7.26.2013

A "Twisted" Look at Storytelling

I know, I know, I know...on the Narrative and the Black Girls Club I talk about this show too much.  But on those blogs, it's all about steamy vids.

This right here, however...this is the Bar.

For those of you who are not watching ABC Family's Twisted, I'm going to give you a quick 101.  At the age of eleven, Danny Desai is convicted of murdering his aunt Tara Desai by strangling her with a jump rope.  Yes.  He's then sent to a juvenile facility for five years, and the story begins upon his return to his hometown.

Dramatis Personae

So Character #1 is Danny Desai, an East Indian/white mixie and social pariah in his predominantly white hometown, where every time a body's found or someone's poisoned or something, he's the automatic suspect.  He's charismatic, highly intelligent, and despite being the town leper (so to speak), he still has a profound effect upon its female population.

However, despite Danny's being Character #1, much of the story is told through the eyes of Character #2, a white girl named Jo Masterson.  She was playing outside with Character #3 (whom we'll get to in a minute) when Danny strangled his aunt.  Traumatized by the murder, Jo becomes a lonely outcast who sees a shrink off and on again.  Her only friend is a fellow outcast, an adorkable nerd named Rico.

Character #3 is the main reason why I watch the show.  Actress Kylie Bunbury (left) plays Lacey Porter, the third fixture of the trio.  She was the one who found the body of Tara Desai.  She too was traumatized by the murder, especially since her parents were about to go through a divorce.

But instead of becoming an troubled outcast, Lacey cuts both of her friends off and becomes the pretty popular girl with an active, healthy social life (oddly enough, she's often vilified for this, but we'll get to that in a minute).

The Lenses

I mentioned earlier that even though the central character of the show is brown, the primary narrator is white.  Over on YouTube, a commenter questioned:
"I want to know why the show seems to center so much around Jo and her family and her feelings. I don't know, I thought Danny would be the lead or at least the three of them equally. It's a strange narrative choice to have us see everything mainly through Jo's eyes. I think both Danny and Lacey are very misunderstood and their actions can be confusing because of this."
I cannot get over the awesomeness of this.  This is a classic case of a network refusing to give with both hands.  Here we have three equally main characters, two brown and one white, yet they do not have an equal voice.  I understand that in order to maintain Danny's mystery, the writers have to balance the character perspectives very carefully.  However...Lacey's narrative is glaringly limited.  We've seen both of Jo's parents and Danny's (white) mother in every episode so far.  We have seen Lacey's mother exactly once.

RavenSub's comment resonates because it also brings up the dynamic between most white and POC "friends".  Danny is dark/mysterious/not "a normal person" and Lacey is considered cold/distant/what have you mainly because Jo, our white narrator, sees them that way.  She wants to be close them, but there's a disconnect because she ultimately just doesn't "get" them.  In her mind, something's wrong with Danny, something's wrong with Lacey, and they just both wrong in their choices, but she's the normal, default human of the trio, and the other two are just that - the Other.

Through this, we also get a peek into the minds of the writers who are struggling to maintain a brown narrative on the show, but aren't sure about what they're doing.

Lacey is shown as being unwilling to give up her popularity to be with the misfits.  (Some) white fans are appalled and can't understand why she won't just abandon it and have an open relationship with the child-murderer (Danny), and the nerdy fashion disaster (Jo).  I find this attitude laughable, for I think white viewers - more than any other - would understand Lacey's unwillingness to give up popularity.  Popularity is privilege.  It's power.  It's a social advantage.

Remember Lindsay Lohan's film Mean Girls?  Her character in that film gives an excellent description of being popular - everyone knows you, automatically believes what you say, wants to be wherever you are, do whatever you're doing, wear whatever you're wearing, and thus your overall life is much, much easier.  It's not human nature to give up that which makes your life easier.  You really think that the black girl - in a mostly white town where she became a pariah after the murder - is just going to give all that up because the murderer came back and bat his pretty eyes?  Seriously?

I'll make white fans a trade: y'all give up your privilege in real life, and I'll sign all the petitions in the world to have Twisted's writers make Lacey give up hers.

