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Review: Wicked City 1x1 (US: ABC)

Posted on October 28, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Wicked City

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, ABC

There was a time when the anthology show ruled US airwaves. Jobbing actors would show up for a week in The Twilight Zone, The Night Gallery, General Electric Theater, Studio One or whatever, then move on to the next gig. But increasing production values, logistical difficulties and viewer choice started to make that weekly anthology show more or less impossible; the power of stardom also meant that if you could get an actor or actress with a significant fanbase in a starring role, people would watch week after week, no matter what the story, which made the anthology show less and less attractive.

But over the past few years, the format has started to return. It began, oddly enough with Love Bites, a somewhat terrible NBC romcom that featured a different couple every week. That failed very, very quickly, in part because the scripts were just awful, but also because the formula wasn't quite right. Weekly wasn't the way to go.

Instead, it was cable that developed the correct format for a modern anthology show, with first American Horror Story and then True Detective. With an audience who likes serial drama but who wants eventual conclusions to their stories that haven't been drawn out too long, what could be better than a season-long story with a beginning, middle and an end, the next season then telling a completely new story in the same vein? With a bit of cleverness, you can even appease fans of the shows' stars by having the cast come back to play different characters if they want - or just let them go off to the next job if they'd rather, just like in the old days, since that way you can get big names with limited availability to come in for just a season.

It's a scheme that certainly worked with ABC's American Crime, a 'so good it could have been HBO' drama about the terrible effects of the American judicial system and all the other systems that have evolved around it. Now ABC are hoping to repeat the show's success with Wicked City, a "a character-driven, true crime procedural that explores sex, politics and popular culture across various noteworthy eras in LA history".

The first season is set in 1980. Or maybe 1982. A few years after LA's Hillside Strangler struck, anyway. Ed Westwick (Gossip Girl) is a serial killer on the make, emulating his idol, the Strangler, by killing girls he picks up in bars then leaving them dead in the same places. It's something to do with his father having left when he was eight, apparently.

Then one night, he's about to chop the head off Erika Christensen (Six Degrees, Parenthood) and then have sex with her corpse, when she reveals she's a single mother. Things get even better when it turns out that not only does she have sociopathic tendencies of her own - she's one of the killer nurses you hear so much about it these days - she quite enjoys pretending to be a corpse while Ed Westwick has sex with her.

It's a match made in heaven, isn't it?

Meanwhile, a couple of brave male, squabbling cops - Jeremy Sisto (Kidnapped, Suburgatory, The Returned) and Gabriel Luna (Matador) - are on Westwick's trail, hoping to stop him before he can kill yet more young women. All while listening to as many 80s classics and using as many pagers, rotary dial payphones, old Mustangs and 4:3 TVs as the music and props departments can provide.

Unfortunately, there is one problem with the modern anthology format that Wicked City fails to overcome: you actually need to make people want to watch the next season, or even the next episode, hopefully by writing some good scripts. And avoiding complete moral bankruptcy.

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Review: Blood & Oil 1x1 (US: ABC)

Posted on September 29, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Blood & Oil

In the US: Sundays, 9/8c, ABC

'Rags to riches' stories have been a popular genre for centuries, with the (literally) poor audience getting to imagine what life would be like for them if they were suddenly rich, typically showing that they have some inner morality from years of abjection and hard work that makes them in some way better than those who had been born into wealth.

Think Cinderella, Aladdin, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist or anything by Catherine Cookson, just for starters.

It's a worthy genre, but one with rules. So to a certain extent you have to admire Blood & Oil for breaking possibly the most iron clad of them all. 

It stars Chase Crawford (Gossip Girl) and Rebecca Rittenhouse (Red Band Society) as a young working class couple who go to seek their fortune in the North Dakota oil rush, hoping to make it big with a laundromat for the no-doubt dirty workers. Unfortunately, their dream and most of their possessions soon evaporate into thin air.

More fortunately, just as things look their worst, an opportunity arises through which they might be able to make it really rich through oil tycoon Don Johnson (Miami Vice, Nash Bridges) and his wife Amber Valletta (Revenge).

Will they succeed? Will they make it big in life? Will their marriage be ripped asunder by all the temptations before them? 

I don't know and I largely don't care, because of Blood & Oil's horrific transgression. Because our heroes, the one's we're supposed to root for, are complete fucking idiots.

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Review: Quantico 1x1 (US: ABC; UK: Alibi)

Posted on September 28, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share


In the US: Sundays, 10/9c, ABC
In the UK: Acquired by Alibi

The TV business can be risky, particularly the US broadcast TV business where a show can be cancelled after just a few episodes and lose millions of dollars in the process.

As a result, broadcast networks tend to want to play safe. If they find something that does well in the ratings, something that usually hasn't strayed too far from the previous year's not especially adventurous offerings, they'll try to create something relatively similar the next year to capitalise upon it.

This isn't a good idea, but if you're a TV exec, you're not likely to lose your job over it, since you can always say: "It was a safe bet. Hell, the last one did well and this was pretty similar. Who could have predicted it would tank?"

Last year's "something quite close to lots of things you've already seen but which is a bit different" on ABC was How To Get Away With Murder, which was basically a remake of the 1970s law school show Paper Chase except with a more diverse cast and added murder. That was popular enough that it got renewed by the network. That, of course, means that this year we need something that's quite close to How To Get Away With Murder but which is a bit different.

The setting and general structure of How To Get Away With Murder is this: a team of diverse recruits to a prestigious school, all competing with one another to be the best, with the action running in two timelines, one before, one after a crime. What Quantico stupidly does is think you can transfer that from a law school to Quantico and have more or less the same kinds of people and principles. 

You'll probably have heard of Quantico: it trains the FBI, the DEA and the Marines. When you hear the name 'Quantico', you probably think of something like this:

What you probably don't think of is Muslims in hijab climbing assault courses; people with lots of deep, dark, borderline felony secrets; mean girls picking on their teachers for not being sexy and marriagable enough; and an Indian superstar trying to make it big in the US as an FBI recruit accused of committing a 9/11-level atrocity and trying to prove it was actually one of her classmates.

Here's a trailer. Be warned - the show's single redeeming feature, Dougray Scott, has been replaced by Josh Hopkins from Cougar Town

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