A mixture of low life and high tech, “Spicy City,” Ralph Bakshi’s new animated series debuting on HBO tonight, looks like the computer-generated metropolis in Disney’s “Tron,” seen from the wrong side of the track ball.
According to a press release about “Spicy City,” the show “updates the style and story lines of the pulp magazines of the 1930s and 1940s,” but the first two episodes lack the tension and suspense of the stories of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.
The series premiere, “Love Is a Download,” depicts a mistreated woman (voice by Mary Mara), her abusive boyfriend (John Hotstetter) and a grotesquely obese hacker/"virtual detective” (James Kean), playing out a formulaic love triangle in cyberspace. The visuals emulate the look of old computer games, and the results are just as flat.
In the second episode, “Have You Seen Mano Mantillo’s Hands?,” Stevie (played by Bakshi), a hired thug, hacks off the enchanted hands of a star conga drummer (Alec Fernandez) amid fountains of blood, an effect borrowed from Danny Antonucci’s notorious short “Lupo the Butcher.” When the severed hands go on a rampage, mobster Big Vinnie (James Hanes) forces Stevie to recapture them. The ending is as bizarre as it is unsatisfying.
Bakshi’s previous work (“Fritz the Cat,” “Heavy Traffic”) always displayed a rambunctious energy, but “Spicy City” has a surprisingly stodgy pace. The first episode, written by Preston Bakshi (Ralph’s son) and directed by Jack Kafka, is about as exciting as watching a graphic download from America Online. The second, which Bakshi directed, feels a bit livelier, but lacks the panache of his revitalized “Mighty Mouse” series of a few years ago.
“Spicy City” seems to be aimed at adolescent boys who are excited by cartoon nudity, sex, profanity, ethnic slurs and decolletage--series host Raven (Michelle Phillips) wears a strapless gown that makes Jessica Rabbit’s wardrobe look conservative. Older and/or more mature viewers will quickly tire of these puerile adventures.
* “Spicy City” premieres tonight at midnight on HBO. The network has rated it TV-MA (not intended for viewers under the age of 18).