It has a beautifully campy premise: not-so-popular lacrosse player (Tyler Posey) and bumbling best friend (Dylan O’Brien) wander into the forest at night. Not-so-popular boy gets bitten by some strange animal (THERE HAVEN’T BEEN WOLVES IN CALIFORNIA IN 30 YEARS, SCOTT), and slowly discovers he’s turning into a werewolf—terrible sideburns and all.
As a loose remake of the 1980s movie of the same name, Teen Wolf greatly surpasses the original (which, I’ll admit, I haven’t seen), except, perhaps in the make-up department.
The first season is corny and hard to watch at times (some of the acting is far lower than subpar), but an appreciation of Dylan O’Brien (the bumbling best friend, Stiles), the on-point plot pacing, and the copious amounts of teen drama make it worth the watch.
In the vein of Gossip Girl, Teen Wolf is fleshed out with a painfully beautiful cast–many of them insistent on taking off their shirts more than once an episode. (Just to give you a hint as to how often, when you google image search Derek Hale—one of the characters—the first google autocomplete is “Derek Hale shirtless.”)
Thankfully the beautiful cast can hold their own(ish–I really can’t handle Tyler Posey’s acting), and the smart writing keeps them pretty well afloat. Unlike a lot of other shows on TV right now, Teen Wolf is insistent on challenging many pre-conceived notions and stereotypes, attempting to build real people. The most popular girl in school and rich bitch (a main character) is also the smartest. The captain of the lacrosse team (also a main character) is both a jackass and best friends with the resident gay character, who is never once made less for his sexuality. An entire family of werewolf hunters have been built on a matriarchal system, and gender is never considered a detriment to one’s abilities. On top of that, sexual orientation is rarely dismissed as comical, every character is confident in his or her own and how it relates to others. Teen Wolf is wickedly smart—it recognizes that on an MTV platform it has the power to direct the conversation of teens, and it uses it (for the most part) well.
As for plot, the show can hold tension, knowing when to give out information, and when to leave the audience guessing. Plot arcs feel real and well-paced, and the teen drama makes way for infinite subplots that are somehow both indulgent and interesting. Like many shows about the supernatural emotions are heightened to an insane degree, but thankfully Teen Wolf knows how to balance chaos and loss with humor and truth. Perhaps too often they skate quickly by loss (people don’t die AS often as a Whedon show, but they die pretty often), but many shows suffer a similar fate.
The world Davis has created feels real enough, and like a Whedon show, it’s hard to tell where actual mythology and show mythology separate. The lore is well-researched and well-used. On more than one occasion it’s used as dues ex machina, but for the most part it’s smart and plays well into the plot.
Finally, since we are talking about an MTV show, Teen Wolf has a stellar track list. Each episode is set to a spectacular soundtrack filled with new songs from up-and-coming artists in a vast range of genres. The placement is great, usually laid to invoke emotion, but not cheaply. It is a powerhouse of upbeat, pump-up music and thoughtful, sad, teen drama sap. It’s one of the show’s greatest strengths, and I’ve found more than one of my new favorite artists from them (BANKS. I LOVE YOU BANKS).
Teen Wolf certainly isn’t perfect. The characters are often too clever and too lucky, and some plots can quickly resolve without much tension. But at it’s fourth season, Teen Wolf has been able to hold some great tension all the way from the first episode. It’s well-written and quite funny. It teaches you to love the characters, to root for them when the going gets tough, to rejoice with them when they defeat the big bad. Should it win an Emmy? Probably not. But is it fun to watch several episodes in a row? AwwoOOOOOooooOOOOOoooo!
Teen Wolf seasons 1-3 are streaming for free with Amazon Prime. Current episodes (airing now on MTV, Monday nights at 10/9 c) can be watched on Hulu+ or MTV.com (released on a delayed weekly basis).