your next binge watch

Your Next Binge Watch: Teen Wolf

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.

Is there a word to describe something well past mutton chops?

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.”)

See what I mean?

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).

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Your Next Binge Watch: Supernatural

I watch a lot of TV. I mean, a lot. I used to find shame in finishing a season of an American television drama in under a week, but now… it’s just part of who I am. Stop ending episodes on cliffhangers if you want me to have a normal life (I’m looking at you True Blood). If only it were the 90s again and television wasn’t as great as it is now.

There are a lot of good TV shows out there. Let me help you sort out the madness. Let me tell you about the wonders of Supernatural.

Supernatural follows the lives of two “hunter” brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, as they eradicate the world of ghosts, poltergeists, demons, witches–anything supernatural is game in this show (and let me reinforce–ANYTHING). After the mysterious disappearance of their father (also a hunter–FAMILY BUSINESS), the boys team up after years of estrangement to find him.

Like any good character-driven show (ahem, Buffy), the first season of Supernatural is campy and can quickly turn you off. If you’ve ever tried to get a friend to watch the reboot of Doctor Who, you’ve most certainly uttered the phrase “just get through the first season, I PROMISE it gets better.” (No hate to Christopher Eccleston–I love the first series, but I could only appreciate it after having watched the whole show.) I will now say those words to you: just get through the first season of Supernatural. It really does get better.

Initially, I think the show expected to be something else. The premise sets up a like a TV version of a horror movie–dark, filtered, tight shots, creepy sound effects, tense music. It goes for scare tactics, attempting to push the plot forward with action, rather than character growth.

Thankfully, in casting Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki, the writers opened themselves up to follow Sam and Dean rather than some Big Bad.

In season two they get smart–they let the boys run the show, or at least, they let their characters run the show. By season four, they’ve completely taken the plot into their own hands–decisions feel real, plot follows character movements, directly related to the growth of Sam and Dean. Their relationship is the one thing that keeps this show running. Even nine seasons later, they still feel like real people.

Supernatural also finds its groove in the tension. Unlike some long-running shows (Gossip Girl, HIMYM, even Lost), Supernatural maintains character and plot tension enough that I don’t feel like I’m being led into false emotional traps. They’ll let sexual tension, familial tension, even overall plot tensions cool for three or four episode arcs before they pick them up again. The writers know how to drive the plot forward, without dragging the characters along behind. They know how to hold your attention so acutely that you’re screaming at the television, and then the next episode they’ll pick up something else entirely to let you cool off.

Finally, perhaps the best part of Supernatural is the fandom. (A quick google image search for “Supernatural Fandom” will give you a good idea.) Good fandoms grow from good shows, and Supernatural fans owe a lot to the cast. Padalecki and Ackles (and now Misha Collins) have signed on through season 10–and Padalecki talks all the way to season 19. They love their characters as much as we do. The writers have broken the fourth wall enough that nobody takes themselves seriously anymore (season 6, episode 15 had me in stitches), and, at this point, Supernatural is smart enough to know when to be ridiculous and when to be serious. It shines when it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Like any TV show, there are pitfalls to Supernatural. But that’s why it’s a great binge watch. Season 6 and 7 are considered some of the worst in the show, but a lot of shining episodes keep you going. If you were watching it live (on a weekly basis), you may have bailed in the middle. If you hit one or two bad episodes in a binge, just keep plowing through–you’ll start laughing again soon.

Supernatural is smart and charming. Strong characters lead the show, and secondary characters flourish in frequent return cameos. By the end of your binge you may not exactly ship Destiel, but I promise, if you’re anything like me, you’ll refer to the Winchesters as “my babies” any time they’re in danger. The show makes you love it.

Just give it a chance.

Supernatural seasons 1-8 are available on Netflix instant streaming.