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Supergirl, Wicked City Round Out TV Premiere Season

Wicked City offers libertine noir; Supergirl crash lands.

  • Supergirl. CBS. Monday, October 26, 8:30 p.m. EDT.
  • Wicked City. ABC. Tuesday, October 27, 10 p.m. EDT.

We've reached the last meaningful week of fall broadcast-season premieres, though a couple of stragglers will stagger in next month. I wouldn't go so far as to say this week's TV is Dostoevskian (maybe Pussy Riot-ish), but there is definitely a whiff of crime and punishment in the air. One network is giving you a feminist superhero, and the other a misogynist murderer. And one is creepily engaging, and the other feels like 30 whacks, Lizzie Borden allusion definitely intended.

The more interesting—and by far the more deviant—of the pair is ABC's intricately plotted Wicked City, a nostalgic look back at a Los Angeles where AM radio still spoke rock and roll, and the city was awash in cheap cocaine, free sex, and sociopathic serial killers.

Wicked City is set in 1982, at a time when the judicial proceedings against the accused Hillside Strangler—the nom de headline of what had turned out to be a pair of men collaborating on the rape, torture and murder of at least 10 girls and young women—were all over the news. Now some of the cops who worked on the five-year Hillside Strangler case believe a copycat serial killer is at work.

A kind of libertine noir in which damaged-goods characters, instead of throwing back shots of rye in dark cocktail lounges, slither through mobs of coke whores prancing around to the strains of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” the show propels three sets of characters on a lethal collision course.

A pair of bickering detectives, Jack Roth (Jeremy Sisto, Six Feet Under) and new partner Paco Contreras (Gabriel Luna, True Detective), spend almost as time arguing about whether the victims are human tragedies or tickets to promotion. Scuffling freelancer Karen McClaren (Taissa Farmiga, a memorably flinty young witch in the second season of American Horror Story) will do anything, even troll bars as a potential homicide victim, to break into Rolling Stone. And the killer himself, Kent Granger (Ed Westwick, Gossip Girl)—a complex blend of narcissist, chameleon and stone sadist—is surprised when one of his potential targets, Betty Beaumontaine (Erika Christensen, Parenthood) turns out to be a potential Bonnie to his Clyde.

Wicked City's pilot was written by producer-creator Steven Baigelman, who has been oddly inactive since writing and directing Feeling Minnesota, an amusingly fractured criminal-romantic-triangle comedy, nearly two decades ago. And Wicked City shows definite signs of rust, especially in the casting and dialogue of the two detectives, whose chemistry produces more noxious fumes than sparks.

Yet the show's intricate plotting and its complex female characters—the desperately ambitious McClaren, the angel-faced, black-hearted Beaumontaine—make it fascinating despite its flaws. And the easy, sleazy side of the 1980s, where anything goes as long as it's mixed with enough cocaine (the bemused reaction of one club-hopper, after obligingly playing the dormant side of a necrophiliac fantasy: "That was weird, but kind of amazing"), makes a perfect milieu for a cynical crime drama. As Dick Clark was just about through saying by 1982, Wicked City has a good beat and you can dance to it—I'd give it an 85.

Supergirl"Supergirl," CBSThat would be another plague of the 1980s—grade inflation—if applied to CBS' Supergirl, a superhero comic strip set in a fallopian jungle of sibling and office bitchery. Melissa Benoist (one of the few bright spots in the latter, brain-damaged seasons of Glee) stars as Kara, Superman's cousin, whose own super-power potential has been suppressed by a glass ceiling imposed by her uptight foster family.

Instead of a crime-busting superhero like her cousin, or even his cover life as a newspaper reporter able to bedazzle editors with 200-word-a-minute keyboard skills, Kara is just an personal assistant to a she-wolf-of-the-SS editor (Calista Flockhart, very much channeling Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada). Her life pretty much consists of cold pizza, getting dumped by blind dates, and bosses who say stuff  like "It's not that I don't see your frown, it's just that I don't care enough to ask why it's there."

Alas, when Kara breaks cover to save her foster sister from death in a plane crash, she discovers that a patriarchal world won't tolerate super-strong women. The news media ding her for everything from her messy work habits (GUARDIAN ANGEL OR HUMAN WRECKING BALL?) to her dowdy costume. Even the foster sister she saved, whose secret superhero identity is apparently Ungrateful Bitch Girl, chides her: "What if people figure out who you are?"

Whether this is all tongue in cheek or Supergirl is intended as the millennial equivalent of a Helen Reddy record—equal pay for equal superheroes!—I could never quite figure out. Regardless, Supergirl is at least tolerable in its guise of a cockamamie feminist fable. But as the hour progresses and it flaunts its comic-book side (naturally, some supervillains have followed her to Earth, and even more naturally, there's a secret anti-extraterrestrial police force that wants to shut her up, because "nothing says 'covert operation' like a flying woman in a red skirty"), its essential nerdiness—the preferred PC synonym for "juvenile stupidity"—becomes overwhelming. Characters knocked across the room in fist-fights! Buildings toppled by errant body slams! Over and over! Until you want to scream! And beg for the sweet release of death! Or some kryptonite bullets.

Photo Credit: CBS

Contributing Editor Glenn Garvin is the author of Everybody Had His Own Gringo: The CIA and the Contras and (with Ana Rodriguez) Diary of a Survivor: Nineteen Years in a Cuban Women's Prison. He writes about television for the Miami Herald.

