Jun 12, 2013

Twisted: “Pilot”

By Josh Oakley


The pilot episode of Twisted lays out a number of mysteries, begins to color in various stereotypes, and lays plenty of groundwork for conflict throughout the season. If it accomplishes these basic tasks that every pilot should, why does it feel so lacking? I think Twisted isn’t, ironically, twisty enough.

The premise of the show concerns Danny Desai (Avan Jogia), a 16-year-old who murdered his aunt five years ago and has just been release from juvie and begins to attend high school in the small town where he grew up. We’re given this information through the eyes of Jo Masterson (Maddie Hasson), a tomboy who, along with the now-queen bee Lacey Porter (Kylie Bunbury), was present at Desai’s house the day of the killing. This event has obviously scarred both girls, but Lacey’s been able to put on a strong face and climb up the popularity ladder, leaving Jo behind. Murder and social hierarchy have torn apart these three former best friends, and Twisted’s pilot is at its best as it begins to tie them together again, through chemistry rather than plot device.

The townspeople are none too happy about Danny’s return to society, and have, in the interim years, given him the nickname Socio. The kids at high school whisper behind his back, and the town’s sheriff, Jo’s father Kyle (Sam Robards) gives Danny the stink-eye at every possible turn. The climax of the episode occurs at a party thrown by Lacey’s friend Regina, who invites Danny in the hopes of bedding him. This plan fails, as she treats him as a fascinating case study rather than a human being, and Lacey winds up driving Danny and a drunk Jo home. Lacey ends up spending the night at Danny’s, which ends up becoming a fairly important plot point once Regina is discovered, beaten to death, the next morning. Danny is immediately accused, both by a gossiping student body and the law, when Kyle pulls Danny out of an assembly for questioning. Lacey could provide Danny with an alibi, but her social standing trumps her affection for her old friend, at least for now.

The events surrounding Danny and Lacey’s night hanging out are some of the best of the episode, beginning with (somewhat) natural reminiscing, turning into a conversation on the show’s central emotional conflicts, and becoming a vital part of the murder mystery proceedings. Hitting the emotion and intrigue buttons at the same time is Twisted’s best chance at success. This idea is also well played in scenes between Danny and Jo. The two actors, both good at breathing life into their characters from the word go, have a nice natural chemistry that simultaneously suggests a past friendship and potential future romance. Jogia is especially skilled at playing the various dynamics of Danny, which seem a little thrown together, if understandable, at this point: he’s sarcastic towards adults, threatening to a guy who seeks to harm Jo, and wounded around Jo and Lacey. His desire for normalcy is felt when around his former friends, and his knowledge that that will never be attained is evident in his interactions with everyone else.

The rest of the characters, including, unfortunately, the third lead, Lacey, have a ways to go before they can gain the color of Jo and Danny, but given that this is a pilot that’s somewhat understandable. More worrying, then, is the lack of soapy stakes. The central mysteries to the show are the questions of why Danny killed his aunt and the identity of Regina’s killer. Both are set up well, but the lack of intersecting characters makes this potentially worrying. Compare it to something like Pretty Little Liars, which, even at its inception, had a larger string of characters than Twisted does here. Hopefully Lacey’s friends and Jo’s friend will play a larger role in the episodes ahead. This show plays some emotionally beats nicely, but it’s a mystery-oriented drama on ABC Family, so the real goals lie elsewhere. The questions will need to be pumped even more dramatically, and the relationships become steamier for the show to hit the notes it’s looking for. And if Twisted is looking to do something more adventurous, grounding these friendships in a coat of reality, it will need sand down many rough edges. The problems in Twisted’s pilot are far from unsolvable, but for this to be the companion to Pretty Little Liars that ABC Family longs there needs to be more to sink one’s teeth into.

Grade: C+

Miscellaneous:
  • Hastings Ruckle! Grey Damon did a good deal with very little in the final season of Friday Night Lights so here’s hoping he shades in the generic asshole type he’s playing here.
  • The show was created by Adam Milch, whose only previous creative credit was writing a couple episodes of Greek. If you have not watched Greek: do so.
  • I didn’t mention Denise Richards? Huh, weird. Maybe we should keep not mentioning her performance here.

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