Sex and drugs and rock and roll -- if you're going to create a TV drama set in the '80s along Hollywood's infamous Sunset Strip, those are pretty much the required background elements for the story you're trying to tell.

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Opinion

Sex and drugs and rock and roll -- if you're going to create a TV drama set in the '80s along Hollywood's infamous Sunset Strip, those are pretty much the required background elements for the story you're trying to tell.

Add in a serial killer or two, and maybe you've got the makings of a prime-time show that people will watch.

Det. Jack Roth (Jeremy Sisto)

ABC

Det. Jack Roth (Jeremy Sisto)

At least, that's what the producers of ABC's Wicked City seem to have in mind as they launch this limited-series drama that relies as much on attitude and atmosphere as it does on storyline and character interactions.

Wicked City, which premières Tuesday at 9 p.m. on ABC, is built on the notion Los Angeles in the 1980s was America's murder capital and serial-killer mecca. In addition to being a place where people went to pursue their dreams of stardom, it was also a place where aimless souls got lost in the chaos and, if their luck went particularly badly, died while trying to find something for which to live.

Delivering a murderous brand of misfortune to those unfortunate wanderers on Wicked City's version of the Strip is a guy named Kent Grainger (played by Gossip Girl alumnus Ed Westwick), who spends his nights circulating on the club scene, using an assumed name and identity to impress young girls, luring them into his car with a promise of after-hours fun, and then stabbing them to death.

Kent isn't just a killer, however -- he's a killer in L.A., which means he also wants to be a star. Seeking to be as famous as that city's Hillside Strangler became in the late '70s, Kent has developed a flair for the dramatic when it comes to disposing of his victims' corpses.

Tasked with tracking him down is LAPD homicide/robbery detective Jack Roth (Jeremy Sisto), who can be very good at his job, but who loses his focus as the series opens because he's been assigned a new partner, Paco Contreras (Gabriel Luna), whom he despises and doesn't trust.

After a few early scenes that demonstrate the efficiency and brutality with which Kent carries out his attacks, the story follows him back into the clubs, where he meets a young, needy nurse named Betty (Erika Christensen). She falls for his line and is poised to become his next victim until a chance interruption of their about-to-be-fatal car-sex encounter forces Kent to converse with her instead of killing her.

As it turns out, he kind of likes her. Betty is spared, and Kent actually asks if she'd like to get together again sometime -- which turns out to be a great idea (for them, but not for the young women of the Strip).

"What's a nice serial killer like you doing in a place like this?": Kent (Ed Westwick, left) hooks up with Betty (Erika Christensen).

ABC

"What's a nice serial killer like you doing in a place like this?": Kent (Ed Westwick, left) hooks up with Betty (Erika Christensen).

It turns out nurse Betty is almost as dark and twisted as Kent. By the end of the series opener, it's clear that they're going to be a crime-spree team, and Kent is delighted his pursuit of serial-killer infamy is no longer going to be a solo endeavour.

With the help of a tip from an aspiring music journalist named Karen (Taissa Farmiga), who may have crossed paths with the killer at a club a few nights earlier, Roth zeroes in on his target and becomes engaged in a cat-and-mice game which, if the pilot episode is any indication, will involve a whole lot of near-misses and across-the-room suspicious stares.

Wicked City isn't breaking any new ground, narratively or stylistically, but its immersion in '80s nostalgia and Hollywood rock 'n' roll glamour does a lot to make an otherwise by-the-numbers cop drama seductively intriguing.

Backed by a well-chosen '80s-era soundtrack filled with tunes by the likes of Billy Idol, Joan Jett, Ratt and Foreigner (though it must be said dropping Feels Like the First Time onto a scene involving a serial killer at work is a bit too obvious), Wicked City sounds as good as it looks.

Nobody's likely to describe this as great television, but Wicked City is a solid, well-delivered cops-and-crime drama that compares favourably to anything else in the genre the major U.S. broadcast networks are offering.

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @BradOswald

Brad Oswald

Brad Oswald
Perspectives editor

After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.

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