'Stalker': TV Review


10 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 1 (CBS)

Go stalk another show

An LAPD unit is tasked with catching stalkers. The female head of that unit is a victim of stalking. Her new hire is a stalker.

In Stalker, there is something called the Threat Assessment Unit of the LAPD. 

Let’s assume for a moment that I am the head of said Threat Assessment Unit. Here is my decree: “Warning — a really disgraceful television series depicting the pornography of terror is on CBS tonight and under no circumstances should anyone watch. This show poses a threat to your capacity to receive and shrug off incoming visual stimuli such as, say, women being doused with gasoline and lit on fire.”

Do you get the message?

After a premiere week spent singing the praises of CBS’s ability to craft serialized dramas, I see Stalker as a potent reminder that when CBS goes wrong, it usually errs on the side of excessive violence, often toward women. Stalker is just such a swing-and-miss, as the network opts for something creepy rather than creative.

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Stalker comes from Kevin Williamson (Scream), who's also responsible for Fox’s equally disgraceful The Following, another series praying at the altar of mindless violence and abject terror for entertainment's sake. Williamson now fronts two of television’s most brutal and shock-for-shock’s-sake depictions of blood and fear.

He must be very proud.

But listen, Williamson has a right to portray women being lit on fire and torched, their screams lingering excessively. That’s his artistic choice, no matter what anyone thinks of it. Censorship is not the answer (nor, apparently, is CBS brass thinking better of the Stalker premise and its stylized and thus appalling execution).

Your right, of course, is to vote with your remote. And you should exercise it.

Stalker is a mostly hollow attempt to cash in on the creepiness of obsession and how that often leads to violence (often against women, even though the pilot tries to balance things out by having a man stalked as well). It stars the lovely and talented Maggie Q (who I wish was in another series entirely), as Lt. Beth Davis of the aforementioned Threat Assessment Unit, aka We Deal With Stalkers. In a less-than-startling creative twist, Williamson has Davis’ backstory be that she too has been stalked. She lives in fear at night even as she fights the forces of stalking by day.

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She’s joined on the unit by newcomer Jack Larsen (Dylan McDermott), who most recently was a New York homicide cop. What's behind his seemingly last-second decision to switch coasts?

It's because he’s stalking his wife. CBS didn’t send enough episodes for critics to see if he, too, ends up lighting her on fire. You’ll just have to hang in there, if that’s your thing.

Stalker is a manipulative piece of shock with no dramatic value, weak writing and characters you won’t want to get invested in. With any luck, the lurid excess of the show will ward off viewers and then CBS can cancel it, take the remaining episodes and light them on fire.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com
Twitter: @BastardMachine