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Showbiz psychos: ‘Seven Psychopaths’ and ‘Twisted’

Twisted

The stars of ‘Twisted,’ a TV show in which the main character may be a sociopath.

This weekend I took a look at personality disorders, as portrayed by Hollywood. I watched the movie Seven Psychopaths. Then I watched the first four episodes of the teen TV series, Twisted. The movie continued the grand Hollywood tradition of equating psychopathy with murder and mayhem. The TV show was surprisingly perceptive in portraying an adolescent who might be a budding sociopath.

Seven Psychopaths

I was shocked to discover that Seven Psychopaths is described as a “British crime comedy.” (Read the plot summary on Wikipedia.) The movie is not funny, unless multiple cold-blooded murders makes you laugh. In my opinion, this movie is stupid.

The premise is that a struggling screenwriter, Marty Faranan, has come up with a title for a movie, “Seven Psychopaths.” The problem is that he doesn’t know any psychopaths, so he’s having trouble writing the script. Then he meets or hears stories about a series of psychopaths. They’re all murderers. Sometimes they have reasons for committing murder, sometimes mere excuses. In any event, the movie depicts bloody killing after bloody killing. It’s tiresome.

One of the psychopaths turns out to be Marty’s best friend, Billy Bickle. There are a few flashes of accuracy in the portrayal of this character, especially when he’s more interested in drama than living. But another psychopath, Zachariah Rigby, carries a pet white rabbit with him everywhere he goes. That’s not typical psychopathic behavior.

Oh yeah, this movie is supposed to be a comedy. It’s not. The truth is that Seven Psychopaths is nothing but a waste of time.

Twisted

Twisted is currently running on the ABC Family channel. (Interestingly, this network was founded as an extension of Pat Robertson’s TV ministry, but has since been sold several times.) The show was originally titled “Socio,” as in sociopath, but at some point that name was changed to “Twisted.”

Twisted is based on a three kids, Danny Desai, Jo Masterson and Lacey Porter, who were inseparable childhood friends. But when Danny was 11 years old, he was charged with murdering his aunt and spent five years in juvenile detention.  Now 16, he’s been released and has returned to high school. Danny tries to reunite with his friends, and he tries to fit in among the students. Most of the other kids don’t want anything to do with him. They give him a nickname — “Socio.”

Then another high school student ends up murdered, and suspicion immediately falls on Danny. One of his former friends, Jo, believes that Danny is innocent. Lacy isn’t sure. And neither am I — which is why I think this show is good.

Defining the disorder

When it comes to explaining and portraying sociopathy, Twisted gets it right. There is a scene in the first episode in which Danny and Jo are in psychology class, and a student calls Danny “Socio.” Paraphrasing the dialog, the teacher asks, “What is a sociopath?”

One smart-ass kid responds, “Someone who wakes up each morning in a pool of blood?”

The teacher says, “Actually, most sociopaths never kill anyone. They can’t be bothered with the mess. So what is a sociopath?”

Jo answers, “Someone without a conscience or empathy.”

The teacher replies, “That’s right. Most sociopaths don’t feel empathy or emotions, but they are very good at mimicking them.”

Give the girl, the teacher and the scriptwriter an A+. I couldn’t believe that this teen drama accurately described sociopathy, when most movies and crime shows get it wrong.

The character

Danny Desai does exhibit some traits of a sociopath. He’s charismatic and charming. He’s manipulative. He lies easily. He is sometimes violent.  But did he actually kill both his aunt and the high school girl? There could be other suspects, and so far, the show has not revealed the answer.

Most reviewers of the show focus on Danny’s good looks or the “teen angst” angle. The Los Angeles Times wrote,

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.

Twisted is intriguing, and I’m curious to see what happens. I can’t imagine that the show will actually reveal its main character, Danny, to be a murderer. In any event, Twisted is already doing a huge public service — providing young people with some accurate information about  sociopathic behavior.

If you want to watch the show, I recommend starting with the first episode — it’s available on Comcast OnDemand until tomorrow. Here are more video links:

Twisted recap, on ABCFamily.go.com.

