Shirtless Like the Wolf

By Geoff Hobart

So, yeah . . . I've been watching a lot of MTV's Teen Wolf lately. I am a man who is two months away from turning 30 years old who is hooked on MTV's Teen Wolf. Aimed at teenage girls, Teen Wolf boasts a cast of adorable, shirtless boys. This is a shameful situation that is nearly matched by my recent brush with "Bronie-hood." That full-blown fandom, I narrowly avoided due to the realization that if I, your cagey, slouched and unshaven narrator, would've made any attempt to buy a My Little Pony toy it would have easily landed me on the sex offender watch list. So for now it's just me alone at my desk under the warm glow of the shirtless, teenage werewolf boys.

To the uninitiated, the MTV version of Teen Wolf is loosely (hardly) based on a delightfully dumb movie that starred Michael J. Fox and appeared circa 1980-something. (My research is impeccable.) So in the original 80's film version: Scott (Michael J. Fox) discovers that he suffers from pubescent-lycanthropy. Luckily for Scott he lives in the 1980s. So when Scott transforms, instead of working his way through the entire population of his school one blood frenzy at a time, he wears leisure suits. Or he is super good at basktball. Or is a total dreamboat for all the ladies. None of which is very murderous. In fact, eventually, werewolf Scott becomes the most popular student, unconvincingly played by a clearly adult actor, in the entire high school of students, unconvincingly played by adult actors.

It's a cute movie that's stupid, naive and fun. A clear product of the 80s that I probably watched a hundred times throughout my childhood. So here in 2012 I am having a conversation with a close friend and she mentions that she's been getting heavily into the Teen Wolf TV series. It was probably one of those moments of "shame ventilation." Where the Teen Wolf burden has grown too great for her to hold back and she knew she had to tell someone, anyone, for just that scantest bit of relief. Luckily she told the right man.

"Is this real? Like a real thing?"

"It's terrible. It's sooo bad," exhilaration fear and shame are in her voice.

" . . . None of them are wearing shirts! I can't handle all this man-sass!" exclaimed by me while looking at the promotional art. My childhood so gloriously ruined.

"It's supposed to be a drama."

"Oh god… Really? I'm in." Challenge accepted. This is going to be hilarious.

Initially, I thought I would bother with one episode, enjoy the spectacular train wreck and then leave. How much could they possibly glean from that movie for an entire TV series? Unexpectedly, the old bones of that 80's Teen Wolf movie still had little vestiges of meat on them. It never occurred to me that MTV, of all networks, would have the intelligence and foresight to just gnaw away everything but the best bits, namely teenagers and werewolves. (Oh, and the puberty analog. There’s some of that too.) And flesh those bones out dramatically. Granted, that flesh is a macabre, crudely-stapled patchwork of sets and scripts robbed from the graves of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and One Tree Hill. But it’s there and it’s appreciated. The exhumed corpse might be a shade of its former glory but now it is strangely adorable in an uneven human mockery way. I respect it. It’s very clear they’re doing a lot with a little.

That's really what I enjoy the most about Teen Wolf: the idea of taking a little and making a lot out of it. The source material is so thin, and yet they added some angst and turned it into a drama. The main cast is tiny compared to other shows in the teen drama genre. But they take advantage of it to have a tighter focus on character relationships. There are a total of six or seven locations in the entire show, but they use it in a way which makes it feel like it would actually be set in a small town. The special effects and CG are kind of cheap and charming.

I think what surprised me the most about Teen Wolf is that the injection of drama actually works really well. The silly leisure suits, slam dunks, and pussy parades are replaced with realized lycanthropy. Scott is honestly a threat to his friends, his community, and his girlfriend. The standard teenage transformation anxieties are ramped-up with the addition of violence and super powers. The drama keeps the werewolf stuff from getting too stupid, and the werewolf stuff keeps the drama from getting too overbearing. It isn't a perfect mesh and there are definitely moments where you hear the gears grind. Occasionally the writing will stutter-stop with a dull thud, or just seem really incongruous. But, they are taking what little they have and they're going for it as hard as they can. I have to hand it to them, they've made me care about werewolves again. Perhaps even shirtless boys.