Remember when ABC Family used to just be squeaky-clean “7th Heaven” episodes and “Boy Meets World” reruns, with the occasional Mario Lopez holiday movie? Those days are gone, thanks to shows such as the ridiculously popular (and also just ridiculous) “Pretty Little Liars” and uh, well, mostly thanks to “Pretty Little Liars.”
PLL harkened in the “attractive and well-dressed high-schoolers dappling in murder and mystery and also making out a lot” genre for ABC Family, which is probably going to continue to run smoothly with this summer’s “Twisted.”
ABC Family aired a “sneak peek” (a.k.a. the whole pilot episode) of their newest murder-mystery-makeout after the season finale of their current murder-mystery-makeout March 19, and if the rest of the first season of “Twisted” is as guilty-pleasure great as the pilot, then PLL might have serious competition for Best TV Show You’re Watching but Not Telling Anyone You’re Watching.
“Twisted” stars Beck from “Victorious”/human personification of Aladdin Avan Jogia as Danny Desai, a teen who just got out of juevy for strangling his aunt with a jump rope when he was 11. He returns to his childhood home, ready to reconnect with family (Denise Richards plays his mother, because, of course) and friends. Danny’s former (and now estranged) BFFs are understandably hesitant to jump right back into secret handshakes with someone who gave them PTSD at age 12, but he’s persistent in re-charming tomboyish Jo (baby-faced Maddie Hasson) and queen bee Lacey (bitch-faced Kylie Bunbury).
Things start looking up for the could-be teen psycho when he manages to have three conversations with Jo without her screaming or running away and even gets invited to a party where one of Lacey’s rich-bitch friends blatantly hits on him a lot. But then someone gets murdered and all the fingers point to Danny, because nobody trusts a guy who can rock a purple vest and harem pants ponytail and still look hot.
Just kidding, nobody trusts a guy who admittedly snuffed his aunt.
Like PLL, “Twisted” uses an outrageous plot and good-looking cast to make things work, but does so with added snark, even though the “hey look, we’re TV-14 on ABC Family so that’s edgy” winks are often too obvious and a little pained. (There are bad words like “bitch” and “asshole!” There are parties – on school nights! There are body shots and something like three – count ‘em, three – insinuations that those cussing, partying teens might be sexually active!)
Jogia, though, is obviously having the time of his life, finally breaking free of those Nickelodeon tween chains and landing on a spot like the sort-of-racy ABC pseudo-Family. Sarcasm aside, he really does carry the show. Not only is he super attractive, but he manages to successfully banter with everyone (not an easy feat with an ABC Family-esque cast of mostly wooden actors). If his sarcastic admission to Twitter ignorance or white henleys don’t win you over, then his jab at “Glee” will. (He says watching it was “part of the punishment” in juevy. We’re guessing they started with season three.) Plus, he has such great hair that it’s almost forgettable that he’s the kid nicknamed “Socio” and that you’re supposed to hate him.
That is, it would be forgettable if the writers didn’t shove horror movie references down your throat every five seconds (puns involving Michael Myers, “Children of the Corn” and Hitchcock are all made within the first like 30 minutes).
It’s obviously Aladdin’s Avan’s show, but it helps that Masson and Bunbury are likeable too. Masson is the right amount of spunky without being a punk kid stereotype, but her hair and wardrobe leaves much to be desired. It’s forgivable, though, because it looks like Danny is hoarding all the shampoo in Agrabah town anyway.
Bunbury is less likable, probably because she’s flanked by two annoying secondary characters who drain her of what little personality she possesses. Richards is the usual ABC Family parent: over-the-top, self-centered and really damn nosy. Jo’s parents are Aria Montgomery’s parents reincarnated and Lacey’s are apparently non-existent. Jo also has a nerdy-cute guy friend who didn’t get to do much more than flirt with her to no avail and make a comment or two about how awkward the Danny situation is, but he’s not as bad as Lacey’s popular-girl fembot friends.
Behind the sparkly peplum tops and the sulky stares is a deeper mystery of why Danny killed his aunt (he tells Jo he can’t tell anyone because of some “bigger danger,” obviously), and, of course, whether or not he’s actually a street rat reformed killer because, as the multiple serial killer puns and high school psych teacher Kathy Najimy reminds us, you can’t really tell if someone is a sociopath or not.
You can tell, though, that “Twisted” has potential. With Jogia’s charm, less effort at trying so hard to be the cool teen on the block and some magic genie lamps luck, it will brush off ABC Family’s “second-rate CW” label once and for all.
Speakeasy rating: B+
Premieres June 11
Please sign our “Avan for Aladdin” petition in the comments or via @SpeakeasyMag.