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Teen Wolf, Season 1

The cast of Teen Wolf.

MTV entered the scripted programming game this past summer with three bold entries into the field: teen comedy Awkward., supernatural horror comedy Death Valley, and teen drama Teen Wolf, based on the 1985 movie. When I heard about the show, I rolled my eyes — but, solid reviews and an impressive YouTube compilation nudged me into checking it out. So, what did I think? A generally spoiler-free review of the season follows…

Teen Wolf is good. Very good. In fact, it’s a lot better than it has any right to be, considering it’s a dramatic reinterpretation of a Michael J. Fox movie from the 80’s, on a network not exactly know for their scripted programming. It has a solid cast, a smart creative voice and a pretty daring serialised structure, considering the recent travails of serialised programs.

The show is a number one argument that genre or target demographic don’t dictate the strength of a series: creative vision does, and that’s a mind-meld between writing staff, directorial staff, cast and crew. Teen Wolf isn’t Breaking Bad or Mad Men, but it isn’t trying to be: it’s trying to be a fun, intriguing teen drama meshing hormones with bloodlust, and it does that with a steady hand and a great grasp of its characters. The show first and foremost knows what it is, and knows what it’s trying to do, and accomplishes that. And that conviction of voice gives it a greater elasticity of tone, from light comedy to dark dramatic turns.

Though the show’s title centres its lead, Tyler Posey as awkward teenage werewolf Scott McCall, the show has a very strong ensemble. Posey and Crystal Reed both manage to make the typical fraught teenage romance storyline watchable, while Posey relishes his chances to occasionally go a little darker (as in the requisite ‘werewolf tries to manipulate his way out of being bound during the full moon’ scenes in “Lunatic”, 1.08). The ensemble around them, though, grab all of the attention. Dylan O’Brien is perfectly cast as the show’s best-written character, McCall’s snarky sidekick Stiles. Tyler Hoechlin‘s Derek Hale threatens to become a ‘dark and brooding’ cliche of the older, darker werewolf, but the show defuses this nicely by pairing Hoechlin‘s character wherever possible in scenes with O’Brien‘s, making for a comedic relationship that becomes one of the show’s best. (The writers clearly know that putting Stiles in scenes with characters who terrify him pays plenty of dividends, as they follow the same pattern with the season’s eventual Big Bad.) Though they seem to be relegated to side stories often early on, the role of Scott’s rival jock on the lacrosse team and his popular girlfriend also nicely break the typical stereotypes: Colton Haynes as Jackson gets to play the character a little darker and more desperate, going to some really interesting places by end of season (all the while recalling Jensen Ackles in that actor’s glory days of Supernatural‘s first three seasons), while Holland Roden as his girlfriend Lydia has some intriguing character development that mallows her to be more than she seems.

What’s really impressive is that the show started to serialise early on, around episode four. Serialised elements flowed through the first few episodes as the Alpha mythology was quietly developed, but after that point the show almost completely eschews the idea of the standalone episode entirely, preferring to complicate the characters’ relationships instead. The gambit works, as the work put into developing the characters and mythology makes the show addictive pretty early on. I watched the entire season in one sitting, and the main thrust of that was the show’s strength in building tension and leaving you begging to know what comes next. The show is clearly inspired by Joss Whedon‘s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but that is far from a bad thing; the show, having learned plenty of lessons from that show, is starting from a place it took Buffy a couple of years to get to. What didn’t work? Not much, to be honest, though the romantic will-they-won’t-they between Scott and Alison did get a bit tiresome as the season began to come to a close, and Jackson’s character started chasing his tail a bit in the season’s final stretch. Other than that, though… it was a very strong opening season.

The best episodes of the season include “Magic Bullet” (1.04), where Stiles and Derek spend plenty of time together developing their rapport while Scott must steal a bullet from a werewolf hunter – underneath Alison’s nose; “Night School” (1.07), which traps the entire cast in the high school over night while being hunted by a ferocious enemy; and the strong serialised run from episode eight to twelve, which play as one long, tension-building episode bringing the Alpha arc, and the rest of the seasonal arcs, to a climax and close. The weaker episodes would probably be the opening two, which spend more time establishing everything before the show really kicks off in episode three or four.

After the success of True Blood and Twilight, I’ve been waiting for a good werewolf-centred show to appear. I’m happy to say Teen Wolf has caught my attention, and I wait patiently for season two.

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