Wicked City Review: Time, Place and a Killer Ed Westwick on Its Side

TV Review Grade B+“That was weird. And kind of amazing,” sighs Wicked City‘s Betty Beaumontaine (Erika Christensen), moments after a sexual encounter remarkable for its unspoken agreement that she pretend to be a corpse.

Like Betty before she fully succumbs to the twisted charms of Ed Westwick’s Kent, you too might experience intermittent misgivings about the one-hour pilot of ABC’s latest crime drama (premiering Tuesday, 10/9c) — albeit for very different reasons. While Kent’s twisted script threatens to push Christensen’s secretly sadistic nurse too far outside her sexual comfort zone, the initial tropes explored by creator Steven Baigelman’s screenplay at first feel all too familiar: The sociopath with mommy issues. The hardened detective (reeling from his partner’s suicide) paired against his will with an ambitious upstart. The plucky reporter who just so happens to find herself at the heart of the case. Stop me if you’re thinking, “I’ve already seen this movie/TV series/novel, thanks.”

But, just as in Betty’s boudoir scene, there is (wink-wink, nudge-nudge) payoff for those who stick around ’til the end of Wicked City‘s maiden voyage.

JEREMY SISTOThe action is undoubtedly propelled by Westwick’s creepily compelling performance — his “Kill me, I like giving back!” catchphrase (delivered to impressionable young gals) comes off as so meticulously rehearsed, it’ll chill you to the bone. But the show’s keen sense of time (1982) and space (L.A.’s Sunset Strip) prove equally hypnotic. There’s not a single detail among the woven lampshades, heavy wood-framed clocks and period-piece automobiles that comes off as inauthentic. The show’s costume, hair, set and lighting crews may not see their names on billboards; without their stellar work, though, there’d almost certainly be holes in Wicked City‘s tapestry.

But let’s not let this review devolve into a haiku about macrame. Instead, let’s boil the premise down to a single pithy-ish paragraph:

Charismatic Kent trolls the clubs of Sunset Boulevard looking for financially unstable women, then shifting his backstory (and his name) — he passes himself off as a real-estate mogul, a record-label exec, a studio insider — to better appeal to the women he’s targeting. When he’s sure he’s found a victim, Kent calls in a request to a local radio station, drives his lady friend to a deserted lookout point, and then produces a giant blade while his own, er, weapon remains flaccid despite plenty of oral encouragement. When Kent’s newest victim winds up decapitated and laid out in the same spot where the recently captured Hollywood Strangler’s initial kill was found, veteran Det. Jack Roth (Suburgatory‘s Jeremy Sisto) and whippersnapper partner Paco Contreras (Matador‘s Gabriel Luna) chase down leads — with some help from Roth’s undercover stripper-dealer/narcotics detective mistress. Kent’s circumstances change, though, when he meets Betty — a sweet-faced nurse with a penchant for sadism — and their scenes crackle with the warm glow of two misfits finally finding acceptance, mixed with the cold chill of “Uh-oh, these people really ought to be in a cage somewhere.” Did I mention Jack is married — and has a teenage daughter? Or that Contreras’ work in an internal-affairs case may have scored him a promotion (and caused Jack’s crooked old partner to take his own life)? Or that local reporter Karen McClaren (American Horror Story‘s Taissa Farmiga) winds up having run-ins with both Kent and Jack in the opening hour?

TAISSA FARMIGAThe sense of dread that builds over the hour is heightened by a terrific soundtrack — Joan Jett, Soft Cell, Romeo Void and especially Billy Idol — that practically feels like an extra (and vital) character. In fact, the pilot’s climactic sequence takes place at an Idol concert at the Whisky a Go-Go, where Kent works the room like an invisible predator and Roth’s conundrum reminds us of the terrible (and terrifying) constraints of being attached to a payphone (with its leash-like cord). Baigelman’s story is more interested in exploring the buildup before the gore, rather than dousing us in buckets of blood — which makes Wicked City simultaneously easier on the eyes and more terrifying for the soul.

