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A Mediocre Moon Rising: MTV's "Teen Wolf"

By Sarah Carlson | TV | June 7, 2011 | Comments ()

By Sarah Carlson | TV | June 7, 2011 |


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It takes about eight minutes for the teen in question to be bitten by a werewolf, his life changed forever before the first commercial break, in "Teen Wolf." Apparently, no real set-up is required for MTV's new drama, based loosely on the Michael J. Fox-led 1985 movie. The afflicted, Scott McCall (Tyler Posey), can barely keep up with the pace himself as he is vaulted from overlooked lacrosse player to the star of the team -- with the hot new girl at high school on his arm, to boot -- all before the premiere ends.

A quick pace isn't always a bad thing, but "Teen Wolf" tries out various speeds along with various moods all the while hoping viewers take the drama seriously and don't notice the ads for "The Challenge: Rivals" and "Teen Mom" during commercial breaks. (I may have missed some "Jersey Shore" promos -- shame.) Because this is MTV, after all, and the premiere aired Sunday after the MTV Movie Awards at which "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" reigned. Teenagers run the network, or at least the idea of teenagers do. But genre tales need to be believable to begin with to work. In "Teen Wolf," not only does Scott become a werewolf, his main bully and lacrosse rival, Jackson (Colton Haynes), says sentences like "Dude, watch the paint job" when he parks his fancy car at school. And Jackson's caricature mean-girl girlfriend, Lydia (Holland Roden), reiterates that he needs to win on the field because she doesn't "date losers." It's a toss-up which situation is more ridiculous.

The series has its moments, though, especially in the guise of Scott's friend, the trusty and comedic sidekick, Stiles (Dylan O'Brien). He's the one who first guesses Scott's fate after he is bitten by wolf when the two are crashing a crime scene in the woods. Stiles' dad is a sheriff for Beacon Hills, their fictional California town, and Stiles stays up to date on murders and whatnot thanks to his eavesdropping skills. Scott, a sweet, mild-natured guy, is dubious about his friend's werewolf hypothesis. "Everything in my life is somehow perfect. Why are you trying to ruin it?" he asks his friend. Scott's sudden heightened senses and ability to leap over teammates at lacrosse tryouts leaves him dumbfounded but pleased, and he continues with school (they're reading Kafka's "Metamorphosis" in English class), his job (at an animal clinic) and asking the cute new girl, Allison (Crystal Reed), to a party.

But once the full moon hits -- during his date with Allison -- he figures it out. Scott's transformation to wolf-boy resembles the makeup job last seen on the young tike-turned-monkey in 1995's "Jumanji." But at least Scott accepts his fate, although the presence of another werewolf, Derek Hale (Tyler Hoechlin), and Derek's increasing connections to various dead bodies that keep popping up, don't ease his transition. The core of the show is its coming-of-age tale, and the creators (Jeff Davis is executive producer) want the viewer to imagine the kind of hell high school would be for someone juggling grades, sports, dating and lycanthropy. "Teen Wolf's" first two episodes mirror "Spider-Man" in one way, with Scott impressing/scaring his peers with his sudden physical abilities much the way Peter Parker did. It's also part "The Vampire Diaries" or "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" with its high school setting, although not nearly as brutal or realistic. "Teen Wolf" has so far devoted more screen time to lacrosse matches put to music than building legitimate tension, although having Allison's father, Argent (JR Bourne), be a werewolf hunter adds some conflict, even if predictable. Scott has to balance the aggression and blood lust that boils inside him, especially on the playing field, and it's true he has the potential to hurt someone. But he and his story also have the potential to be boring and in the vein of the "Twilight" saga.

And that would be a full circle. "I want a semi-freaking-normal life!" Scott exclaims in the second episode. To be realistic, his life requires harsh consequences brought on by his curse, and "Teen Wolf" has potential to escape the manufactured or exploited drama of its network's other series. Posey appears to have enough charm to carry the lead, although a longer time spent with his character pre-bite would have built a better arc. O'Brien is much more clever, while most everyone else seems lifted from various cookie-cutter '90s teen flicks. "Teen Wolf" may have something to say, or it may succumb to banality of MTV's other shows, which, interestingly, "Teen Wolf" poked fun at in its premiere. "I'm not gonna end up on some reality television show with a pregnant 16-year-old," Scott's mom says in place of a sex talk.

That would just be silly.

Sarah Carlson has a front-row seat to the decline of the newspaper industry and lives in Alabama with her overly excitable Pembroke Welsh Corgi.


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