Saturday, June 18, 2011

TV Review : "Teen Wolf"

I'm not sure when MTV changed from being all about music videos to being all about really bad "reality" shows. I had pretty much stopped watching the cable channel long before "The Real World" premiered in 1992. In 1999, the network gave us their first scripted show, the 'naughty' soap "Undressed." It lasted 6 seasons, but barely made a blip on my radar. I knew it existed, but never saw a single episode. Most recently, their version of the UK hit "Skins" caused a flap for its depictions of young people having sex, with many claiming it went beyond exploitation and flirted with actual child pornography. It was recently announced that MTV has canceled "Skins." Again, I never saw a single episode. And don't even get me started about "The Jersey Shore," which managed to ruin my childhood memories of Seaside Heights forever...

When MTV announced last year that they were re-booting the rather silly 1985 Michael J. Fox comedy Teen Wolf as a series, I laughed and thought "Yeah, right. That will be good..." Then I heard they were giving the property a 'serious' treatment and I have to admit, I was intrigued. So I found MTV on my provider's guide, set my DVR and hoped for the best. Now that I've seen three full episodes, I'm glad to report that the re-booted "Teen Wolf" is actually kind of fun and not bad at all.

Scott McCall (cutie-pie Tyler Posey) is a typical nobody in his small, northern California  town's high school. He spent the last season on the lacrosse team's bench and wants nothing more than to actually play this year. His BFF Stiles (Dylan O'Brien), is the Sheriff's son. When Stiles learns that half of a body has been found in the local woods, he convinces Scott to join him on a night-time search for the corpse's other half. Big mistake.

After getting separated form his buddy, Scott not only loses his inhaler in a deer stampede and stumbles upon the upper torso of a savaged woman's body, but is bitten by what appears to be a wolf. The next day, Scott can suddenly hear conversations from afar, no longer needs his inhaler and can apparently heal with miraculous speed. Stiles does some online research (we don't know if he used Google or Bing) and promptly pronounces Scott to be a lycanthrope. Of course, Scott scoffs until he's angered during lacrosse tryouts and finds his athletic acumen has also been boosted. Scott has also fallen for new girl Allison (Crystal Reed) and run afoul of the team's douchey captain, Jackson (Colton Haynes).

Produced by Russell Mulcahey ("Queer as Folk"), "Teen Wolf" is a smart and suspenseful take on the sub-genre, featuring some excellent performances from a young and attractive cast; smart writing that utilizes the idea of a werewolf as a metaphor for pubescent change without hitting the audience of the head with it (much like the Canadian Ginger Snaps films) and has a genuine reverence for the all the werewolf movies that have come before. Most refreshingly, the transformations don't involve tons of CGI or makeup - Scott's wolf persona is lupine without going full-on wolf; using fangs, claws and elongated facial features to create a beast that's much more human than canine. And in the most recent episode, a transformation is hidden behind a corrugated glass screen, allowing for some rather clever effects.

The adorable young Posey ("Brothers and Sisters;" "Lincoln Heights") is perfectly cast as a young man who has to hide a terrible secret while dealing with girls, high school and a part-time job at a veterinary clinic and O'Brien is adorkabley funny as the second-banana. Reed evokes Legend's Mia Sara as Scott's love interest (and daughter of werewolf hunter), while Tyler Hoechlin (The Road to Perdition) practically seethes as Derek; the hot, mysterious and experienced werewolf with a seedy past who wants to take Scott under his wing and teach him how to control his lycanthropic urges.

There are certainly better summer shows on cable ("The Closer;" "Psych;" and "Royal Pains," among others), but genre fans won't be disappointed by the clever and well-produced "Teen Wolf." **3/4 (Two and Three-Quarter Stars Out of Four).

More, anon.

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