The vehicular combat video game series “Twisted Metal,” where drivers battled each other in demolition derbies with guns and armor surrounding their cars, was one of the breadwinners on the original Sony PlayStation. It drove big sales and spanned many games across multiple platforms until 2012’s PS3 version. Now in the PlayStation 5 era, Sony has gifted everyone the “Twisted Metal” content they always wanted for a decade: a middle-of-the-road action-comedy for Peacock from the “Deadpool” and “Zombieland” dudes.
Set in a post-apocalyptic American wasteland, motormouth John Doe (Anthony Mackie), a goods transporter dubbed “a milkman,” is hired by New San Francisco leader Raven (Neve Campbell) to retrieve a package from New Chicago. In exchange, she promises to fulfill his deepest desire: life inside the pristine gated community beyond the poverty-stricken walls and away from the treacherous open road. While on the trip in his trusty car Evelin, Doe’s path crosses with ruthless-but-silent car thief Quiet (Stephanie Beatriz). She is hunting for an aggressive patrolman named Agent Stone (Thomas Haden Church) due to a tragic event that left her vengeful. Doe and Quiet eventually reluctantly work together, facing off against murderous marauders and nuclear thunderstorms across the “divided states of America.”
In the press notes, showrunner Michael Jonathan Smith describes his love for this series as a 16-year-old in 2001 when, he says, “Weezer had welcomed fans to an ‘Island in the Sun,’ and ‘Shrek’ was an all-star at the box office.” If this was the show Smith made for his younger self in 2001, he did a fantastic job embracing the crudeness that would appeal to 16-year-olds who had just discovered the TV-MA rating for the first time. But the series is painful for a 2023 audience where a 16-year-old doesn’t have a Peacock subscription or knows what “Twisted Metal” is.
The first issue lies with John Doe’s mouthy, wise-cracking personality, best described as having Ryan Reynolds Syndrome—fast-talking dialect, frantic movement, unfunny crude dialogue, millennial references, loud screaming, and sarcasm. In other words, he’s annoying. Anthony Mackie has endless charisma and tries to hold up the show with his screen presence, but so many of Doe’s mannerisms and delivery style mimic Reynolds’ comedic traits. Before Beatriz’s Quiet gets in Doe’s car, it’s Doe against the world using every Reynolds-ism in the bag. The show’s try-hard edginess, courtesy of “Deadpool” writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, executive producers here, makes every scene unbearable.
A prime example of the show’s weak humor is in the second episode titled “3RNCRCS” when Doe and Quiet are in Las Vegas and are held hostage by machete-wielding, show-performer Sweet Tooth the Clown (wrestler Joe Seanoa as the body and Will Arnett, as the distracting voice). During a fight sequence where Doe and Tooth have an annoying ADR quip off, battling at a casino, they stop and share a moment due to Sisqó’s “Thong Song” playing on the jukebox. This joke would’ve killed in 2001, a time that predated modern comedy’s shameless need to rely on references. Today, it’s grating. Reese/Wernick’s laziness also extends to its bloody action violence, which relishes how much CG blood they can throw onscreen with no actual stakes.
The first half of the season pushes the pedal to the Metal with annoying in-your-face crass and shoddy writing, but the show improves in later episodes between Mackie and Beatriz. The reluctant partnership windshields on Quiet and Doe come down around midseason, and the two bond, helping each other out of deadly situations. Once it sets its juvenile qualities aside like a kid coming down from a sugar rush, the writing team develops these two leads, delving into the tragic backgrounds that set up the unexplored class divides nationwide. Whatever tragedy they faced in their past connects to their attachment to the things and people close to them in the present.
Thanks to a naturally charming and equally intimidating Beatriz contrasting Mackie’s natural charisma, their budding chemistry is adorable, albeit predictable. “Twisted Metal” crashes and burns as an action-comedy, but out of those ashes emerges an edgy rom-com. Believe it or not, it works. Even the episodic obstacles they face around the backend improve as comedic performers Chloe Fineman and Jason Mantzoukas pop in, providing unhinged performances that leave you wanting more.
The first season of “Twisted Metal” is a bizarre puzzle. Its first half is the most terrible series I’ve seen this year, which means most viewers will probably exit this TV highway. But in the second half, thanks to the solid efforts of its charming leads and comedic supporting characters, “Twisted Metal” turns into an adorable and raunchy rom-com. It’s the television equivalent of a Sour Patch Kid. First, it’s sour, and then it’s sweet.
The whole season was screened for review. “Twisted Metal” premieres July 27th on Peacock.