In Which We Have Never Done Anything Like This Before

Sunset Decade


Wicked City
creator Steven Baigelman

The year is 1982. Kent Grainger (Ed Westwick) has tied up a nurse named Betty (Erika Christensen) in his bed with rope and twine. He tells her to not make any sound at all, not even to breathe. She complies, and he is able to generate an erection. Afterwards, he produces a knife to cut her free. “I’ve never done anything like this before,” she says, and yet she was a woman living in Los Angeles, with children, in the 1980s.

We tend to apply the moral standards of our own time to the past. By the standards of the 2000 era period, Westwick was a good actor. Now his facial hair appears scruffy and insolent, and I no longer wish to hear his terrible American accent in roles meant for my countrymen. Everything about ABC’s Wicked City actually reminds us more of 2000 — the costumes, the gee-golly attitude, the weirdly vanilla makeup choices.

Her haircut is reminiscent of those women who were imprisoned in that guy’s basement. 

Christensen at first is just a concerned mother getting her first experience in the S&M game, but soon she is prepping Westwick’s kills for him, since he is a serial murderer and this is the first time she has ever received any sustained positive attention from a man. The women of Wicked City rely entirely on men to provide an external compass and to reaffirm the sense of purpose lacking from their lives. This is just the way things were in the 1980s. There was no such thing as Margaret Thatcher.

Tracking this deadly duo is Jeremy Sisto as detective Jack Roth. Sisto continues receiving gainful employment long after the American public has resoundingly explained it no longer wishes to see him attempt something he is not very good at whatsoever: acting. He has never altered his facial hair for any role; he is always just this scruffy pseudo-handsome guy who sounds like a somewhat more mature Kermit the Frog.

Your husband does not care for your robe.

Sisto plays a philandering police detective who cheats on his ginger wife even though the other woman is a stripper and he has a young daughter. In 2000 this would be shocking and disgusting, and despite the fact that this is supposed to be the 1980s, when such behavior was de rigeur, it is still abhorrent. I can’t watch fake shows about the 1980s where everyone is dressed like a hooker and there is a man whose name is Bucket, even if they did not have the massive plot holes featured in Wicked City on a weekly basis.

The Gossip Girl probably should have been Chuck Bass.

Sam Raimi was actually there for the 1980s, and he made a trilogy of semi-amusing movies starring Bruce Campbell. Evil Dead was always a lot more suited for a television series, since the entire concept of loved ones and friends becoming possessed demons has a shelf-life of about 20 minutes. Starz’ Ash v. Evil Dead has already been renewed for a second season, and rightly so, because Ryan Murphy’s definition of camp was starting to more closely resemble murder porn.

Ted Danson is the only man brave enough not to dye his hair.

Campbell, 57, looks very good for his age, but he acts like is walking off the set of Army of Darkness, Raimi’s most amusing version of the Evil Dead story. Performances were a lot broader then — it wasn’t really necessary to show any kind of emotional range when the characters were paper thin contrivances intended to be taken over by demons.

A romance between a Latino man and a Jewish woman is all I have ever asked for.

Here Campbell’s sidekick (Ray Santiago) and his sidekick’s love interest (Jill Marie Jones) have to continually bounce off his steely one-liners. They seem to be having great fun, and Ash v. Evil Dead succeeds on that, on the enthusiasm it has for its wacky subject matter. It is amusing to see the ancient Ash Williams have to deal with all the problems of modernity, and even appreciate the new time in which he lives as substantially better as the decade from which he came.

Special effects were greatly improved.

The whole format became a bit tiresome over the course of an entire film, but Ash v. Evil Dead works because there is nothing else like it today: the entire concept of its humor died in the waning moments of 1990.

There is something that is actually worth returning to in the 1980s: a distinct lack of cynicism worth revisiting. Wicked City totally misunderstands that concept as innocence. It was not innocence, that we felt in the decade that followed a failed revolution based on transmitting diseases through our penises. We preferred to feel nothing except the pain.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.


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