You can’t deny that edgelord end-times action series Twisted Metal has guts

Clarisse Loughrey’s Show of the Week column, published every Friday, spotlights a new show to watch or skip. This week: apocalyptic video-game adaptation Twisted Metal, newly available to UK audiences.

I can’t help but admire the guts on Twisted Metal, a show whose entire first season is really a prologue for a second season it was never guaranteed to receive. It’s an adaptation of a once-popular, but hardly zeitgeisty series of PlayStation games, whose storyline never expanded far beyond “murder people with your car”.

What scene-setting it did have—and, to note, there hasn’t been a new instalment in over a decade—involved a yearly vehicular combat tournament, typically hosted by a guy named Calypso, in which contestants would annihilate each other with the missiles, guns, and spikes strapped to their cars. The winner would then be granted their greatest wish.

None of this actually happens in the Twisted Metal show. Instead, it dedicates itself to elaborating on the game’s vague dystopia. Here, two decades ago, a virus took down the internet, unleashed carnage, and saw America’s cities throw up walls to protect themselves.

There are now two realities: the relatively comfortable, though potentially sinister, existence eked out in the urban centres, and the Mad Max free-for-all outside, where the only kind of law and order is dished out by people like Agent Stone (Thomas Haden Church), a psychotic former mall cop.

John Doe (Anthony Mackie), whose memories of the pre-apocalypse world are a complete blank, works as “milkman” on the west coast, driving deliveries between cities, risking life and limb for meagre reward. But when Raven, the COO of New San Francisco (Neve Campbell), offers him a place within the walls in return for a pick-job all the way in New Chicago, John is finally allowed to dream of rest.

It’s an offer he can’t really afford to turn down. A straightforward job grows more complicated when he crosses paths with a mysterious, tight-lipped woman he nicknames Quiet (Stephanie Beatriz). There’s talk of the tournament, but it’ll take the entire season to get there.

Yet oddly, having a full season of television function as a prelude to the real business isn’t actually as misguided an idea as it might seem. Twisted Metal’s tone, as written by Cobra Kai’s Michael Jonathan Smith, takes a little getting used to—and for some, a show premised around what would feel cool and radical to a 12-year-old, executive produced by Zombieland and Deadpool’s Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, exists simply beyond their tolerance level. But Twisted Metal offered me what I can only describe as my own character development arc, as I watched my hard-nosed cynicism in the face of two irritating jokesters gradually soften into genuine affection.

Most of that, really, comes down to Mackie and Beatriz, who dilute that edgelord dialogue with a little sweetness, the naïveté of arrested development. It makes sense—the world collapsed before they really had the chance to learn who they are as people. They act as the counterbalance to all the mania on display, which can be a little hit-or-miss, but at least makes for consistent worldbuilding.

It tracks that an America where cannibals argue over whether to season people in teriyaki or lemon pepper seasoning would also feature religious fanatics led by Jason Mantzoukas in unbuttoned priest robes, and a crazed clown named Sweet Tooth (played on screen by wrestler Joe Seanoa, but voiced by Will Arnett) who drives an ice cream truck and lives for the applause.

It’s also pretty consistent with its early 2000s nostalgia, so expect to hear Sisqó’s “Thong Song” and Evanescence’s “My Immortal”, alongside a sneaky little reference to the film Wild Wild West. Ironically, what it lacks the most are decent driving scenes, with the fun only really kicking off in the final episode. Clearly, budget limitations were at play here, but in the way a filmmaking team with keener imaginations could have found a workaround for.

Maybe this was merely the testing ground before season two goes all out. And, if we do treat this as a prologue, it’s an easy (and relatively quick) show to burn through. Plus, UK viewers actually benefit here from it slinking onto Paramount+ nine months after its initial release. You don’t have to worry about Twisted Metal potentially being a wasted investment of time—the series has already been renewed.