Crime novelist James Ellroy is an appropriate if eccentric tour guide for L.A.’s sordid history, beginning with his own mother’s murder and his fascination with the Black Dahlia. He explores both cases in the premiere of “James Ellroy’s LA: City of Demons,” which allows the author to unleash all his idiosyncrasies — including his overheated direct-to-camera narration, in a voice as dissonant as the show’s theme music. Ellroy’s potboiler style will be off-putting to many people, but the lurid subject matter actually feels like a pretty good fit with Investigation Discovery’s unabashed immersion in crime.
If nothing else, with Ellroy’s gaunt appearance and stilted speech pattern, “City of Demons” won’t be confused with much else on television. Throw in his exchanges with an animated, tough-talking crime dog, Barko (which is pretty embarrassing), and this might become a guilty favorite of weed smokers and hep cats everywhere.
The writer covered some of this material previously in a 2001 documentary titled “Feast of Death,” in which he swapped stories with various detectives and investigators. “Dead women own me,” he announces at the outset.
The production itself is awkward and ham-handed in places, especially in terms of recreating moments. When Ellroy talks about pursuing a lead years ago with a retired detective, the two are shown in the car together, as if someone had been chronicling these events from the back seat all along. It’s a reminder how “reality” is stitched together, and here, anyway, the seams show.
Mostly, though, “City of Demons” seems like a chance to dredge up not just Ellroy’s memoir “My Dark Places” but the underlying history that went into his classic “L.A. Confidential,” with the second hour examining the Lana Turner-Johnny Stompanato murder and the “scandal rags” of the 1950s.
Investigation Discovery hasn’t been shy about pursuing a “Crime pays” philosophy, which has largely succeeded in invigorating the channel. Granted, turning Ellroy into a TV personality is a quirky bet, but when embracing trashy titles like “Who the (Bleep) Did I Marry?” and “Wicked Attraction,” why bother being hush-hush about one’s tabloid intentions.