Friday, June 24, 2011
Teen Wolf (TV)
Airs: New episodes 10/9c Monday on MTV; Reruns on MTV and MTV2 throughout the week; Most recent new episode streamed at MTV.com.
This is not a review. Call it more of a first impression. Teen Wolf has thus far aired 4 episodes, out of a projected 12 for the first season. Given the nature of television, I don't expect to have a complete story. A TV show is only complete after the series finale, at which point it's too late to talk about it with more than historical relevance. More importantly, however, my experience with anime has taught me that quality is transient. A lot of really good series get off to a slow start, and a lot of shows that start strong don't stay that way through to the end. In other words, don't think of what you're about to read as a set-in-stone opinion. Teen Wolf has a ways to go yet, and it could get better or worse along the way, but right now it has potential, and I hope it gets a chance to realize it rather than vanishing without a trace like too many potentially-awesome TV series.
Our hero is one Scott McCall (Tyler Posey), Ordinary High School Student from small-town america. In the closing days of summer vacation, Scott and his geeky friend Stiles (Dylan O'Brien) head out into the woods, attempting to find a rumored human corpse for... I dunno, cheap thrills, I guess. Small-town america, not much to do. They get more than they bargained for when Scott is attacked by a wild animal that turns out to be a werewolf. So now, Scott's a lycanthrope. Whenever the moon is full or Scott's heart rate rises, it brings out his animal side: his body changes to that of a feral beast-man, and primal instinct takes over until he's able to get a hold of himself. This clearly won't do, and neither will the fact that he seems to be sleepwalking -- and sleep-hunting -- in beast mode. So with Stiles serving as his sidekick/secret keeper/comic relief, he sets out to track down the wolf that bit him and get answers. Suspect #1: Derek Hale (Tyler Hoechlin), a former town resident who recently came back dressed like he just escaped a revival of Grease. Sure enough, Derek is a werewolf, but he's also the only source of information on lycanthropy available. So while Scott wants to blow the whistle on him, he also needs Derek around as a mentor.
In the meantime, there's high school drama to deal with. To offset the drawbacks of lycanthropy, Scott gets the usual suite of werewolf abilities: enhanced strength, senses, reflexes, etc.. These translate into stardom on the lacrosse field, earning both the affections of Alison Argent (Crystal Reed), the new girl in town, and the jealousy of Jackson (Colton Haynes), the jerk-jock team captain. However, Scott's budding romance with Alison gets complicated when he's attacked by a group of werewolf hunters led by Alison's father (J.R. Bourne). So Scott has to balance school, Alison, and the day-to-day struggles of lycanthropy while keeping his affliction a secret and figuring out what to do with Derek. Then at the end of episode 3 Derek drops a bomb: he didn't attack Scott after all. That was a bigger, meaner werewolf, the Alpha Wolf. Scott's lupine sleepwalks are the result of the Alpha Wolf's psychic compulsion; he's trying to bring Scott to the darkside through a ritual which involves becoming a literal hunter of men.
The first two episodes of Teen Wolf appear to be a pilot movie cut in half, and make resoundingly average viewing. The world-building is okay, and the actors turn in respectable performances. This being an MTV series, the soundtrack is excellent, as well. But the script has problems. The writers don't initially seem to be sure what to do with the concept. Scott's a werewolf, and a high-schooler, and deals with trouble in both worlds, and... that's kinda it. Bland dialog and some frankly painful attempts at comedy also make things difficult.
However, the third episode shows noticeable improvement all around. The writers are getting the hang of things, and the cast is more confident and assured in their roles. Special recognition goes to O'Brien, who gets both laughs and likeability from a character who could easily be obnoxious. Bourne is another strong performer, having the "veteran badass" character down cold: no emotion, no weakeness, just a cool, intimidating, poker-faced seriousness. The plot changes are for the better, too. Derek made a rather poor antagonist, but after the Alpha Wolf takes over that role, Derek's repurposed as a not-entirely-trusted ally, which serves the story much better. He still needs a new wardrobe, though. The white t-shirt and black leather jacket combo is as dated as it is generic. Come episode 4, a third antagonist is introduced in the form of Alison's aunt Kate (Jill Wagner, according to the IMDB), who has taken up the family trade but added a streak of viciousness to it. The overall story arc seems to be breaking down into Scott and Derek trying to stop the Alpha Wolf, with the Argents trying to kill all three of them.
The lycanthropy effects are very good, which is fortunate. 90% of the time a werewolf series or movie fails, it's because of bad special effects. The crew on Teen Wolf has done their research, and developed a good grasp of what they can and can't get away with. Scott and Derek's wolfman forms are accomplished by limited makeup and sparse CGI (mainly for transitions and the eyes). Pointy ears, pointy teeth, clawed hands, glowing eyes, and cranial ridges. (The Alpha Wolf has a more bestial form, currently seen only in silhouette.) Good acting and camera work completes the effect, and it generally comes off without looking goofy. However, the first major action scene in the series -- a beast-mode throwdown between Scott and Derek at the end of episode three -- is weak. Shot on a dark set to disguise stunt doubling, it's tough to follow. And while Scott's close-ups are pretty good, Derek looks like a Wolverine cosplayer who got lazy.
The bottom line is "So far, so good." They're still setting things up, and it could go either way, but the potential is here. The episode five teaser promises an attack on Jackson's girlfriend Lydia (Holland Roden) and implies Jackson himself getting turned, so things are picking up. (As a side note, Colton Haynes apparently played a werewolf a year ago on ABC's short-lived series The Gates. Typecast much?) I'll register a more concrete opinion when the first season wraps, but for now, I'm interested enough to keep watching.