Allow me to free associate for a moment.
Twisted Metal is a funny show. Not ha-ha funny, like a clown. But there is a clown. The kind that thinks murder is funny. This is also the premise behind famed Batman villain the Joker. He laughs at things that are not funny, like murder. This is why we say he is “twisted.” You would think, because of this, that Twisted Metal is also twisted. The transitive property and all. But the Joker has a logic to his humor. He really wants everyone to find comedy in the same thing he does (society). Twisted Metal, and its clown Sweet Tooth, have no such logic. They are just laughing. And I would like, occasionally, to laugh with them.
Based on the long-dormant PlayStation franchise, Twisted Metal is a violent action-comedy in the Deadpool mold (Deadpool writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick are among its executive producers) but lacking Deadpool’s secret sauce: Ryan Reynolds, or a Ryan Reynolds equivalent. Someone in front of the camera with an excess of charisma and a creative stake in the project’s tone, who can tell a joke and also sell it. Instead, it offers scene after scene that the show’s creative team clearly thinks is funny, and could be funny, if, like an actual comedian, there was a bit more time spent workshopping the jokes here.
And jokes are what set this apocalypse apart from the many others on offer. Twisted Metal follows John Doe (Anthony Mackie), an amnesiac “milkman” — Twisted Metal parlance for couriers who deliver packages from walled city to walled city across the Divided States of America. Milkmen are not permitted to enter the cities they deliver to, so they live a lonely and itinerant life, bonding only with their cars (Doe named his “Evelyn”) and getting paid in necessities like gasoline. This, on top of the amnesia, has made John a little bit weird.
When an unusually dangerous job (from Neve Campbell, no less) comes with the promise of a home in one of the walled cities, John accepts, even though it’s not along his usual (and relatively safe) routes. As a result, John Doe has to deal with the worst the wasteland has to offer: raiders, Sweet Tooth, and a very determined ex-cop who is attempting to impose his own brutal law and order on the dystopian frontier.
This is where the show’s gags come fast and furious (get it?). Sweet Tooth is running his own one-man Vegas residency and wants John Doe to watch it. Lawmen imprison John in the DMV… which is now a place where people are tortured. And John never, ever stops talking.
A lot of these jokes have potential: The DMV is a funny, if obvious, idea, and Mackie is wholly committed to everything the show’s writers have to throw at him. However, there’s no wit, no sharpness, to what’s delivered. The jokes have no target; they are just random in that late-2000s Manic Pixie Dream Girl sense, if said Manic Pixie Dream Girls were always shooting people in the head.
This results in moments where characters are tortured via playing Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” on loop or forced to fill out DMV paperwork until they bleed — jokes that could be funny but fall flat because of various choices the show makes about presentation (too plain), performance (too rushed), or writing (too much). Twisted Metal’s comedy could conceivably land better if one of those things was just a little bit stronger. But instead it’s all just bombastic noise, and you’re left with no choice but to bask in the juvenilia or run far away.
Ironically, this makes Twisted Metal oddly compelling. In adapting a franchise that has next to no story and has effectively been abandoned by the company that publishes the video game series, it’s genuinely strange to see all 10 of the show’s episodes just sitting there on Peacock, like it was something people were asking for. It’s a strange curio, irreverent in a new era of overly serious adaptations like The Last of Us, and confoundingly awful at a time when most bad shows are just boring. Twisted Metal didn’t make me laugh, but it sure is funny.