Teen Wolf (TV Premiere Episode)
Starring Tyler Posey, Crystal Reed, Dylan O’Brien, Tyler Hoechlin, Holland Roden, Colton Haynes
Directed by Russell Mulcahy
Created by MTV Networks and MGM
I want to preface my review for the upcoming TV series adaptation of the classic comedy Teen Wolf by saying I had absolutely zero faith in this project going into the premiere episode. As a child of the 80s (and a horror remake cynic), the original film starring Michael J. Fox was an integral part of my 1985 summer (actually, Fox was a pretty huge childhood crush of mine for a few years growing up) so I wasn’t completely sold on the idea this was a concept that needed a remake or needed to be adapted into a television series either. That was, until I saw the premiere episode recently and my opinions on this series were almost completely reversed.
In MTV’s “Teen Wolf” we get introduced to Scott McCall (Posey), an average teenager growing up in suburban Northern California struggling with the usual issues- he’s a benchwarming lacrosse player suffering with asthma, he’s got very little ‘game’ with the ladies and his only true friend is the wise-cracking Stiles (O’Brien) ... until one night when Scott and Stiles go to investigate reports of a mangled body in the woods and he gets separated from Stiles. Scott suddenly finds himself face to face with a deadly wolf who takes a bite out of the tasty teen before he can get away.
The next day Scott starts to realize he’s going through some very unexpected changes- suddenly, he no longer needs his inhaler to function, his senses are becoming refined to the point where he can hear conversations that no ordinary person could possibly hear and he magically transforms into a lacrosse-playing machine much to the chagrin of team captain Jackson (Haynes), who realizes his status as alpha male on the team is in jeopardy. He can’t possibly begin to understand what’s happening to him, but Stiles has the idea that Scott wasn’t bitten by an ordinary wolf and instead was bitten by a werewolf, and when the full moon rises, Scott will transform into a creature himself that will need to satiate his new thirst for flesh. Even though he can’t explain his heightened abilities, he dismisses Stiles’ theory as a joke ... that is, until all the weirdness starts to set in.
Beyond needing to comprehend the unexpected changes he’s facing, Scott is also dealing with some complications in the romance department- new girl Allison (Reed) has just moved into town and seems to dig on the usually awkward teen, which would generally be a good thing. But when the young lovers set up their first date for a house party that unfortunately coincides with the first full moon since he was attacked, Scott has to make a hasty retreat home when he starts to realize that he’s unable to control what’s brewing deep inside, which leaves Allison both pissed and frustrated.
To go any further in breaking down the story would ruin the fun of the first episode because there are a lot of subplots to chew on that involve werewolf hunters and the mysterious Derek Hale (Hoechlin), whose mysterious lineage has become urban legend fodder for the locals.
On the surface “Teen Wolf” is a pretty standard tweener offering from MTV, but what saves the show (or at least the first episode) is the talent at the helm that keep it from feeling like it’s a Twilight style upgrade of the original Teen Wolf. Executive producer Jeff Davis (who also created the highly successful “Criminal Minds”) developed and wrote the scripts for the “Teen Wolf” television series and definitely takes some calculated risks with his “remix” of the classic film. For one, there are no characters called Boof, basketball is out and lacrosse is in (which actually works to Scott’s favor as he struggles to keep his new ‘affliction’ hidden from everyone around him so wearing a mask is a plus for his character) and there are no van-riding shenanigans this time around either. The tone in “Teen Wolf” is a far more serious approach to the struggles of being a teenage werewolf than its source material, and for me this tone change works.
Sure, I loved the hilarity of Scott’s werewolf dance in the original, and who could forget Stiles penchant for oddly colored jeans, but this “Teen Wolf” takes a more realistic approach- werewolves are dangerous creatures and they need to feed so when the full moon hits, humans better beware or stock up on silver bullets because these werewolves aren’t cute and cuddly basketball players that all the ladies find irresistible this time around.
Featuring an entire cast made up of fresh faces, I found the talent assembled for “Teen Wolf” likable and engaging. Posey, as the series lead, has a lot riding on his shoulders, and but he proves he’s got the chops for the role of Scott. I also found a lot to like about the mystery surrounding both Allison’s and Derek’s characters and am pretty intrigued to see where their characters go as well (again, if I say any more, I run the risk of ruining my ‘no spoilers’ rule for reviews).
At the helm of this episode of “Teen Wolf” is director Russell Mulcahy. It may surprise some to find out that Mulcahy, who is known to genre fans all over from his body of work that includes “Tales from the Crypt,” Highlander and Resident Evil: Extinction, was actually a renowned music video director during the heyday of the MTV network and was responsible from some of the most mind-blowing music videos that came out of that era, including (ironically enough) “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles. Here Mulcahy demonstrates his ability to give audiences layered storytelling that deftly manages to keep a solid balance between “Teen Wolf”’s funny moments and scares alike. There are a few lagging moments in the premiere episode, but they’re so minor that they didn't weighed down the story at all.
My only real issue with “Teen Wolf” was the use of a CGI werewolf throughout the premiere that made me cringe every time I saw it come into frame. I understand that budget constraints would mean there was the need for a CGI creature (wolf suits alone are insanely expensive, and then you have to pay a dude to get into the suit, which adds a lot to any budget), but when you’ve got a company like KNB handling all your practical effects, bad CGI feels like a slap in the face to anyone who can tell the difference.
Overall will the new “Teen Wolf” series be for everyone? Absolutely not. There will be a lot of purists out there who will dismiss the series just based on the fact that a beloved classic is being remade or because the marketing push for “Teen Wolf” that MTV has unleashed so far (which I concur is pretty weak marketing if you’re looking to reach actual horror fans) hearkens to something for the “Twi-hards” out there, and those are all valid responses. But for those who are willing to give the series a chance, you’ll most likely end up pleasantly surprised like I was at just how enjoyable this new “Teen Wolf” truly is.
3 1/2 out of 5
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