June 20th, 2011, 10:01 am

No Tween Travesty Here; Teen Wolf Suprisingly Decent

When I first heard they were rebooting "Teen Wolf", I wasn't exactly thrilled, and when I heard they were taking it in a more "serious" direction than the Michael J. Fox classic, I admit I had no intention of watching it. I managed to avoid until about a week ago, when I was bombarded by trailers for the MTV series while watching the "Dale" documentary on CMT. It was then that I decided, for better or worse, I had to watch it. As I turns out, I was glad I did.

Scott McCall (Tyler Posey) plays the familiar youth who (somewhat idiotically) goes into the woods in the middle of the night and emerges bitten, clawed and cursed. Now his night life is turned upside down by lycanthropic episodes affected every bit as much by raging hormones as the full moon. It's not all bad, as McCall courts the new girl in town, Allison (Crystal Reed) while excelling on the lacrosse train (why couldn't it have been basketball?), much to the chagrin of jock Jackson (Colton Haynes) and his icy girlfriend Lydia (Holland Roden). While his dorky best friend Stiles (Dylan O'Brien) researches his condition, Scott reluctantly receives mentoring from Derek Hale (Tyler Hoechlin), a loner lycanthrope with a mysterious agenda involving the mysterious Alpha wolf that infected Scott. Between Alpha and a new team of hunters lead by Allison's father (JR Bourne), Scott has enough on his plate

So we have a loser-turned-high school hero, his dorky friend, the new girl in town, your typical duo of bully jock with belligerent girlfriend and a leather-jacketed loner. In other words, we've seen all of this before, in dozens of other teen shows throughout the ages. But "Criminal Minds" creator Jeff Davis uses these stereotypes to his advantage, by plunging us into the plot quickly without hitting us over the head with the characters. Davis brings the same under-the-microscope approach on "Criminal Minds" to "Teen Wolf". In addition to the snappy dialogue, "Teen Wolf" also adds layers of detail to lycanthropy. My favorite scene has Scott breathing heavily like a four hundred pound animail on a lacrosse field during a cool evening match, while his fellow players back away fearfully. It's this eye for detail that makes "Teen Wolf" so intriguing.

As for the cast, Posey works well as a particularly understated lead we can identify with while looking comically confused at his situation. He's somewhat overshadowed by O'Brien, whose slapstick performances and delivery occasionally steal the show. As antagonists go, they don't come any meaner Roden's Lydia, who might be the most terrifying member of the cast. I also just realized Johnny Cage himself - Linden Ashby - plays Stiles' father, the local sheriff. Only two character feel slightly underused in the cast. Reed's Allison is likeable but undeveloped, especially given the mystery surrounding her character, while Melissa Ponzio makes the most of every scene as Scott's quirky but hard-nosed single mom. The only character who sticks out like a sore thumb is Hoechlin's Derek Hale, who despite his best efforts, winds up feeling more like the "Breakfast Club" than Barnabas Collins.

The make-up actually works better than I expected. The minimalistic make-up, probably informed by budget restrictions and also probably informed by "Twilight", actually looks a bit like Henry Hull's classic make-up in 1935's "Werewolf of London". Like Hull's make-up, Posey's wolf has pointed ears and jagged teeth and claws, but not much in the way of fur. Instead, the wolf look is brought out by thesubtle use of a nose prosthetic, giving the look of a sloped snout. For those of you who want an actual honest-to-God wolf right out of "American Werewolf" or "The Howling", don't worry - the little we've seen of the Alpha points to something very mean and very, very, very big.

With all that said, the show clearly isn't perfect. My biggest grudge with the MTV series is that, well, it's on MTV. Since it's on MTV, many scenes are peppered with repetitive pop music. And it's not so much that the music is bad as the timing is awful. Many of the episodes are directed by Russell Mulcahy, whose credits include "Resident Evil: Extinction", "The Shadow", "Highlander" and (sigh) "Highlander 2". Mulcahy frames some excellent action sequences on a TV budget, but they are undercut by pop music which amounts to someone turning a radio to Top 40 in the middle of the best part of the movie. Even soapy shows on the CW know how to balance plot with pop music better.

Though "Teen Wolf" is still getting its hairy sea legs, it deserves credit for transforming an angry detractor like myself to a reluctant fan in the span of one episode. About midway through the premiere, I decided I'd watch a couple more episodes, and after seeing the last episode, I decided I'd watch a couple. I hope enough fans feel the same way to keep this show afloat - because this is one property I'd to see grow some more teeth and claws in the coming weeks.

(That's it for this rant. Check back Wednesday for the next installment of Blue Yonder)

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