 

 



7 Comments on "Showbiz psychos: ‘Seven Psychopaths’ and ‘Twisted’"

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  1. 4Light2shine says:

    Hi Donna. I was expecting to hear someone here mention Twisted eventually. I saw an episode a few weeks back and kind of forgot about it because I’ve had a lot going on. I’m guessing I saw the first episode because the main character was just coming in to the school and trying to reconnect with his old friends. My impressions were similar to yours. I was surprised by the scene you mentioned that accurately defined a sociopath. If I remember my spath came in while I was watching and I didn’t want to be obvious and change the channel so it was a little weird for me. The show, at least the episode I saw was slick, well acted, and probably as close to an accurate portrayal as you will find on a television drama. I guess we”ll have to wait and see if the producers continue to keep it real.



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  2. 4Light2Shine – The first 4 episodes were all good. Danny continued to behave in ways that could possibly be signs of sociopathy. But then again, so did a few other characters.

    The show created two other impressions for me. First, it gave a hint at how other kids would taunt someone who was diagnosed as a sociopath – it was bad enough to raise concerns about labeling.

    Secondly, the high school kids were brutal, even when they weren’t necessarily sociopaths. If high school is really like this today, I feel sorry for all kids.



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  3. blossom4th says:

    I haven’t seen Twisted.But it sounds like someone did their homework!

    Donna,I’ve heard HS is a very bad environment now;I don’t know how any student even manages to prepare for college!



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  4. UPDATE – Twisted Episode 5: Yet another lesson in recognizing a sociopath. Danny’s mother meets with his therapist and asks, “What are the signs of a sociopath?”

    The doctor again makes the point that most sociopaths never kill anyone. She explains they are glib and charismatic. They don’t really feel emotions, but are good at faking them. I almost fell off the sofa, hearing such accurate information in a show targeted towards kids.

    And, Danny, who has been seducing his childhood friend, Jo, has also turned his attentions to his other childhood friend, Lacey. So he’s playing both girls at once.

    Wow – maybe he is going to be portrayed as a sociopath after all.

    The next episode is tomorrow. I can’t believe I’m hooked on a teen drama.



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  5. Lone Wolf says:

    Donna

    I love that you are hooked on a teen drama!

    However I am not surprised – whilst not having seen either the film or the show I find that in general programmes and books aimed at this demographic are far more questing and open-minded and more likely to ask the big questions such as “what is evil” or “what is sociopathy”. And not glamourise or glorify. I would think this is down to both the inquisitive nature of the demographic and the morality issues in reaching this audience ie not wanting to show gore etc.

    This makes me impressed by the writers and audiences of this kind of mature fiction – and depressed at what passes for entertainment for adults!

    I will try and access the show although this may not be possible and in the meantime – yes, it is somehow shocking to see or hear a pure truth spoken! The rarity is depressing yet its existence provides hope for the future.



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  6. Imara says:

    Saw episodes 4 and 5 because they were the only ones on the website. I could get on this bandwagon easily!!! New episode tonite….



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  7. jm_short says:

    If ever there was a show about sociopathic behavior in relationships, it’s Mad Men. What’s interesting is that although Donald Draper clearly exhibits the disorder with a history of impersonation, shallow emotions, lack of conscience, manipulation, charm, good looks, glib, etc, it’s never identified as such.

    He also gives in on things (seemingly due to twangs of conscience) that he would never do if the story were true.

    The writers got it right when they made it impossible for Betty, (his first wife) to lose all trust in him once his deceit was revealed. It’s a pity they wrote her as such a malicious, shallow woman.

    That he couldn’t be faithful when he found his next love was pretty predictable. Marriage is a convenience to him, not a bond.

    The writers put just enough good behavior in Donald Draper to have the viewer root for him and hope he doesn’t get caught. Part of that desire stems from our concerns for the protection of the characters he’s misused.

    Having lived through that era, I also find it telling how accurately the morals of the times are portrayed. It’s only a small snapshot of very common behavior.

    Jm



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