This is not a blog about pop culture (been there, done that), but I have been itching to post about Wicked City since I first saw the first teaser promo in May and now that the promos are in heavy circulation and the premiere date approaches, it is time.
The promos for the show make it very clear that Kent and Betty are sociopathic serial killers. But they also emphasize their most positive characteristics, primarily their sex appeal. (The main trailer begins by Kent picking up Betty in a club and then a character commenting that Westwick's Kent is "so handsome.") Executive Producer Todd Lieberman explains in a "First Look" video: "The juxtaposition between these two characters who are able to show love, not only to each other, but to young children and then on the other side of that, they couldn't be more devious and couldn't be darker and together they form this kind of Bonnie and Clyde-like serial killer duo."
But while ABC is clearly marketing the show from a generic hedonistic serial killer angle (and it says something that such an angle is generic at this point in our cultural development), a few random asides make it clear that something else is figuring into the story that ABC isn't highlighting. And that something else is necrophilia.
In the promo video entitled "'Wicked City' Will Push Network TV Boundaries on ABC," the interviewer asks the four leads: "if you could come up with a hashtag that encapsulates what you think is the most wicked moment of the pilot, what would it be?" Westwick smirks, dodges the question, and looks at Christensen to answer. She nervously laughs and then lands on the stock response—"we keep saying sex, drugs, rock and roll...and murder." The camera cuts to Sisto, who deadpans: "sex with dead people?" and looks over at Luna. Luna cracks up and adds "post-mortem menage." (And yes, I think that's the first time I've ever heard that phrase...)
Here's a list of the ABC official promos:
You can watch all of the videos that ABC has posted to promo Wicked City and you won't hear the word "necrophilia." This is somewhat surprising to me since Sisto and Luna clearly allude to it in the "Push Network Boundaries" official ABC promo and it is probably the primary theme of the original teaser trailer, which was released by ABC in May. The 3 minute video is no longer on YouTube, but is is on other websites. The trailer begins with Kent killing a woman that he picked up at a club, then cuts to two detectives discovering her body in a cemetery. Detective #1: "No sign of a struggle. He tied her up after he killed her. I'm guessing post-mortem party." Detective #2: "Necrophilia?" If that isn't clear enough, the next portion of the trailer shows Kent picking up Betty, deciding not to kill her when he discovers she has children, and then having her play dead while he has sex with her. (See screen capture from teaser promo above right.) "That was weird," she dreamily says to Kent after, "and kind of amazing."
ABC may have taken down the original teaser trailer because they recast a couple of roles (adding Sisto to the cast, for example) after the pilot was shot, or perhaps because it decided that it wanted to surprise the audience with the necrophilia storyline. And this brings me to the ultimate issue—how will people react to a network television show where the romantic lead is a serial killer who practices necrophilia?
Kent is clearly the central character on the show. Promo photos typically have Westwick standing in the front of the other actors. His photo is most prominently featured on the posters and he is in all of the trailers. And the showrunners clearly don't want the audience to hate Kent, demonstrated both by their casting of Westwick (anyone who watches the show because Westwick is in it won't want to hate him) and by emphasizing in the promos how his character is humanized by things like his love of children. We've seen a lot of serial killer antiheros on television lately (i.e. Dexter), but I cannot think of a single character in television or movies that the audience is intended to relate to and sympathize with that practices necrophilia.
It will be very interesting to see what role necrophilia plays in Wicked City. Is it included just to titillate the audience with one of the last universal cultural taboos and show how "edgy" ABC is? Is it intended to make Westwick's character totally irredeemable and make it clear that he will not be rehabilitated? No other sins have proved insurmountable if the audience wants to like a handsome male lead. In recent examples, Westwick's character Chuck Bass on Gossip Girl committed two attempted rapes in the first half of Season 1 before becoming one-half of the most shipped couple on the show. David Lyons' character Bass Monroe killed one of his best friends and . . . pretty much everybody else who said "boo" to him in the beginning of Revolution, and then the writers spent a season trying to rehabilitate him because he was an audience favorite. Charlie Hunnam's character Jax Teller on Sons of Anarchy killed both his mother and his stepfather/mentor plus a whole bunch of other people. This isn't a new phenomenon. Roger Howarth's character on One Life to Live, Todd Manning, was introduced in 1992 during a gang rape of an established female character. He became one of the most important romantic male leads on the show and migrated with other major cast members to General Hospital following OLTL's cancellation in 2012. Much has been written on the subject.
The closest precedent to Westwick's Kent is probably Evan Peters' character on the first season of American Horror Story, Tate Langdon. The show introduced Tate as a bad boy love interest for Violet (Taissa Farmiga, who is also in Wicked City), but halfway through the first season, it was revealed to Violet and the audience that Tate had killed more than a dozen students at his school, raped Violet's mother, and murdered a number of other people. By the end of the season, Violet rejected Tate but it wasn't clear that the entire audience had (committing school shootings are solidly in the "unforgivable sin" category, even for handsome antiheroes, but Violet didn't reject Tate until learning he raped her mother in order to bring forth the Antichrist).
It doesn't appear that the media has picked up on the necrophilia angle in Wicked City yet. Most of the pre-press about Wicked City has focused on the fact that two of the leading men from Gossip Girl are in new shows on ABC (Chace Crawford is starring in Blood and Oil as a roughneck version of Nate Archibald). It will be fascinating to see how audiences and the media react to the premiere.
Since this is the Funeral Law Blog, I suppose that I should mention the law. Necrophilia is specified as a crime in some states, but far fewer states than one would expect. Elsewhere it would likely fall under abuse of corpse statutes. Penalties vary significantly from state to state.