As I have frequently wrote, I did not approach MTV's "Teen Wolf" enthusiastically. I approached it begrudgingly and hesitantly, the way someone looks at the millionth cute cat video circulating the office. However, I was not prepared for what I saw. By the first episode, the show went from misguided reboot to guilty pleasure, and by the second episode the show was elevated to high-quality paranormal entertainment. By the sixth episode, I was ready to buy the whole season on DVD.
The show finished out its first season this week as the best supernatural show on summer television. The first season wrapped up the mystery of the Alpha, the powerful werewolf which infected Scott McCall (Tyler Posey) with lycanthropy while still leaving several daunting revelations unanswered for season 2. But despite several subplot cliffhangers in play, the entire season still managed to end with an incredibly satisfying - and almost cinematic - finale.
Teen Wolf's cinematic edge is likely the result of "The Shadow" and "Highlander" director Russell Mulcahy, who also serves as executive producer on the series. There are several pulse-pounding sequences which would feel right at home in stark black-and-white film rather than high-definition. This is because the "Teen Wolf" envisioned by Mulcahy and series developer Jeff Davis ("Criminal Minds") is more Universal than Twilight, and it shows with an emphasis on minimalistic make-up and compelling character design.
This isn't to say you won't see a hearty dose of teen angst in the halls of Beacon Hills High. As luck would have it, Scott falls for the new girl-in-town Allison (Crystal Reed), whose father happens to be a werewolf hunter on the trail of the Alpha. But unlike other paranormal romances, Scott and Allison's romance never feels forced or trite, perhaps because it excels in quiet, everyday scenes. It helps that the series creators were influenced by "Spider-Man", which succeeds in making Scott a compelling everyman as clueless about women as he is werewolves.
The finale also corrected one of my biggest beefs with the series: the soundtrack. It was hard to take the first few episodes seriously, with blaring pop music playing during every fight scene, every action scene and every romantic scene. The subsequent episodes tuned down the use of pop music considerably, but the finale even went a step further, by adding a full-fledged orchestra score. Let's put it this way: even with the classic John William score, the series finale of "Smallville" didn't move me much. But I got goosebumps watching the finale set to these classy overtones.
There is one lingering flaw which needs to be addressed next season: the CGI. Generally, there's not much of it - the series creators wisely apply practical effects and sparse CGI to make "Teen Wolf" legitimately scary and effective without looking hammy and jerky. But then there is the Alpha. With big red eyes, dark fur and a towering stature capable of moving on all fours, the Alpha looks like it would be right at home in the Piccadilly Square scene of "American Werewolf of London". But while the close-up scenes are horrific, the movement shots are standard SyFy channel cheese. The showrunners hit all the right notes leading up to the Alpha's conception, but its clear they need more money to make it happen right (I'm looking at you MTV).
In short, "Teen Wolf" might not be for everyone. If you're tired of teen dramas, you might not like "Teen Wolf". If you're tired of the supernatural, you might not like "Teen Wolf". But if you like either of these two genres, you owe it to yourself to check out "Teen Wolf", which far too often gets dismissed as a "Twilight" rip-off. The truth is "Teen Wolf" is far, far more than that - "Teen Wolf" is what the last "Wolfman" movie should have been.
In fact, "Teen Wolf" is what every werewolf movie in the last five years could and should have been.
(That's it for this rant. Check back for more Blue Yonder action next week)