on, Kent. You're killing like Betty White out there."
P.S. I could think of almost nothing else the entire time while writing this article, except for Betty White. Wow, was this really back in the days when the name Betty was common? Maybe that's even farther back. I'll think of something better to say next time.Amazon
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