In her house at the edge of the forest, all alone at night, a teen girl hears a sound. Slowly, she creeps around the back of the house, and comes across a wolf feeding by moonlight. She gasps.
Then she snaps, “Get back inside!”
God, isn’t it the worst when your parents turn into wolves and then sneak out on you to eat rotten chicken from the trash? SO embarrassing.
Wolfblood, a kids’ show created by Debbie Moon, is a U.K. import (the second season is currently airing there) cannily hitting the U.S. markets just after Season Three of Teen Wolf. And Wolfblood does read on the surface as a scrappy, dialed-down Year Ten answer to An American Werewolf High School. Certainly the show is right on-trend for the wave of supernatural teenage love stories, and promises to be suitably preoccupied with family, pack dynamics, wolf lore, cute guys, and the siren call of the wolfblood. Also homework, probably.
But it’s more low-key than many of its teen compatriots; there’s a certain casualness that sets it apart both from the dialed-to-11 emotional ping-pong of The Vampire Diaries, and from the focus-group rigidity and martial pluck that can make a lot of kids’ shows so grating to adults. Honestly, Wolfblood feels more mature than it has any right to; it relies on the natural tension of a young teen trying to keep something from the world without making it a crushing quest for secrecy, and while it occasionally folds in a trope or two from the kids’ side of the YA fence, its quiet confidence makes it surprisingly watchable, even if you happen to be a premature geezer who generally loathes even the sight of young, optimistic children. Hypothetically.
Alongside Maddy (Aimee Kelly, underplaying to good effect), we smartly skip the usual discovery process or long-withheld familial reveals; her family is perfectly functional, and being a Woflblood is considered a family quirk, an occasional inconvenience that’s a fair trade for the very cool upgrades to the rest of her senses. Her only initial concern in the pilot is saving the photography club at school, which is down to her and her friends Shannon and Tom. If they don’t have three names by the next day, they’ll be shut down but good! (Say it isn’t so! How else will Shannon and Tom ever follow up on the wolf footprint Shannon took that photo of, leading to a series of nighttime hunts for wildlife that will put them in peril again and again?)
Enter hunky Rydian. Not that he’ll help them with the photography club. That would require dropping his angst levels, and obviously that’s not what this frowny boybander is here to do. But his problems fitting in and standard-issue self-control problems provide ample opportunity for Maddy to be casually prickly but competent, lay down the law about needing to shape up, push him away only to realize he’s a foster kid who just Needs to Belong, and probably develop a monster crush on him about halfway through the season.
All of this is exactly as tropey as it sounds, but the relatively no-nonsense approach and half-hour running time keep things moving. Aside from the occasional lead-balloon dialogue (when Rhydian asks about Maddy, one of the popular girls informs him conspiratorially the family “never leaves the area”; later, mid-argument, Rhydian snaps at Maddie, “I have nothing to lose here, unlike you!” in case you’d forgotten the stakes), the pace establishes the requisite naturalistic small-town vibe among a cast of characters that feel suitably dysfunctional, in that familiar way that assures you this is still a kid-friendly show. Is the school bully annoyingly mean without being brutal? Sure thing. Will the popular girls agree to set aside their coolness and join the photography club in exchange for modeling headshots? You know they will.
And though more serviceable than artistic, the show even manages to feel stylish from time to time; most of the filming is done with handheld immediacy or CGI-prep static shots, but when Maddy and Rhydian head to the woods in the final minutes, things open up into wide, calm vistas of wilderness that neatly punctuate how deeply they’re tied to the forest.
If the pilot has downfalls, they are that some aspects end up being a bit too low-key; even though we move briskly through all the introductory points, the episode lacks a real sense of Maddy and Rhydian getting to know one another. She dislikes him, sympathizes with him, decides they need to be friends, and claims him as a relative all in under 30 minutes. The relationship will no doubt become fraught soon enough, but in an episode that otherwise seems to be so well-considered, rushing this aspect of it saps some narrative tension from the only relationship in the pilot that contained any tension to begin with.
Still, by and large, this feels like a show that knows what its doing, and while there are certainly places in which things could be tightened up, and spaces left wide open for more timely messages about family, acceptance, and being different, this seems a pretty cool platform on which to deliver them, particularly considering the competition among the tween-show set.
- Wolfblood lives in a world that’s already aware of the overarching supernatural tropes; at one point Rhydian bemoans, “I don’t even remember being bitten!”
- This school has mandatory badger-observation trips. I sort of hope the werewolves put an end to that field trip; no kid should have to do that.
- Rare is the show where a mom gets gently scolded by her daughter for eating her shoe while wolfed out. Her rejoinder: “Don’t go hitting me on the nose again!”