(Note: This commentary is brought to you by Reese’s and Macy’s.) This show. I do my very best to keep things positive and upbeat around here. If I don’t like something, I’d rather just ignore it than devote bandwidth to it. I originally avoided Teen Wolf because of the disgusting campaign that preceded the premiere. You remember? Photos of Colton Haynes from a shoot for XY Magazine were used to fan a non-controversy to draw attention to the show. The mock outrage was gross and offensive, and everyone involved in trying to demonize a few harmless modeling shots should be ashamed of themselves. So, I had no interest in watching the show.
For some time, though, the kids on Tumblr have been pestering me to give it a chance. If you’re on Tumblr, you know those kids can be pretty persuasive, what with their animated gifs and memes and ‘ships and all. Before watching a single episode, they had me convinced all the guys on the show are gay and happily swapping partners from week to week. I had good reason to be skeptical…because absolutely none of that is true. When I finally did give in and watch the show, I discovered a pretty typical high school supernatural melodrama, albeit populated by an unusually high number of underwear models. I am impressed that “high school supernatural melodrama” is now a genre boasting enough entries that we can start to rank them in quality, from Buffy (the gold standard) to Vampire Diaries (in the middle) to The Circle (just, no). So, where does Teen Wolf fall? We’ll answer that right after this message from our sponsor.
The young actors all do a good job. Tyler Posey, as the titular hero, improves dramatically as an actor from season one to season two. Oddly enough, it’s the adult actors who tend to be overwrought, and the less said about Michael Hogan as season two’s scenery-chewing Big Bad, the better. If season one is about a boy becoming a wolf, season two is all about a wolf becoming a hero. Scott’s ascension from confused teenager to moral compass and leader is inspiring and authentic.
The finale successfully wraps up the season’s main storyline, once again proving that love is the key to soothing the savage breast. But while I am happy to see Jackson (Colton Haynes) live to see another super-powered high school douchebag day, Lydia’s (Holland Roden) journey toward defining herself outside a relationship is an important and convincing story arc, so I hope that doesn’t get brushed aside by her reunion with the cutest boy in school. The most poignant moment of the season, for me, is still Derek’s wry observation in “Venemous” that Scott is the Alpha of his own pack. The theme of friendship as some sort of supernatural bond always gets me.
Oddly enough, Teen Wolf is remarkably slow-paced for a show on MTV, the network credited with destroying the attention span of generations of children. Just about every scene includes long, lingering reaction shots from everyone who happens to be in the room (or the woods) at the time. Sometimes, the long, lingering reaction shots are also in slow motion, which is mind-boggling. The pace is especially evident if you watch the series, like I did, on Netflix or DVD. Without the commercial breaks to inject some energy and momentum, the pace can get a little tedious. My theory is that with the limited budget and cast members, this is actually a half-hour show that’s been stretched to 40 minutes. The remaining 20 are then stuffed with commercials to fill out the hour. Speaking of which…
Still, I watched every single episode of both seasons, then topped it all off with a screening of the season two finale on Monday night. During the span of each show, you can find me laughing my head off at some of the over-the-top dialogue and soap opera-esque acting, then a few moments later, being fully engaged in the emotional roller coaster of life as a teenage werewolf. It’s a testament to the show’s emotional center that it can make me physically uncomfortable watching a werewolf take a chemistry test. The kids don’t spend that much time in school, except in the dark, moody locker room, but school expectations still manage to hang over them like a spectre.
In many ways, Teen Wolf is revolutionary. They took the man candy aspect of Vampire Diaries, multiplied it, and sent it for a long shower in that moody locker room. The out, gay character on the show, Danny (Keahu Kahuanui), is the popular jock’s best friend, and while he doesn’t get the same amount of screen time as Stiles (Dylan O’Brien), the other best friend on the show, the normalcy of his portrayal is refreshing. We haven’t gotten a lot of backstory on Danny yet, except for a breakup and a night out at a local gay club. No one on the lacrosse team, or even in the school, seems to have a problem with Danny. Is it because he’s a great guy? Or because he’s always had the protection of his best friend? We can only guess at this point, but making him gay, well-adjusted and romantically active is a huge step forward. I didn’t even mind when they had him giving Derek (Tyler Hoechlin), the alpha werewolf, the eye, because it was so cleverly presented. He wasn’t portrayed as predatory (which would have been ironic, considering his prey); instead, he was portrayed as a normal teen, stealing glances at a cute guy.
The “normalcy” of gay teens in the high school social environment is continued later in season one, as Scott uses Danny as a dance partner to avoid getting kicked out of the prom. When the coach tries to toss him out, the disapproval of the student body makes him retract his threats. It’s pure fantasy, but still somehow more grounded and believable than the slow-clap sentimentality of Glee. Then, in season two, at the birthday party of teen queen Lydia, a same-sex couple making out is included in the montage of “teens gone wild” moments. It’s almost enough to make me forgive and forget the XY Magazine fiasco.
The only misstep I’ve experienced, and I’m sure the fandom can and will debate me on this, is when Scott and Stiles follow Danny to that gay club. Afterward, when Stiles’s sheriff father asks him what he’s doing there, he lies and says they’re cheering Danny up after his break-up. Dad commends him and Scott for being such good friends, and it feels like a missed opportunity to me. They aren’t really there to cheer him up. They’re there to save his life, sure, but in this case, I think cheering him up, while also protecting him, would have been a more profound plot point. It’s a minor critique, so go easy on me.
I believe high school supernatural melodramas succeed or fail based on how well they portray the emotional horror of the teenage years. Does the horror feel authentic? And, more importantly, do you care about the characters and what they’re going through outside the supernatural element? In the case of Teen Wolf, the melodrama more often than not outweighs the emotional truth, but when they get it right, it’s a fun and effective story of love and heroism. I can’t say it’s as good as Buffy (it’s not), but it’s a guilty pleasure that I’m feeling less and less guilty about with each season.