So many shows begin with the death of a young person that it seems only fair one should turn the conceit on its head. “Twisted,” which premieres Tuesday on ABC Family, attempts to discover what might happen if a young man who murdered his aunt returns to his idyllic hometown after five years in juvenile detention.
Say it like that and “Twisted” sounds complex, gritty, possibly deeply disturbing. Relax, it’s summer and “Twisted” isn’t just any ABC Family show, it debuts right after the premiere of the networks’ preternaturally popular “Pretty Little Liars.”
So while there may be some tween/teen envelope-pushing and an alarmingly high body count, it’s nothing that a solid BFF bond can’t handle. The biggest twist in “Twisted” is that one of those Fs is a guy.
And what a guy. Doe-eyed dreamy with boho hair and a smile that can part a high school crowd at 100 paces. Indeed, the moment Danny Desai (Avan Jogia, late of “Victorious”) shows up it’s difficult not to wonder why everyone doesn’t spend five years in juvenile detention. In adolescent makeover terms, it’s better than a year abroad.
Not that it isn’t tough being, you know, troubled. Or, as the envious masses hiss in derision behind Danny’s back: the “socio.” Danny didn’t want to come back to Green Grove (Any relation to Hemlock Grove? Or “Bates Motel’s” White Pine Bay?).
But his now-widowed mom (Denise Richards) was once the town’s queen bee, a difficult title to surrender, and apparently she couldn’t sell the house. Now that he’s here, all Danny wants to do is reconnect with his two besties — Jo (Maddie Hasson) and Lacey (Kylie Bunbury). They, of course, want nothing to do with him.
Do you know how hard it was to be the known friends of the local pre-teen murderer? Danny, now 16, got to go to fabulous day-spa juvie while they were stuck in the Green Grove bully zone. Jo and Lacey aren’t even speaking anymore; while Jo remained her sweet ‘n’ goofy self, Lacey did what she had to do to survive — she got pretty and she got popular. (Which, within the confines of the genre, is almost as deadly a sin as murdering your aunt.)
So there you have it: the Mean Girl, the Dweeb and the Socio, all circling each other for five solid minutes before deciding to be friends again. Just in time for one of Lacey’s friends to turn up dead. With Danny’s number last dialed on her cellphone.
Yes, we’re going there. So is Danny truly a sociopath? If he isn’t, then who is? And do we honestly care?
There is something queasy, but also ingenious about tagging the “hero” with such a blatant past. Still, “Twisted” isn’t “Bates Motel,” or even “Pretty Little Liars,” though in many ways it wants to be. A cynic might think “Twisted” is a bald attempt to capitalize on the success of “Pretty Little Liars” while possibly adding a Y chromosome to the mix. The non-cynic might see in Danny yet another metaphor for the alienation and “otherness” many teens feel.
And in these days of zombies, werewolves and vampires, a garden-variety child murderer feels almost ... quaint.
Where: ABC Family
When: 9 and 10 p.m. Tuesday
Rating: TV-14-DLV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language and violence)