Of all the PlayStation properties ripe for adaptation, we’re going to hazard a guess that Twisted Metal wasn’t top of your list. And yet here we are, with Peacock’s ten episode series about to start streaming. We’ve watched the entire first season, and while the early trailers proved divisive, we’re happy to confirm that the show works – depending on your penchant for cheesy, gratuitous grindhouse gore. This is a silly, ostentatious slice of car crash television – but despite a wafer-thin plot and an unsatisfying conclusion, we enjoyed it overall.
Anthony Mackie stars as John Doe, an amnesiac first introduced in the PS2 game Twisted Metal: Black. That plot device continues here, with Doe having no memories of his childhood, aside from a partially destroyed photograph of his family. Working as a delivery driver known as a Milkman, he spends his life on the open road in a 2002 Subaru Impreza named Evelyn, delivering packages between walled-off settlements in a post-apocalyptic America ruled by various gangs from the games, like the Holy Men.
It takes at least three episodes for the show to really settle into a rhythm, and it’s only when he’s paired up with Stephanie Beatriz, who plays Quiet, that it’s able to truly capture your attention. We suspect many prospective viewers may fall off quite early, especially in Episode 2 where we’re introduced to Sweet Tooth, played by Joe Seanoa and voiced by Will Arnett – a psychotic masked showman whose biggest goal is to be appreciated by his audience. In one scene he acts out a Las Vegas hotel’s information video in its entirety.
While some of these early gags feel like nails on a chalkboard, the show eventually gets rolling through Mackie and Beatriz’s blossoming alliance. While it has a grotty, dirty aesthetic to it, there’s some sweet moments between the protagonists, and the pair have a decent chemistry which makes you want to root for them. Each episode also begins to layer in some background for each character, and while it’s paper-thin predictable stuff, it helps make everyone a bit more rounded.
This is particularly noteworthy with Agent Stone, another returning character from the games, played by Thomas Haden Church. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that he was a goofy mall cop with a power complex prior to the apocalypse, and so he takes his opportunity in the new world to enforce law and order. It’s not exactly dense character building, but it works, and he plays his part as a pantomime villain throughout.
The main thrust of the plot sees Doe attempting to pick up a package from Chicago and bring it back to San Francisco, at the request of Raven, played by Neve Campbell. The cross country roadtrip vibe provides plenty of potential for vehicular combat scenes, although there’s less of the fender-to-fender action than you’d perhaps anticipate. A climactic car park scene, where all of the cast comes together at last, is the closest the show ever comes to the games, with Twister, Darkside, Sweet Tooth, and more all battling it out in a pulsating face-off which likely demanded most of the show’s production budget.
There are many references to the games, and while the character arcs tend to deviate a lot from what you may be familiar with, the Easter eggs are plentiful enough to satisfy seasoned fans. Not every cameo lands, however: Mr Slam, for instance, is portrayed as a big d*cked bar man whose party trick is to break a watermelon with his sledgehammer-sized dong. If this kind of crass humour isn’t to your tastes, then give the show a wide-berth.
It’s violent, too – albeit in a cartoon, grindhouse style. You’ll regularly see decapitated heads, blown off appendages, and maimed bodies – all captured with low-budget plastic prosthetics that ensure an intended throwback feel. It juxtaposes this ostentatious violence with a saccharine sweet early noughties soundtrack, which includes MMMBop and Barbie Girl, to give the whole thing a kind of unhinged, off-the-wall vibe. Personally, we liked it, but it’s an acquired taste.
Perhaps our biggest criticism overall is that the payoff at the end of the tenth and final episode makes clear that it’s paving the way for a second season that’s more closely aligned with the content of the games, and considering it may never get made, it all feels like a bit of a missed opportunity to us. Twisted Metal is such a niche franchise, and the show’s mix of comedy and intense grindhouse violence is so unusual that we can’t see this capturing a large enough audience to justify further investment.
But it has its moments, mainly through Doe and Quiet’s chemistry, which really comes into its own mid-way through the season and gives you something to latch onto. You’ll chuckle throughout many of the 30 minute episodes, but you’ll also cringe – it’s that kind of intentionally awkward, off-the-wall humour that writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick were going for. If you could stomach Netflix’s recent Resident Evil adaptation, then you’ll likely have mindless fun here – but if car crash entertainment isn’t your cup of tea, consider steering your interest in a different direction.
Thank you to Peacock and Sony Pictures Entertainment for providing us with an advanced screener of the Twisted Metal television show. The entire season will start streaming on Peacock in the United States from 27th July, 2023. Will you be buckling up for this explosive ride? Lock-on to the comments section below.