The first five minutes of ABC’s ‘80s-set thriller Wicked City show a woman brutally murdered while performing oral sex in a car. It seems the scene left a bad taste in critics’ mouths.
During the show’s press tour debut in Beverly Hills, the anthology series’ executive producers Amy B. Harris and Steven Baigelman — as well as stars Ed Westwick, Erika Christensen, Jeremy Sisto, Taissa Farmiga, Gabriel Luna, Evan Ross, and Karolina Wydra — addressed questions from reporters about the graphic scene (which one critic, in an earlier panel, called “splatter murder”) that kicks off the show.
“A majority of us are women in the writers’ room, so it was very important to us that we not depict graphic violence [because] for me, that’s a very uncomfortable thing to watch,” said Harris, a producer on Sex and the City and Gossip Girl. “We want to keep the graphic violence to a minimum, but we also want to acknowledge that [Westwick and Christensen’s characters] are killing people. There’s no way we can say they aren’t, when that’s the story we’re telling.”
Each season of Wicked City follows a new case in a new era of Los Angeles history, with the first season centering on a pair of Bonnie and Clyde-esque serial killers claiming lives on the Sunset Strip in the early rock & roll 1980s. Not all the victims will necessarily be women, Harris alluded, and the show will strive to not simply treat the victims as bodies. Viewers will follow up with some of the victims’ parents, and their lost voices may yet be heard thanks to Farmiga’s justice-seeking character.
“Taissa’s character Karen, a young journalist, is going to very quickly become the voice of these victims,” says Baigelman. “Her story is going to keep these young women alive… as Amy was saying, it’s very important for us to not do violence porn… all of the women in this show are strong women, and from whatever angle they’re coming from, they’re strong women and they’re empowered women.”
Still, reporters pressed Harris and Baigelman to explain the show’s choice to use violence to propel the plot forward, citing Game of Thrones and the first season of True Detective as similar exhibitors.
“I don’t think we can totally avoid the criticism,” reasoned Harris. “I feel like when the story is about violence and it tells you something about the time and the place, then I feel like I understand it. When I feel like it’s used to just titillate, I’m not particularly interested, and sometimes I think shows fall on one side of it or the other. And I think the dialogue is a good one to have, period… and I don’t think we can avoid that conversation on our show and I think we’re expecting it.”
Harris continued: “We’ve spent a lot of time in the room talking about how to talk about that kind of gratuitous violence against women, and the kind of degradation that a lot of women on the Strip went through in the ‘80s to get ahead or get close to the band, and not to glorify that but to really acknowledge that as the truth of the times.”
ABC chief Paul Lee, who was asked about the opening scene during the network’s executive panel, stressed the importance of watching the show beyond its grisly first moments: “It’s the power play between them that’s fascinating… you’re drawn to them, you actually root for them, yet you’re also repulsed by them.”
Wicked City premieres on ABC on October 27.