When MTV’s Teen Wolf first premiered in June of 2011, I prepared myself in equal parts for angsty teenage romance and 80’s-esque shenanigans; the MTV name undoubtedly loaned the production a certain set of credentials, as did its 1985 predecessor. I began watching it this summer and by the end of season two in August was hooked – for better or worse.
Teen Wolf thwarts its namesake at every turn. Gone are the days of car-surfing lycanthropes and “all in the family”-style hijinks. Like Stephanie Meyers’ hit Twilight franchise, Teen Wolf feeds our generation’s lust for amorous, supernatural young people and, like Twilight, is an unending train wreck that you’ll be unable to tear your eyes from (though you may find its fan base considerably more tolerable and its religious undertones considerably further “under”).
We find, in the offset of Teen Wolf’s first twelve-episode season, our first attractive young protagonist. Scott McCall (Tyler Posey) leads a normal, boring life with normal, boring problems; he has a normal, significantly more entertaining and sympathetic best friend (Dylan O’Brien), but soon decides to ditch him in favour of the hot new girl (who is at least as boring as her viable love interest).
All goes wacky when Scott is bitten by a rabid dog with an awkward, jaunty run and soon develops similarly humanoid-canine features. With his newfound abilities, Scott becomes the top player of his school’s lacrosse team (because baseball-playing vampires weren’t insult enough), wins the girl (Crystal Reed), and even gains some new, attractive young friends. The oedipal twist and driving force of the rest of the series occurs, however, when new girlfriend Allison’s father (JR Bourne) is revealed to be a gold star werewolf hunter – thus beginning a never-ending cycle of deceit, miscommunication, and misogyny.
It’s not that Teen Wolf doesn’t sport any fab leading ladies—quite the contrary—it simply provides the “alpha” male figures ample darkness in which to keep their X-chromosome companions. Allison, though dull at the onset of the series, soon gains independence and begins her training as a werewolf hunter. “Our sons are trained to be soldiers,” her father tells her, “our daughters, for leaders.” But despite Allison’s great strength and intentions, information is consistently concealed from her attention; her father, initially, leads the charade but is overtaken by her grandfather’s manipulations in season two, and even Scott, ever the protective lover, begins to shut her out.
Allison is paralleled in ignorance by her best friend and head bitch Lydia (Holland Roden). Femme fatal Lydia Martin is cruel, popular, and beautiful. Well-aware that her genius-level intelligence makes her unviable in the eyes of men, she hides it under the veneer of vapid vanity. An alpha werewolf attacks Lydia at the end of the first season, leaving viewers in a frenzied excitement for how her rigidly enforced normalcy will play out in the realm of the supernatural. But, she remains physically unchanged – immune to werewolf bites, Lydia instead battles with intense post-traumatic stress disorder and further manipulation throughout season two. Her friends ignore her struggles for the most part, and refuse to divulge any information to her (she doesn’t even know that she was bitten by a werewolf). To make up for this, she stars in plenty of terror-eyed nudity scenes, though why showers should trigger her trauma remains unexplained.
Best friend Stiles, devoted to Lydia in typical “nice guy” fashion, attempts to help and guide her, but is constantly thwarted by Scott’s selfish pleas to hide his identity. Scott refuses, in typical main character fashion, to be entirely werewolf or entirely human, which should on some level be charming or uplifting. However, his obvious preference for libido rather than camaraderie or respect for either Stiles or Allison, leaves his attempts to “protect” the interests of his friends flat at best.
Teen Wolf would be a phenomenal series if the secondary characters were given the limelight and respect they deserve. Even Scott’s boss at the veterinary clinic where he works part-time has a mysterious past and calm, kind façade that overpowers many of the youngsters of the series. Though I am thrilled to see that he will have a greater role in the approaching season, it is fairly obvious why he will never have a series of his own.
I love the cute white guys of Teen Wolf as much as the next viewer (Have I mentioned alpha wolf Derek’s stoic, unmoving features and dreamboat bod?) but their level of character development is almost laughable. Push the ladies and people of color to the forefront, and the series suddenly has depth, vivaciousness, and human interest – and it is still sexy. I don’t expect producer Jeff Davis to come to his senses at any point before season three any more than I expect the media at large to start giving leading roles to people of color and women. But I would sure as hell like them to.
Would I recommend Teen Wolf to friends and Tor.com readers? Almost certainly not. However, if you love bad television as much as I do, and can veer your eyes away from the problematic social nature of the series in order to ogle the eye candy, you may well survive the first two seasons.
Emily Nordling likes good books, bad TV, and superior tea.