ABC’s abysmal crime series “Wicked City” (premiering Tuesday) is the last thing Los Angeles needs — more self-reflective nostalgia for its favorite criminal eras, when men were men and dames were dames and you could leave the beheaded bodies of said dames in creative places meant to taunt hard-nosed police detectives who had no access to a DNA database or copious security-cam footage.
“Wicked City” is also the last thing a TV viewer needs right now — it’s violent in a dumb, done-before, tediously psychosexual way. Presumptuously conceived by its producers as an anthology series in which each season will take place in a different murderous decade, “Wicked City” begins with the fictional tale of a slimy-yet-suave serial killer, Kent Grainger (“Gossip Girl’s” Ed Westwick — remember him?), who prowls the Sunset Strip rock clubs in search of victims.
It’s the late summer of 1982 (like, omigod), which is significant, I guess, as a moment between the new-wavy MTV explosion and the emergence of hard-rocking hair bands. In an opening scene that at least features carefully chosen period details, Kent visits the Whiskey-a-Go-Go, where the band Mickey Ratt (later known simply as Ratt) is playing a set. It isn’t long before Kent zeroes in on his latest victim (she’s very “Flashdance”), but before they leave, he uses this thing called a pay phone to make a dedication request to a local rock station (“Feels Like the First Time” by Foreigner). He drives her to an empty parking lot; once the song plays (and while she’s performing oral sex on him) he stabs her to death. If campiness was meant to underscore all this (a la Ryan Murphy, perhaps?), it fails to convey.
Jeremy Sisto (“Six Feet Under,” “Suburgatory”) looks fairly miserable as Detective Jack Roth, who relies on his years of expertise to search for clues in the latest killing, while his annoyingly ambitious younger partner, Paco Contreras (Gabriel Luna), keeps encouraging the use of the department’s newfangled desktop computer to hunt for suspects.
By episode’s end (ABC only sent the pilot — and that’ll do), Roth and Contreras have enlisted the help of a freelance rock journalist (“American Horror Story’s” Taissa Farmiga as Karen McClaren — stop starin’), asking her to act as bait for the killer.
But Kent has already settled on a new victim, or so he thinks. It’s none other than “Parenthood’s” Erika Christensen as Betty Beaumontaine (oof, these character names — just stop), a divorced mom and secretly sadistic hospital nurse who is looking for a nice guy. When Kent figures out that Betty likes being tied up and threatened with a butcher knife — and that she’s been intentionally inflicting pain on the patients in her care — he sees an opportunity to collaborate. Now they can enjoy serial-killing together, with Betty acting as the Bonnie to Kent’s Clyde.
With one tired premise after another, “Wicked City” stands in sad contrast to NBC’s rather enjoyable summer series “Aquarius,” which also delved into L.A.’s seedy yesteryears (the late ’60s, the Sunset Strip, the Manson family) and came away with a better written and better realized TV show. It’s not that hard.
Style and editing can mask a lot of mediocrity in prime-time dramas these days — which is why “Wicked City” can be rather slick-looking at times — but it doesn’t take long to sniff out the fact that something’s dead in here. It’s the show.
Wicked City (one hour) premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m. on ABC.