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  • Suicidy||

    Is it acceptable to link 'Supergirl' star Melissa Benoist leaked pics of her naked getting fucked by her photographer ex-bf? No video though. Too bad, she has a great body.

  • DesigNate||

    I mean, being worried about bad guys figuring out who you are is part and parcel of every superhero's journey. FFS, Arrow spent most of the first season trying to keep everybody out for that very reason.

    And come on, if there were actual superheroe's flying around, getting into fist fights with supervillan's, knocking down buildings and making a mess of the streets, you don't think the media wouldn't be all over them for that? Or questioning their costume choices?

    Supergirl wasn't that bad. Jesus Christ Glenn.

  • Live Free Or Diet||

    I enjoyed the pilot episode. It's campy and unrealistic, of course... It's a comic book TV series!

  • Suicidy||

    Not all superheroes have secret identities. The Fantastic Four always had public identities.

  • GamerFromJump||

    "I mean, being worried about bad guys figuring out who you are is part and parcel of every superhero's journey."

    Unless you're Iron Man. That's something I like about his movie version. It's a giant red-and-gold "Fuck you" to self-appointed authorities that seek to command an individual.

  • Think It Through||

    "Melissa Benoist (one of the few bright spots in the latter, brain-damaged seasons of Glee)." I'm anonymous so it's save to say I watched the last few seasons of Glee with my teenage daughter & wife. And we were all in agreement.....her weepy, pathetic character portrayal was by far the WORST thing on the show in that time period. You know what they say about opinions....

  • Think It Through||

    *safe*

  • EMD||

    (Baby) Hitler had some?

  • Mazakon||

    Instead of a crime-busting superhero like her cousin, or even his cover life as a newspaper reporter able to bedazzle editors with 200-word-a-minute keyboard skills, Kara is just an personal assistant to a she-wolf-of-the-SS editor (Calista Flockhart, very much channeling Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada). Her life pretty much consists of cold pizza, getting dumped by blind dates, and bosses who say stuff like "It's not that I don't see your frown, it's just that I don't care enough to ask why it's there."

    I'm already sure I'm going to prefer the Smallville Kara to this one.

  • Suicidy||

    Laura Vandervoort was hot. I would jerk it to her over Melissa Benoist any day. In fact..........ill be back in a bit (googles 'Laura Vandervoort hot')

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    Laura Vandervoort was the best, and, for my money, the most faithful to the several comic book depictions of Supergirl over the years. I was frankly surprised to learn about the casting decision for the Supergirl series. The actress doesn't strike me as Kara material at all, much less of Vandervoort caliber. On the other hand, I have never agreed with the casting for the latest incarnation of The Flash, either, but I have grown to like the actor in the role of Barry Allen (in much the same way, I suppose, that I have grown to like Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury in the Avengers movies, even though he looks and acts nothing like the Nick Fury that I grew up reading about). So I am going to give this series and the new girl a fair chance, but this review does not inspire confidence.

  • XM||

    "On my planet, females bow before males"

    Vartox to Supergirl.

    You get the idea.

  • Suicidy||

    It's better when the females kneel before the males. Zod understood that.

  • LarryA||

    It's too bad the producers in Hollywood have no internet service. Otherwise they could go online, sift through a couple of free story websites, and find something original to produce.

    It worked for The Martian.

  • gphx||

    Supergirl comes across as the pc version of the Disney version of an after school special. Reminds me of the Japanese researcher trying to make food out of sanitized crap. You can sanitize it all you want and it's still crap.

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    Back in the 1960s, when DC put out a whole "Superman Family" line of comic books, I read them all, including Supergirl (in Adventure) and even "Superman's Girlfrield, Lois Lane." Interestingly enough, the Supergirl stories back then also concerned themselves with the problems of a girl who had to hold back in order to fit in with regular society as "Linda Danvers," the adopted (not foster) daughter of a June-and-Ward-Cleaver type nuclear family. Supergirl was also always in the shadow of Superman, and for her initial years, had to work in secret (much as TV's Clark Kent in Smallville worked for years as "the blur"). It was a big event, when Superman finally introduced the world to his cousin. Even then, Linda Danvers had to stay in her "place" as subservient to men. But the comic book actually commented on the absurdity of this, frequently mentioning fragile male egos, for example, and how she would have to bend over backward (sometimes needing to call upon her super powers!) to avoid bruising them. I remember one panel, in which she shut down an overly aggressive and over-confident suitor by sucking the air of his lungs during a kiss and rendering him unconscious (or maybe only very nearly so -- after all these years, it is hard to get all the details straight). It sounds to me as if the scriptwriters of today's series are adapting original comic book tales without accounting for the changes in society since the comic-book Supergirl took her first bow.

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    I should add that, in commenting on the absurdity of Linda Danvers' "fragile little thing" pose in the comic strip panels, the original authors clearly intended at least their female readers to realize that you didn't need super-powers to be forced into that situation -- that holding back and preserving male egos, for example, were the burden of ALL girls as they made the journey toward womanhood, and even after. Wonder Woman faced a similar challenge in her secret identity of Diana Prince. The narrative is different today, with kick-ass girls -- such as the iconic Buffy -- being common to the point of cliche in media. So why, I wonder, does today's Supergirl series seem to buck that trend?

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