MTV’s Gruesome ‘Eye Candy’ Is a Solid Teen Psychological Thriller

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Thrillers aren’t exactly MTV’s forte, though it’s also true that MTV has no idea what its current forte is. Its reality shows are quickly growing stagnant, and its scripted teen dramas can only be judged on an episode-to-episode basis, because they vary so widely each week. Eye Candy is the network’s newest scripted program, a cyber-centric mystery thriller starring former Disney queen Victoria Justice. Based on a novel by R.L. Stine and developed by Christian Taylor, Eye Candy aims to have (teen) viewers second-guessing their e-dating habits and online addictions. Even with gruesome visuals, the show has a tough time navigating its confusing plot, but the potential is there.

Eye Candy begins with Lindy (Victoria Justice) witnessing her younger sister Sara’s (Jordyn DiNatale) abduction at a fast food joint while Lindy is trapped (but not really) inside her car at the drive-thru window. Fast-forward three years, and it turns out Eye Candy isn’t really about Lindy looking for Sara. Lindy is now 21 and spends her time doing a form of charity work that involves her visiting message boards and helping out people who have also lost someone — mostly, I assume, mothers whose teen daughters have gone missing. It’s her form of vigilante justice. She’s been caught hacking before (drink every time someone mentions “hacking”) and was sentenced to six months parole.

The parole sentence has just ended as the series kicks into full gear, and the crime mostly serves two purposes: first, to establish that Lindy is a good hacker (though apparently not good enough to not get caught) and, second, to introduce her ex-boyfriend-slash-secret cop, Ben. Not too much is said about their relationship, though we can glean that it was one of those clichéd, “It started off as a case, but then I like, really fell in love with you” things that swiftly went to hell when Lindy found out Ben was a cop, or when Ben arrested her, or whatever. It’s not that relevant. He sexily removes her ankle bracelet, disappears for a bit, and then returns to have sex with her on a rooftop because this is an MTV show.

To its credit, Eye Candy has more going on than your average MTV scripted fare. It’s pretty disturbing at times and thoroughly fucked up, especially when it switches over to the serial killer’s narration as he enters his Internet date’s house and is completely thrown off by something as small as her crooked teeth. “They’re all liars, playing their online games,” he seethes via voice-over, irrationally angry that she didn’t mention her teeth in her online profile. He’s a psychopath obsessed with perfection, and he kills her. In the second episode, he dumps gasoline all over a woman waiting for a spa treatment. Because Eye Candy is a TV thriller, the vast majority of its female characters are just waiting around to be bait for this psycho murderer — but at least he’s sort of an equal-opportunity serial killer: plenty of men get murdered, too. Eye Candy doesn’t want you to get too close to any of its secondary characters, because they’re killed off just as swiftly as they’re introduced. (Also, just about every bland white male on the show looks the same and is totally interchangeable… but, again, TV.)

Eye Candy sets its sights on technology. Lindy is a tech-savvy hacker (a “white knight cybervigilante”) who can easily access personal information about anyone on the Internet. Her best friend Sophia (Kiersey Clemons) sets her up with an account on an Internet dating site called — you guessed it! — Eye Candy. The killer targets women that he’s met on the site, meaning Lindy’s reluctance about using it becomes an asset when she begins to date her way toward meeting the serial killer in order to take him down. (And, oh yeah, at some point, about a day or two after she is taken off parole, Lindy agrees to be part of some Cyber Crimes Unit alongside another hot, young cop who also has a crush on her. Eye Candy is essentially a Hot Cop Calendar.)

Yet, even with the murders and the disturbing images, Eye Candy lacks real fears or any sense of urgency. Perhaps it’s because I also watched the entirety of Black Mirror, a wickedly creepy take on the darker aspects of technology, over the weekend, but the technological scares in Eye Candy — the hidden cameras, anonymous text messages, a phone shoved into a dead man’s mouth — failed to land because it seemed so trying. All of the show’s content is right there on its surface, with no room for ambiguity, and the dialogue is so clunky that it can come off as comical. And it’s not even worth getting into the complete implausibility of 90 percent of what’s happening here. But Eye Candy is a serviceable introduction into dark and thrilling noir narratives, and thus seems destined to become a hit with teen (if not adult) viewers.