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5 things you need to know about the Twisted Metal show - according to its showrunner

We talk to Twisted Metal showrunner Michael Jonathan Smith...

5 things you need to know about the Twisted Metal show - according to its showrunner
22 March 2024

Tomb Raider. Gran Turismo. Resident Evil. These iconic video games made their name on the original PlayStation. All three have since been adapted for TV or film (or both).

Now it's Twisted Metal's turn.

The Sony PlayStation changed gaming forever back in the mid-90s, making it cool for the first time. It’s no surprise so many series we associate with that era are still relevant today. But we have to admit we did not see a Twisted Metal TV show coming.

We talked to showrunner Michael Jonathan Smith about turning a vintage game into a modern TV show.

What is Twisted Metal anyway?

Twisted Metal is a bonkers vehicular combat game series that sees you racing around arenas trying to destroy other competitors with missiles, chainsaws and flamethrowers.

It peaked in its early PlayStation days, and on paper perhaps doesn’t sound like the most obvious candidate for the modern day live action treatment. But creator and showrunner Michael Jonathan Smith saw the potential straight away.

5 things you need to know about Twisted Metal

A fan of the series since Twisted Metal: Black on the PS2, Smith, who previously worked as a writer and producer on Netflix’s Cobra Kai, was always drawn to the game’s weird and wonderful cast of characters and their backstories.

“Some of them were really funny, others were very tragic” he tells ShortList. “There was this edge to them that made me feel like the game was intended for an older audience than me at that time, which I obviously liked.”

Smith and his fellow writers reimagined Twisted Metal as a half-hour post-apocalyptic action comedy inspired by the likes of Zombieland and Deadpool. The wealthy and powerful are safe in the cities while the rest have been exiled to the lawless wasteland that surrounds them. But while the world got bigger, Smith never lost sight of the game that inspired it.

“In terms of the game, what drew me to it was just how funny it was,” he explains. “There’s nothing quite like it. It feels like you’re playing an action movie and that’s what I wanted to capture and bring on screen; the unadulterated joy of playing the game and the fun of the series.

“You never know who you're going to meet in the game. You never know who’s going to show up or what’s around the corner and I think that’s the spirit we wanted to bring into the show, and that’s what makes it so binge-worthy.”

The Twisted Metal TV show stars Anthony Mackie as John Doe, a sweary mercenary promised a better life if he successfully braves the wasteland to deliver a mysterious package.

Stephanie Beatriz plays Quiet, a car thief who reluctantly teams up with John to aid her personal quest for vengeance against corrupt officials. And remember Sweet Tooth, the crazed killer clown whose signature ice cream truck remains instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with the games? He’s voiced by Will Arnett (also an executive producer) in the TV adaptation, while Joe Seanoa, better known by his wrestling name Samoa Joe, lends his body to the role.

Interest piqued? We thought as much. After debuting in the US last year, with a second season now in development, Twisted Metal came to Paramount+ in the UK this week. All 10 episodes arrived on March 21, so why not let Michael Jonathan Smith tell you 5 more things you need to know about the show before you binge the lot.

1. It preserves the wild spirit of the Twisted Metal games

5 things you need to know about Twisted Metal
Image Credit: Paramount Plus

“A lot of it is about the little details. First of all we have to get Sweet Tooth right. The cars have to look and feel cool. PlayStation was kind enough to send over as many assets as possible for visual and sound, and we actually did work that into the show as much as possible so it feels like every little detail is there, right down to the license plate that Sweet Tooth had, or an outfit a character might have been wearing.

"What’s the essence of these characters when you drill it down to one word or one sentence, and how do we deliver what the fans are expecting but maybe not in the way they expect?

“Sweet Tooth was one of my favourite characters to write. He’s always a killer. He’s always a mass murderer. But when I was looking at the character and his storylines, he was always unpredictable too and I loved that aspect. I wanted to make him a true agent of chaos, not just in terms of the way he looks at the world but in terms of how he acts. One minute he’ll be trying to kill you and the next he’ll be talking about music with you. He’ll turn on a dime and that chaos is the fabric of that character.”

2. The action is larger than life

5 things you need to know about Twisted Metal
Image Credit: Paramount Plus

“When we write action sequences it always has to come from a place of character and letting that drive the action. Then we can add the ‘boom boom, explosion explosion’. For everyone on the show we just wanted to see what’s cool. For me it was little details like wanting the missiles to have colour. They shouldn't just have grey smoke trails. They should be vibrant and colourful like they are in the games.

“So much of what was fun in post with the effects was enhancing what was there: making the explosions a little bigger, adding a little more saturation. What’s great about the Twisted Metal series is the chaos of it. It’s the bullets flying from everywhere, missiles coming from every direction. You’re in these huge arenas being surrounded and that’s the kind of energy we wanted to capture.”

3. The OTT violence is a little Looney Tunes

5 things you need to know about Twisted Metal
Image Credit: Paramount Plus

“It’s always a risk. We tried to do it in a way that was always servicing character, or at least giving you a sense of how these people treat violence. There’s an ‘another day at work’ energy that’s supposed to show you how desensitised these characters are to violence, because it’s the world that they live in.

“The studio was very supportive of that almost Deadpool or Zombieland style of violence. But as violent as it gets, it’s almost a little cartoon-like, too. A little Looney Tunes. It’s supposed to be shocking and horrifying in certain moments but it’s all in good fun too. We want to portray this world as being dangerous and exciting.”

4. This is a retro apocalypse

5 things you need to know about Twisted Metal
Image Credit: Paramount Plus

“That was always my idea from the jump, to set the apocalypse in 2002. We wanted to freeze in time those memories people have of playing the game in the late ‘90s and early 2000s when the series was at its height. That’s why we tried not to have any cars from beyond 2002, and the same with the clothes.

“The music we feature in the show [the likes of Thong Song, Cypress Hill, Hansen and Aqua’s Barbie Girl all turn up, to name a few] gives it that nostalgia that isn’t just about watching the characters perform and remembering them from the game. It makes you think about what the world was like back then, what movies you were watching and the friends you played Twisted Metal with at the time.”

5. It's made for the gamers (because we're all gamers now)

5 things you need to know about Twisted Metal
Image Credit: Paramount Plus

“I think culturally the way people look at video games has changed. More and more people are playing games than ever before, from Pokemon Go and Animal Crossing to World of Warcraft. They’re more ubiquitous, and people who grew up playing games are now in places of power to make decisions.

“Gamers and people who love games are the people who can greenlight these adaptations and because of that there’s more respect for the industry and games in general. The ones that work are those where the people in charge understand what can be adapted and what can’t. For me with Twisted Metal it came from a place of love and I want people who love the game to love the show. That’s what the goal was.”

Twisted Metal is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the UK