Monday 8 April 2024

Twisted Metal, Series 1 | reviewed by Stephen Theaker

A Peacock original in the United States, PlayStation adaptation Twisted Metal took quite a long time to reach the UK, where, ironically, it joined Xbox adaptation Halo on Paramount+. Personally, I’ve been Xbox-exclusive ever since my PlayStation 3 got the yellow light of death, but I have a soft spot for Twisted Metal, from the original PlayStation. It wasn’t a complicated game: you chose a themed, armoured, battle-ready car, entered an arena, and fought against several other cars until one emerged the winner. Twisted Metal Black: Online was one of the first console games I ever played online, as part of a beta testing programme. The series petered out in 2012, presumably because its ideas were so easily merged into other car games. For such an old, dormant series to be adapted for television might seem a bit surprising, but books much older than that are adapted every year. I take it as a sign that this wasn’t produced simply for the sake of corporate synergy, but because people looked at the game and its concepts and thought it would make a good tv show. I think they were right. It’s a lot of fun!

The show’s biggest asset is Anthony Mackie, who plays lead character John Doe with a winning combination of boundless energy, unfailing optimism, silly humour and violent glee. He’s sweet and funny in the role, making the most of whatever nuttiness each script throws at him – e.g. when John mistakenly thinks “Jell-O” is city slang for goodbye, and says it throughout the series to everyone he meets. And that’s a lot of people. John works as a so-called milkman in the USA, delivering necessities from one walled city to another, fighting off bandits all the way. The year is 2022, and it’s been twenty years since the apocalypse. A computer bug infected all the world’s computers. Phones glitched, nuclear plants melted down, the power went off, the internet disappeared, planes and helicopters fell out of the sky in flames. The cities walled themselves off and threw out all the criminals. John was alive back then, but remembers nothing that came before. He woke up in a crashed car, aged 10 or 11, and he’s been living in his car ever since – her name is Evelyn. In this ten-episode series he takes on a ten-day mission with a big prize promised if he can complete it, but the real reward might be the new friend he makes along the way: a taciturn woman he nicknames Quiet (Stephanie Beatriz).

I can’t honestly say that this is a five-star show, but it’s a three-star show that I five-star enjoyed. There are obviously some problems with the overall scenario: how would cities benefit from cutting off all the farmers who make their food? Why wouldn’t rural areas just go about their business and leave the cities to rot? But it’s a comedic post-apocalyptic show and so everyone not in the cities (and some of those inside them) are now homicidal maniacs, like the game’s breakout character Sweet Tooth (physically embodied by Joe Seanoa, brilliantly voiced by Will Arnett), a demented ice cream man with a disturbing childhood history, or Agent Stone (Thomas Haden Church), who is trying to control the routes around the country with his horde of murderous police. Various other drivers from the games appear too, but none of the science-fictional or supernatural characters, unfortunately. Maybe next time. The use of music is excellent, and the car sequences are great, particularly a big arena battle in the final episode, but the physical combat scenes could be better: too often it felt like we were cutting to the action just after it had happened. I liked what this show does, and I’m delighted a second season is planned, I just wish it went further. Ash vs Evil Dead set the bar very high for this type of programme. Stephen Theaker ***

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