‘Wicked City’: ’80s-style murder, mayhem

Heather Grace Hancock (from left), Ed Westwick and Erika Christensen star in “Wicked City,” which airs at 10 p.m. Tuesday on ABC.

If you’ve been thinking that there haven’t been nearly enough serial killings and butchered women in this fall’s new shows, then 10 p.m. Tuesday nights are for you. That’s when ABC airs “Wicked City,” a drama about murder in greater Los Angeles in the early 1980s.

The music was pungent, the Whisky a Go Go was hopping, and every nasal passage in Southern California was full of cocaine.

It would be an archetypally wicked place even without the presence of Kent Grainger (Ed Westwick of “Gossip Girl”), a creepy man with a smooth pickup line who makes women pay the ultimate price for going into places like the Whisky a Go Go.

The series takes the adage about not reinventing the wheel pretty seriously: It follows the template of many cop shows that came before it.

Jeremy Sisto (“Suburgatory”) plays Jack Roth, the brooding detective who catches the case when a headless corpse turns up in the same spot where the first Hillside Strangler victim was found.

He knows the place because he’s the guy who cracked that tag-team serial-killer case in the late 1970s.

Jack is immediately saddled with a partner he doesn’t want, Paco Contreras (Gabriel Luna of “Matador”).

Guess what? They don’t get along. Their snippy exchanges make you want to slap both of them until they just shut up already, and then slap the writers who pulled out this tired old crutch, too.

As far as the investigation goes, it looks from the premiere as if the usual game playing between killer and investigator is likely to take hold. Cat, meet mouse.

One of the more interesting things about the first episode is what is absent.

The series is set in 1982, so there is no security camera footage, no image recognition software, no triangulating of cellphone signals.

When one of Kent’s pickup targets, a single mother named Betty Beaumontaine (Erika Christensen of “Parenthood”), is needed at home, it’s a pager that tells her so.

“Wicked City” makes you realize just how tech-heavy cop shows set in the present have become.

It doesn’t show signs of knowing how to exploit this difference other than to keep referencing it, but it might make you want to pull out a “Columbo” or “Hill Street Blues” DVD just to savor what this genre was like before the digital revolution.

Betty may turn out to be the saving grace in a show that otherwise might fall victim to serial-killer fatigue.

That pager beep alters her fate, and she gets to know a different side of Kent, the side that likes children and can show a nonlethal version of his necrophiliac tendencies in bed.

Where their relationship goes — and it appears to be headed for a nasty place indeed — will be a big part of determining whether this series has anything different to offer.

Also in the mix is Taissa Farmiga (“American Horror Story”) as a young reporter who teams with the police.

But the real issue for this series is whether viewers will tolerate its tone.

The premiere is drenched in an unpalatable sensationalism reminiscent of “Stalker,” the canceled CBS series from last season that was widely criticized for its voyeuristic, often misogynistic conceit.

Fans of the early 1980s, if there are any, may like revisiting that era. The show, especially its soundtrack, never goes more than a few minutes without reminding you what the time period is. But anyone else may find the luridness here to be too much of a bad thing.

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