When I first heard they were putting together the Teen Wolf series, my initial thought was, “This is an awful idea.” Taking a 1980s Michael J. Fox comedy and turning it into a 2011 TWILIGHT ripoff, on MTV no less, reaked of hideous, and I forsook the show without even thinking about it. Having prejudged it so, I never would have seen a single episode had Netflix not made me angry. A few weeks ago, shows and movies that were supposed to be available would play on my computer, but not through my Xbox. I added a bunch of them to my Instant queue just to mock Netflix. When I saw Teen Wolf was playable, I put on the first episode, just so I could watch 5 minutes and never watch it again. In doing so, I discovered something: Teen Wolf is an impressive show. It’s got a talented young cast, compelling writing, and a fairly realistic portrayal of teens, even if one of them is a werewolf. It’s well worth watching, and another reason that all the best horror is currently on TV.
I don’t really blame myself for prejudging. Just look at the picture above, which is an obvious ripoff of all the TWILIGHT advertising. The photo sells this as akin to The Vampire Diaries. Then consider the show’s name. It screams of title grab. Now forget all that and go watch Teen Wolf. It’s nothing like TWILIGHT, and outside of a few names and the main character’s lycanthropy, it has almost nothing to do with the 80s movie. It’s a well-made drama with a continuing story arc that drives the first season. Had MTV not advertised and named it so, I and more fans like me probably would’ve watched this show from the start.
The show focuses on Scott McCall, a typical teen with typical teen’s problems. Getting good grades, trying to make first line on the lacrosse team and finding a girlfriend are part of his daily life, until he and his best friend Stiles go off into the woods one night looking for one half of a dead body. When Scott gets bitten by a werewolf, his situation gets amplified in a number of ways. His new aggression gets him a starring position on the team, and he starts dating beautiful new girl, Allison Argent. But his new condition also brings on a whole new set of problems. His grades start to slip, but that’s the least of his worries, as he’s now in danger at the hands of a group of werewolf hunters who’ve sworn to kill the beasts. He’s drawn the ire of lacrosse captain Jackson, and the suspicion of others that something weird is going on with him. Worst though, he discovers he was bitten by an alpha werewolf, who wants Scott to kill all Scott’s friends and join the alpha’s pack. In each episode, Scott must precariously balance all of this, as he falls deeper in love with Allison, which presents its own set of complications beyond the heartbreaks of young love.
The show is mostly well done. My one criticism is Tyler Posey’s performance as Scott. He’s playing a whiny, conflicted teen, but he’s a little too whiny for my tastes. He’s also shirtless a lot, which I’m sure is by design to draw in the TWILIGHT crowd; I could certainly never see him without a shirt on again and be content. But he’s surrounded by an adept group of actors in Crystal Reed as Allison, Holland Roden as her popular yet insecure friend Lydia, Colton Haynes as rival Jackson, Tyler Hoechlin as fellow werewolf and mentor Derek, and Dylan O’Brien as caring goofball Stiles. O’Brien steals the show. He’s got perfect comic timing and is great in delivering dialogue. He’s also adept at playing sensitive scenes, including those that involve Stiles’ father, the local sheriff. Having lost my own mother a few years ago, I sympathize with the Stilinsky family in their grief. This is the stuff that TWILIGHT doesn’t deliver on, but Teen Wolf does, in spades.
The best thing about the show is its honest portrayal of high school teens. Having taught in high schools for a decade, I appreciate the show’s way of dealing with teen issues realistically. The whole werewolf thing is an obvious metaphor for puberty, but it’s not just Scott going through changes that are sometimes painful. Take Jackson. He’s supposed to be a heel, but several times throughout the season he and others point out that he’s been driven to perfection his whole life, and watching Scott’s rise has taken away his shine. Scott constantly struggles to suppress any aggressive feelings that will make him turn, a rough trick for a kid who plays lacrosse and wants to make it with his best girl. I applaud the show’s deft writing. In the shadow of TWILIGHT, it could have offered a lot less and still achieved a large fan base, but it doesn’t settle.
One small problem with the writing is that there are minor lapses in continuity on occasion. Watch the episode with some characters trapped in the high school, and you’ll wonder what happened to another character and his car, which the show doesn’t explain. But it’s a minor quibble, and certainly didn’t stop me from watching.
Teen Wolf had a lot going against it for me, and had Netflix not pissed me off, I never would have watched a stitch of it. I’ll admit my reactionary stance was way off, and I can’t wait for Season 2. I’m an avid convert, even if the show is inappropriately named and on MTV.