Latent Lies and Lingering Loyalties: ABC Family’s “Twisted” Pilot Review
ABC Family’s new series Twisted is one of the more audacious concepts in the network’s programming line-up. The series centers on two teens, Jo Masterson (Maddie Hasson) and Lacey Porter (Kylie Bunbury), whose lives are abruptly disrupted when the reemergence of childhood friend and convicted murderer Danny Desai (Avan Jogia) stirs things up in their small town. A crafty mix of mystery and drama, the show’s cast and themes give it a wide audience appeal.
The story begins with how Jo and Lacey, Danny’s childhood friends, handle Desai’s return from prison. Both girls have drifted apart, but they are equally scarred. As Desai attempts to work his way back into his former life, he meets resistance from his community, his high school peers, and the two people he trusts most. However, that wall begins to crumble once we meet him. Danny’s charming, smart, and gallant; the boy you’d want to take home to your parents. So in spite of his secrets and an emotional disconnect only seen when he’s alone, we – and Jo – want nothing more than to believe he didn’t do it; at the very least, that there was a good reason for it. But just as we start to believe Danny, another murder rocks the small town and all the evidence points straight to him.
First impressions of the pilot may leave you with a rough around the edges feeling. The show’s potential is definitely present, but the writing is hit and miss. The familial relationships and dynamics – an essential part of working out tougher subjects in the show – aren’t entirely believable either. The chemistry between the series’ three leads, however, is organic and compelling. The show’s precarious themes and the larger mystery surrounding a central character also serve as strengths for the series.
Where the episode struggles is largely limited to the first 5 minutes. The breakfast table dialogue between Sheriff Kyle Masterson (Sam Robards) and his wife, Tess (Kimberly Quinn), should lend itself to a larger conversation about various ways people respond to violence and violent people in their community. Instead, the minor disagreement is painfully robotic and paves the way for a sloppy introduction to Jo’s character development. This is troubling, as what can make this show meaningful is how well it constructs dialogue to get at characters’ more visceral feelings, and ultimately the important discussions those feelings birth.
Interestingly, social media sites like Twitter are used as real world reactions to Danny’s return. None of it, however, clearly illustrates the digital age’s involvement in stirring up controversy or the rapid spread of misinformation. Rather, it is dropped haphazardly into the dialogue like shameless product placement. The intention may be good, but the execution is off. At its most effective, the digital world should expand and enhance – not replace – conversations and interactions that can happen in the series’ real world.
The pilot is not defined by these missteps though, and what it does right it does well. Jogia, Hasson, and Bunbury all play their roles, set in the jungle of small town high school life, to a tee. Hasson’s Jo is the quintessential high school girl with a geeky guy friend, Rico (Ashton Moio). Jo’s strong sense of justice will make her the everyman, and a powerful voice for the show’s positive messages. Bunbury fills out the role of Jo’s former friend and resident Queen Bee, but her character is written neither as strong nor as pronounced as Jo. Still, there is no doubt that when the time arrives, Bunbury will deliver as the voice for our and her community’s prevailing suspicions.
Avan Jogia is the face of Twisted’s central male character, Danny Desai. Whether Danny will act as a protagonist or antagonist remains one of the show’s bigger and more intriguing mysteries. Meanwhile, Jogia plays his character’s charisma up to the point of concern. On more than one occasion you may find yourself forgetting Danny’s a murderer, convinced that he’s simply a harmless boy with a flashy smile. And while the inciting incident of the main plot is a bit uninspired (especially considering the network’s other genre mystery fare), Danny’s darker moments tease a more enticing plot line; what would make an 11 year old boy kill?
Other than solid performances from nearly the entire cast, as well as a few exceptionally delicious storyline teases, the show’s greatest strength lies in its themes. These include loyalty, standing by what’s right, and the most emotionally provoking: the ripple effect childhood violence can have on a person, a family, and a community. Public response to this storyline could go either way, making the choice to explore it brave. It also serves as a means of differentiating the series from other shows in the same genre on ABC Family.
Twisted’s pilot fell a little short, but all is certainly not lost as the occasional piece of awkward dialogue and a few inconsistent performances from the supporting cast can be appropriately attributed to pilot jitters. These minor kinks will be worked out as the actors get more comfortable in their roles and the writers get a better sense of their characters beyond the pitch. There are the makings of a great show in Twisted, but like the town, the series’ varying elements must too get settled in before things can get good and interesting.
Twisted premieres Tuesday June 11, 9:00 – 10:00 p.m. ET/PT on ABC Family, following the Pretty Little Liars season premiere.