Hopefully, subsequent episodes will allow Sisto and Farmiga’s characters to develop past the cliché states at which we meet them. Roth, in particular, seems to have been constructed on an assembly line at the Grizzled Detective Factory. Given his backstory, it makes sense that he’d have misgivings about his new partnership with Contreras, but at the rate they’re going, I’m worried we’re headed for a subplot with Roth hiring a skywriter to spell out “I hate you, man!” by Episode 2.

But Kent and Betty present a different kind of twisted love story. Christensen is great at conveying a put-upon single mother’s exhilaration as Kent’s “now for something completely different!” courtship. And Westwick is perfection creating a portrait of a character as a deadly blank space.

THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: As Idol’s “White Wedding” so aptly puts it,  “There is nothing safe in this world.” Wicked City takes that idea and spins it out in fresh and frenetic ways. 

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Mr. Tran K says:

    The premise of Wicked City is different than what Aquarius did (serial killers dating back decades).

    • Phlerg says:

      I’m just not interested in this show. I cant even bare the commercials, I think it looks cheap, I didn’t watch Dexter, I dont watch Aquarius and I didn’t watch Hannibal either, I dont care for a weekly series about serial killers…….I also dont care for Ed or Erika…and I’m kinda hoping the series fails so Taissa might go back to AHS.

      • Mr. Tran K says:

        Not interested in the series as well even though it really scares the crap out of me when I saw the trailer like five months ago.

  2. Eran says:

    A real, crying shame. Such a compelling cast and a plot that doesn’t appeal to me (personally) in the slightest. I admit I simply haven’t the stomach for serial killer premises any more. Can only just about manage the real horrors in the headlines every day.

  3. rinaex says:

    I have a feeling that I’m going to be rooting for the reporter’s death fairly quickly. Just the description of the character irks me, and Taissa Farmiga has never impressed me as an actress.

  4. Alicia Gray says:

    As long as I don’t have to hear that darn “Tainted Love” version of that commercial anymore … I could care less. I wish I cared, but so underwhelming.

  5. Matt C. says:

    I’m glad to hear somebody enjoyed it. It’s getting terrible reviews elsewhere. I think it looks good!

    • Sarah says:

      Not true. The reviews are all over the place. Deadline, US Weekly, Wall Street Journal all gave it positive reviews. Variety didn’t. It sounds like the weak spot is the writing for the cop characters which is too bad because Jeremy Sisto is an excellent actor. Hopefully that will improve in future episodes.

      I’ll check it out mainly for Erika Christensen and Ed Westwick. Erika looks particularly good in this. It’s got a good team behind it so why not.

  6. Dean says:

    May look it up soley for Erika Christiensen.

  7. Larc says:

    It doesn’t sound even remotely interesting to me. I won’t bother with it.

  8. Chris says:

    I enjoyed this review! You cover many points. I’m excited for it and am glad that I’ve read mostly interesting and positive things. Sounds creepy and twisty and interesting. I too hope that Jeremy Sisto’s character develops more. He’s great and I would love to see how they bring about the cop character.

    I do enjoy Ed Westwick, so here as a frustratingly charming monster should be very interesting and I’m sure a challenge to play.Thank you!

  9. jillravae says:

    So excited for Wicked City! Such a great ensemble cast. Ed Westwick is a fantastic actor who can play many different roles and while he did exceptional work on Gossip Girl this particular role shows just how far his talents can reach. He is capable of so much and this role will only add to his great resume of work that continues to grow and build with each project he takes on! Best of luck to the entire cast and crew! This is one show I will be sure not to miss!

  10. Christine says:

    My DVR is set for Tuesday’s premiere of Wicked City! I cannot wait to see Ed Westwick and Jeremy Sisto in a new series. I have especially missed seeing Ed. He is an amazingly talented actor. He’s done a great job promoting Wicked City and I know he won’t disappoint.

  11. Emily says:

    I’m really looking forward to this. Crime dramas and thrillers aren’t normally my thing, but the cast is solid and the setting looks pretty cool.

  12. mimi says:

    haters will hate but i feel ed westwick is amazing in this and he is carrying the show..the other cast members clearly wont be able to catch up to him..either way tuning in and all the best to wicked city!!