Say this for “Stalker,” a new “psychological thriller,” which rolls out Wednesday: It makes its troubling intentions and insurmountable flaws instantly clear.
Created by Kevin Williamson, who recently took broadcast-television violence to slasher depths with “The Following,” the CBS show opens with the unforgivably horrific murder of a young woman at the hands of a masked mad man. Cut to Maggie Q’s Lt. Beth Davis, who is delivering a sonorous speech on the rise and realities of stalking that mostly blames jealousy and the Internet.
Anyone can be a stalker or a victim, Q’s head of Los Angeles Police Department’s Threat Assessment Unit blandly informs us. And in case we don’t believe her, the lecture is crosscut with scenes of a man in a baseball cap and shades surreptitiously snapping photos of a woman and her child. A man who turns out to be Beth’s new partner, Det. Jack Larsen (Dylan McDermott).
So just to recap, “Stalker” will be pretentiously moralizing about the grim realities of stalking while exploiting the crime’s most perverse and gruesome aspects in an effort to be psychologically thrilling.
Um, no thanks.
This is not an objection to television violence. Crime procedurals are the workhorse of the art form, which means viewers watch people, especially young women, get killed all the time, often in horrible ways. These victims, and occasionally those who seek to solve or prevent crimes, are also sometimes terrorized, physically and emotionally, along the way. We accept the acts as necessary for the creating of interesting characters, high-wire stakes or entertaining plots.
The problem with “Stalker” is not the violence, creepiness or depravity. It’s that the violence, creepiness and depravity appear to be the point, because nothing of value is offered in balance.
Which might be acceptable if “Stalker” were trying to explore the meaning, message or causes of such unsettling themes. Instead, it’s just a clunky crime procedural attempting to leverage a newly acknowledged type of crime, committed mostly though not exclusively against women, with maximum sensationalism.
Beth’s dedication to her job is based predictably on personal experience, while Jack’s equally tired ability to instantly “read” a scene also ham-fistedly hints at insider knowledge, though from the other side of the crime. Q and McDermott are wooden to the point of dissociative in their roles, and who could blame them? She’s a secret victim, and he’s a secret perpetrator, and that’s what passes for character depth in “Stalker.”
Given the creativity and complexity of so much of television these days, a show this cynically conceived and constructed is, well, did I use the word “unforgivable” already? I’ll use it again. It’s unforgivable.
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When: 10 p.m. Wednesday
Rating: TV-14-DSV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue, sex and violence)