By James Poniewozik
September 25, 2014

Within the first few minutes of Stalker (CBS, Wednesdays, 10 p.m. E.T.), you will see a terrified woman burned alive. Don’t consider this information a spoiler. Consider it a favor. The show doesn’t get any more pleasant, or any less cheaply exploitative, from there.

Paired with CBS’s Criminal Minds, Stalker seems like it was made to please people who find that grim serial-killer procedural too sweet and uplifting. It follows Lieutenant Beth Davis (Maggie Q, below), the coolly confident head of the LAPD’s Threat Assessment Unit, and Detective Jack Larsen (Dylan McDermott, again playing an abrasive boor), who track down harassers before they do harm.

Producer Kevin Williamson gave us Fox’s ridiculous serial-killer drama The Following and the comic slasher flick Scream, and those influences show. Stalker takes an intimate, dehumanizing crime–one that robs victims of all privacy and security–and treats it like a psychosexual haunted-house ride, with masked killers around every corner ready to yell “Boo!” Most disturbing is how Stalker embraces the creep perspective; even in scenes not involving stalkers, the camera watches female characters like voyeurs–reflected in glass picture frames as they undress, seen closing their curtains from the bushes outside their windows.

At times, Stalker seems aware that it’s playing with something serious, as when it has Beth cite statistics that 1 in 6 women and 1 in 19 men in the U.S. will be stalked. But this only makes its manipulative, kill-for-thrills approach more shameful. Run away from this show as if it were on fire.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

This appears in the October 06, 2014 issue of TIME.

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