July 15th, 2011, 10:03 am

Teen Wolf Takes the Head of the Pack with Smart Scares and Slick Storytelling

As I wrote in my last review on the subject, I approached the new "Teen Wolf" with no shortage of trepidation. By the end of the first episode, I realized it was a not-horrible werewolf show, and by end of the second episode, I thought it might make a serviceable summer distraction. Now, six episodes in, I'm finding it might just be the best show of the summer.

To be fair, "Teen Wolf" picked a good time to debut - because it doesn't have much in the way of competition this summer. "Falling Skies" and "Covert Affairs" are the only real challengers, with my normal favorites "Burn Notice" and "Leverage" off to particularly slow starts this year. Admittedly, though, I'm have yet to watch other possible contenders like "Suits", "Franklin & Bash" and "Necessary Roughness".

A horror-com reboot of the classic Michael J. Fox vehicle, "Teen Wolf" is the story of Scott McCall (Tyler Posey), whose life turns upside down after he is attacked by a mysterious creature. Now a lycanthrope himself, he must team up with hereditary werewolf Derek Hale (Tyler Hoechlin, who is the kid from "Road to Perdition", and who makes me feel really, really old) to fight the mysterious Alpha which bit him. If that weren't enough, McCall just entered into a relationship with new girl Allison Argent (Crystal Reed), whose father is a werewolf hunter. Meanwhile, local jock Jackson (Colton Haynes) is prying into McCall's life to find the source of his newfound athleticism.

The past six episodes have included plenty of glimpses of the "Alpha" werewolf, and the Big Bad wolf doesn't disappoint. The wolf is huge - think "American Werewolf in London" with fiery glowing eyes. Fortunately, the "Alpha" is never overplayed, with the creators using a degree of subtlety to the Alpha not found on most horror movies this side of television (or moves for that matter). We often see the Alpha looming in the background. In one scene, Jackson calls to a figure he assumes to be Scott at the end of a dark hallway, only to watch in horror as the "figure" drops to all fours and crawls away.

Jackson himself is an interesting antagonist for Scott. There are plenty of "good" bullies in pop culture - Flash Thompson adores Spider-Man while picking on Peter Parker, and Bulk and Skull react the same way to the Power Rangers while picking on their alter egos. Haynes' Jackson is far more ambiguous. He tells Allison "I'm not a bad guy", and that's about as much truth as we get from Jackson. He's not a bad guy - but he's a far cry from good. He relishes in every one of Scott's failure, and it is implied he purposely sent Scott out to face the Alpha with a defective Molotov Cocktail. And while he's concerned for Allison's safety, he's willing to cheat on his girlfriend to be with her. Jackson makes an effective foil for Scott - both are missing father figures, and both handle their loss in very different ways.

The new series has largely corrected the biggest problem mentioned in my first review: the soundtrack. The pop music has been dialed down from playing several songs an episode to simply one or two. The music is finally being played during appropriate scenes - like montages and other character-building moments - and not in pivotal scenes. That said, yes, the show is on MTV - so you won't escape blaring pop music completely.

The show's only remaining problem is a tough one to crack: CGI. Whenever the Alpha is seen in motion, the creators are forced to turn to CGI - really, really bad SyFy-Movie-of-the-Week CGI. As a result, the Alpha looks like he'd fit right in on your Playstation One instead of a Sony HDTV. The showrunners do their best to use what they've got, by changing camera angles and making the Alpha more of an ominous presence than a video game monster - but this can only do so much. Sooner or later, "Teen Wolf" is just going to need a bigger budget if it wants to stay effective.

With "Teen Wolf" picked up for a second season, I'm hopeful this will happen. I'm also hopeful because, for the past three episodes, we haven't seen that much of Scott's teen wolf. The show has been focusing on building characters instead of building werewolves, and so far, they've done a wonderful job. Here's hoping they finish out the last half of this season on a harvest moon in the ratings!

(That's it for this week's rant. Check back next Wednesday for another Blue Yonder!)

News Archive