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‘Wicked City’ Review: ABC Serial Killer Drama Loves L.A., Hates Women

Stars Ed Westwick and Erika Christensen try, and fail, to make the best of this gratuitously violent series

When a serial killer brutally claims the lives of unsuspecting women as they perform sexual favors for him, it’s not “wicked.” It is vile and sadistic.

So not only is ABC’s new thrill-killing drama “Wicked City” the victim of an ungainly misnomer, but also unimaginative, misogynistic writing.

Ed Westwick of “Gossip Girl” fame stars as Kent, a handsome psychopath who violently murders and dismembers naive women he meets at the Whisky a Go-Go club on the Sunset Strip. But just as he’s about to claim the life of his latest conquest Betty (Erika Christensen, “Parenthood”), an act of fate intervenes and Kent learns they have more in common than he thought. Suddenly impressed and intrigued, Kent spares her life and slowly but surely recruits Betty to become his stab-happy soulmate.

To better establish Betty as the kind of single mother who would be damaged and demented enough to join Kent on his bloody journey, Betty is shown as a secretly heartless nurse who torments helpless patients and even insects and gleefully deceives her children.

Kent, in turn, is an egomaniac with a deep hatred and distrust of women and authority figures. Did his mom ignore and neglect him, as Detective Jack Roth (Jeremy Sisto) surmises at a crime scene, and was his presumably abusive father in the military?

Viewers will have to keep watching “Wicked City” to find out. But there isn’t much incentive to do that. The writers and producers work so hard in the pilot to establish Kent and Betty as homicidal lovebirds — undeniably inspired by real-life Sunset Strip killers Douglas Clark and Carol Bundy — they fail to make them even remotely sympathetic or captivating.

Despite noticeable efforts to play Kent and Betty as wounded, troubled people with murderously kinky bedroom predilections, Westwick and Christensen’s stunted, one-note characters seem better suited as reenactments on an Investigation Discovery true-crime program than a prime-time series. The same pretty much applies to Sisto’s Roth, a dogged detective with a dark side.

If you think that’s formulaic, wait until you see Kent’s victims, who are reduced to blurs of hair and makeup too vacuous and imbecilic to discern dangerous encounters and people. Yes, it was the 1980s, but it’s hard to believe women in Hollywood were that driven by ambition that they just performed oral sex on random dudes in cars and blindly agreed to threesomes for the promise of fame and fortune.

In fact, the only woman on “Wicked City” who’s not a killer, a victim or Det. Roth’s wife, daughter or side piece is aspiring journalist Karen McClaren (the always likable Taissa Farmiga), who manages to be just a little smarter and more fortunate than most club goers on this show.

However, the writers’ love for Karen, 1980s fashion and music, and Los Angeles at its most grimy will not compel the average viewer to accept the good with the bad and keep coming back. What a wicked waste indeed.

“Wicked City” premieres Tuesday Oct. 27 at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.