The Other Brown Girl

How come she doesn't look like this
on the show????  Chica is gorgeous!
Because POC in American mainstream media are often few and far between, they typically have immunity in my mind.  In other words, if a show is firing actors for budgetary reasons, I feel the POC are automatically immune.  If it's a project where there's a high death rate, once again, I feel the POC are immune.

That being said, Sarita (portrayed by Jamila Velazquez - right) is the first POC in recent memory whom I feel needs to go.  According to LA Times, Twisted is expected to have a body count, and after just a few episodes, I'm ready for her to be next on the hit list.  Don't get me wrong; there are few other character who really need killed, but I'm willing to bump her to the head of the line.

Sarita (still no last name) is the living definition of one-dimensional: one facial expression, one tone of voice, and a one-track mind.  I don't know who talked the actress into taking this role, but they need to be fired and blacklisted from ever working with POC again.

Lacey's character is complex enough to generate the usual negative feedback  ("She's so annoying/I just don't like her/She and Danny have no chemistry", etc.).  So we don't need an extra brown girl whose sole purpose is to stir up the supposedly "justifiable" hate.  She's not witty, interesting, or entertaining in any way, nor does she appear to serve an actual purpose, so Sarita either needs a character growth spurt, or she needs to just go.

Brown Love and the "So Far" Mentality

First, here 's a quick peek of next week's episode:





When I first started talking about Twisted on the Blasian Narrative (for obvious reasons), I cracked a joke about the way all the POC who were following the show all stated how they liked it..."so far."  You know how we do.

First, the central character is a brown Asian guy (to which, ahem, certain fans often reply, "He's Canadian"), and that would typically put a show on thin ice, except the actor in question happens to be an insanely popular young man.  Second, one of his co-stars and fellow leading characters is a brown girl, so now we're wondering if the show will even have a second season (though it continues to do well in the ratings).

Third, the fact that ABC friggin' Family is willing to go where Romeo Must Die and Ninja Assassin (both R-rated films, mind you) would not has brown/Blasian fans both excited and on edge.  Brown love, regardless of the combination of brown people, doesn't always sell well in the American mainstream and can be the kiss of death for a project.

Which is ironically why the secrecy of the Danny/Lacey romance is so poignant...and possibly doomed (did anyone else's eyebrow go up at the Romeo & Juliet reference?).

Verdict

It's a catch-22.  If the writers step up their game and polish the brown narrative, white fandom will revolt and move mountains to get the show canceled.  If the writers decide to end the Blasian romance and slowly phase out the brown elements, they will lose a much needed demographic, including yours truly.

What do you guys think?

7 comments:

  1. "Sarita (still no last name) is the living definition of one-dimensional: one facial expression, one tone of voice, and a one-track mind. I don't know who talked the actress into taking this role, but they need to be fired and blacklisted from ever working with POC again.
    She's not witty, interesting, or entertaining in any way, nor does she appear to serve an actual purpose, so Sarita either needs a character growth spurt, or she needs to just go."

    I totally agree with this character profile of Sarita. She's basically a stock character, in this case, one that is simply there to snark and in Sarita's case, it's snark with a monotone. She's a cold character with no redeeming qualities so far. After Regina's death, Sarita wasn't even a shoulder for Lacey to cry on, and get some support. So she's not even a good friend to Lacey. Yeah, at this point, I wouldn't miss the character one bit.

    What I would have liked to have seen in this show is what they do on Dexter, which would be to have Danny narrate and have him question himself and others while trying to make sense of the events going on in his life.

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    1. Exactly. They keep marketing this show as "Dexter in high school" - but I'm not seeing it, and I don't expect to. First of all, Dexter is a graphically sexual and violent show on HBO. Twisted, however, is on ABC Family.

      Secondly, if they want to preserve the Desai Mystique, then have Jo AND Lacey take turns narrating as they question his behavior.

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    2. "Secondly, if they want to preserve the Desai Mystique, then have Jo AND Lacey take turns narrating as they question his behavior."

      Yeah, I hadn't thought of that. That would also have been a good way to narrate the show, especially since they have known him their whole lives basically, and with all that has happened, they really don't know much about anything at this point, so their narration could have been interesting.

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  2. Lol...as long as Twisted doesn't become a let down and you're talking about, I can never get tired of it.

