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Joe Seanoa as Sweet Tooth driving a ice cream truck driving while dressed in his murder clown mask in the Twisted Metal show Photo: Skip Bolen/Peacock

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Will Arnett’s unhinged Twisted Metal clown is very real and not at all of the moment

The game series finally comes to life this summer

Matt Patches is an executive editor at Polygon. He has over 15 years of experience reporting on movies and TV, and reviewing pop culture.

Now is simultaneously the weirdest and yet most logical time for a Twisted Metal TV show. The vehicular combat game, which debuted in 1995, is the most Mountain Dew-guzzling, Mortal Kombat-aping twiiiiissted 1995 thing ever, and likely for that reason, there hasn’t been a new installment in the series since 2012’s PS3 reboot.

Yet here we are, on the precipice of Peacock’s Twisted Metal show, developed by the team behind Deadpool, written by Cobra Kai’s Michael Jonathan Smith, and starring Marvel’s new Captain America, Anthony Mackie. In the show’s first clip, which premiered during the 2023 Summer Game Fest stream, we see exactly what the show is laying down in our first taste of Sweet Tooth, the franchise’s murderous spokesclown, embodied by pro wrestler Joe Seanoa and voiced by Will Arnett, who also produces the series. Wild. This exists! Wild.

According to Twisted Metal game creators David Jaffe and Scott Campbell in the twiiiiissted and incredibly entertaining mini-doc Twisted Metal: The Dark Past (which, as we all know, was included as a bonus feature on 2008’s Twisted Metal: Head-On: Extra Twisted Edition), the idea for Twisted Metal came to them during classic bumper-to-bumper Los Angeles traffic, when they imagined how twiiiiissted it would be if they could use missiles to blast away the cars to freedom. The rest is ridiculous history, against some high odds: Sony originally wanted to pivot the Twisted Metal concept to a pizza delivery game, and after finally talking the company into pursuing a more twiiiiissted violent concept, Sony Japan had endless notes. According to Campbell, late into development, Japanese executives wondered if the guns on the cars could fire fruits and vegetables. That didn’t go over well. A homicidal clown does not eat fruits and vegetables, eats blood!! Jaffe and Campbell eventually got their way, and the rest is rated-M-for-Mature history.

By the 2000s, Twisted Metal was popular enough that rumors of a Twisted Metal movie actually made sense! Campbell even floats the idea in the The Dark Past doc — wouldn’t it be great if this Mad Max-inspired game could play out on the big screen? That didn’t happen, but not without years of trying; in the 2010s, Crank’s Brian Taylor was actively trying to rev it forward.

Stephanie Beatriz as Quiet and Anthony Mackie as John Doe in Twisted Metal, being led through a mall in hand ties
Thomas Haden Church as Agent Stone crouching down in his police uniform in Twisted Metal
(L) Stephanie Beatriz as Quiet and Anthony Mackie as John Doe; (R) Thomas Haden Church as Agent Stone
Photos: Skip Bolen/Peacock

The Twisted Metal TV show arrives at a time when approximately no one is thinking about the Twisted Metal games, but every studio is thinking about video games. The Last of Us was a mega-hit for HBO; The Super Mario Bros. Movie did the thing the 1993 movie could not (be mostly good and make a humongous amount of money); Sonic the Hedgehog is a movie star, and Knuckles is getting his own streaming series. This is the world, and Twisted Metal is ready to still be the most 1995 thing imaginable. Which just might work if every other game adaptation feels the need to go the prestige TV or straight-faced MCU route.

Showrunner Michael Jonathan Smith is certainly passionate. In a letter to press to herald the arrival of Twisted Metal, Smith wrote the following:

The year was 2001. Weezer had welcomed fans to an Island in the Sun. Shrek was an all-star at the box office. Pizza Hut had delivered a salami pizza to the International Space Station. And I was a sixteen year old nerd who had just purchased Twisted Metal: Black. The second I inserted that disc into my PlayStation 2, I was transported to a chaotic demolition derby that left me cackling with glee at the chaos of it all. That inescapable feeling of joy is what I wanted to bring to life in our show.

Yes, Twisted Metal has the cars, it has the weapons, and it has the battles. But what it also has are people. I know you will fall in love with these characters and what drives them, no pun intended (okay, maybe a little intended). You will cheer for our charismatic hero John Doe, played by Anthony Mackie, as he drives across the Divided States of America in search of a place to belong. You’ll laugh as an enigmatic woman named Quiet, played by Stephanie Beatriz, throws John’s world for a loop after a chance encounter, forcing the two together and changing both their lives for the better. You will root for our heroes to take down psychotic highway patrolman Agent Stone, played by Thomas Haden Church, who sees the world in black and blue. And you’ll discover a surprising soulfulness to our deranged, murderous clown Sweet Tooth, voiced by Will Arnett and performed by Joe Seanoa aka wrestler Samoa Joe.

This is a bonkers show about insiders and outsiders, and how our own special apocalypse has divided and isolated us more than ever. But there’s hope. You can find your people and your community. You may just have to get past a terrifying clown driving a well-armed ice cream truck to find them.

The big question is whether Smith can appropriately translate this twiiiiissted tale all these years later. In The Dark Past, Jaffe tries to describe the “soul” of the Twisted Metal universe. “It’s American,” he declares. “It’s rock and roll, it’s underdog, it’s scrappy, it’s heavy metal.” Not exactly what the developers and studios strutting around this year’s Summer Game Fest are chasing. So it’s either the worst or perfect time for Twisted Metal, which sounds like exactly the kind of stakes the people who love Twisted Metal would want to be up against.

I mean, it has to be better than the scrapped live-action endings to the original Twisted Metal game, right?

Twisted Metal premieres on Peacock on July 27.