    On the serious tip,I'm hoping that well get to see some more of Laceys family. I can only go by what you and some others said about Robin Givens being her mom..which was shown once.

    So far, I see Twisted being way better than Deception (although it seems that the target audience is for teens and young adults), I dont want the show to go on that route and knock out the kinks that could ruin it's good thing.

    Though I like Twisted, I wish that shows stop making Black POC characters one dimensional and unapproachable. Not long ago ,I remarked on Neo Prodigys story about my favorite teen show during the day (Degrassi) and sometimes I watch it sometimes with my nephews. I watched it since I was 14.I'm not 42 .There was one episode of the show that I thought a potential swirl and a good storyline.. I mean the Black Jamaican Canadian girl vs the hot Italian Canadian guy.Its wasn't just about the swirling but the character (Adam Rugerreo) was a good actor,but you know how it goes... Anyways, it turned out that he was gay (ironically he's gay in real life) . Regardless of Marco(his character name) homosexuality,I still enjoyed his character.

    This is why I enjoy (so far) is enjoying Twisted. Lacey is not being like arsenic. My biggest pet peeve is making Black female characters in that like.The show makes Sarita seem unapproachable. I guess someone has to be the stereotypical Black girl so why not her be it?Can't be a show without one right?If they're not portrayed as being friendly, theyre unapproachable nerds or something else to say "I'm Black and not to be admired!"

    My mom would often tell me how you shouldn't always do things in the same pattern because they will eventually know a lot about you than yourself. I just love when White fans always say that XM/BW characters have no chemistry or don't look right toghter.Gosh..!their bigotry is so predictable! I think that Danny and Lacey have beautiful character and I do mean beautiful chemistry. Its natural, the both seem relaxed with each other.

    However, I can't see Jo with Danny. Respectively, I can't and unlike those racists fans, my opinion has nothing to do with race. IDK.Jo looks too much like a little girl to the point where she looks like jail bait. Though she is good friends with Danny that is all she looks like. Mind you about that dream she has of Danny, but I seen a 13 year old looking waking up.She pretty but looks unromantic in a sense that she looks too young for romance.Heck!Denise Richards is 42 and she looks more credible to be with Danny than Jo.Danny and Lacey looks absolutely great and natural. To some people like those fans if you're White, you're automatically a romantic person.

    One Black commentor on another mentioned how Danny and Jo was nominated for a Teen Choice Award, while Kylie wasnt and we all know the answer to the question of why. Anyways, producers should look at Scandal. That is an example of a show where a Black female lead is in it and is beyond successful with tons of Black women supporting it(Kerry has also been nominated for a Emmy because of it).

    Initially,I thought that Scandal wouldn't do well because of the IR/AMBW factor in it. Call me crazy, but it slowly be coming the reverse. People are mimicking that shows for their own. In some ways,Twisted is no different. If the producers decided to let Lacey go all the way with Danny, they may revolt against it but it may still go in our favor and may win as a result of it.

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  3. I'm way behind on my Twisted episodes, but yes.....I do see your point about Sarita. I really thought she might be redeemable or that the writers would go somewhere with her characterization....if it hasn't happened by now, I doubt it will.

    @M

    "However, I can't see Jo with Danny. Respectively, I can't and unlike those racists fans, my opinion has nothing to do with race."

    YES. Which is one of the reasons I find the centrality of Jo's PoV irritating. Despite this being ABC family, I don't want to waste my time on a pining teenager, especially when there is so much more to unpack with Danny, Lacey and their relationship, families etc.

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  4. Thank you K for letting me know about this amazing show. I saw one episode and couldn't get enough so I marathoned all the episodes. Danny and Lacey's chemistry is so ridiculously hot that it defies logic, dang they are some good looking people and Jo makes me want to vomit. Like Lacey said " poor little Jo always the victim". Jo, really has no point in the storyline for me; I even like her parents better than her. She is just so bland and plain Jane. I mean what purpose does she serve as a plot device. I can't get behind her and every time she's on screen, I just fast forward it cuz she kills my vibe. Can't wait for ep8!!!

    You should check out " Hit the Floor" ( on VH1) it takes me back to my cheerleading days and the pettiness
    of females.

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