The second-season première of Teen Wolf, like the series première and several other episodes from the first season, was directed by co-executive producer Russell Mulcahy. Mulcahy and MTV go way back: He was one of the first directors to make a name for himself on the basis of his music-video work, which led to a Hollywood career that resulted in several of the most garishly hyperthyroid movies ever made (including Razorback, Ricochet, and a couple of Highlanders). As the first couple of minutes of this episode prove, he’s still got it. The opening credits alone are a walleyed fit, with actors flexing their pecs and making crazy faces in slow motion, while an unidentified woman smears black paint over her naked torso and the heroine, Allison (Crystal Reed) strikes her trademark sad-sexy expression and poses with a bow and arrow. (Did the crew ask the actress if it was okay to recycle the footage from her screen test for the role of Katniss Everdeen?) In either side of this sequence, Allison and our hero, Scott the teenage werewolf (played by the unexciting but hard-to-dislike Tyler Posey) have the kind of calisthenic but G-rated sex that reaches its apex when somebody knocks over a bedside lamp and ends with both parties falling off the bed and giggling.
Scott arrives for his rendezvous with the fetching Allison by swinging into her upstairs window, after running all the way to her house, on all fours. To have someone who’s part wolf gallop around on his hands and feet seems like a logical enough trick to attempt; as far as I know, Teen Wolf may be the first time it’s been done, presumably because it couldn’t be brought off until computer imaging technology reached its current level. If they’d only found a way to do it back in Lon Chaney Jr.’s time, then it would have been done several times by now, so much so that Teen Wolf wouldn’t try it, on the grounds that we know by now that it always looks goofy. I’m pretty sure the goofiness is not intentional. But even though it is a serious “re-imagining” of the 1985 Michael J. Fox movie of the same name, Teen Wolf does have a sense of humor. That doesn’t do it much good when it’s being directed by someone who, like Mulcahy, doesn’t know how to tell a joke. (If you had to direct Duran Duran videos with a straight face, your sense of humor might not have survived the experience, either.)
When Stiles (Dylan O’Brien), Scott’s best friend and the Mercutio in this Romeo-and-Juilet setup—Scott is a werewolf, and Allison’s family… hunts werewolves!—fiddles with a tripwire and we see Scott, behind him, suddenly hoisted into the air, upside-down, the timing and camera placement are off just enough to kill the laugh. Something even weirder, and much tackier, is going on in the scene in which a young, naked girl wandering in the woods stumbles across the search party that’s assembled to look for her. When we see her facing the camera, she demurely covers her breasts with her hands, as anyone in her situation might be expected to do. Then, the camera looks at her from behind, facing the men, and suddenly she’s holding her hands out to her side. Has she gone nuts? Nope. It’s just that the director, having been constrained by broadcast standards when shooting her front, wants to show the men, who include Stiles, falling apart when they get the chance to see a naked woman’s breasts.
While pounding away at the idea that lycanthropy is a natural metaphor for male adolescence, the first season of Teen Wolf was about establishing Scott’s place in the underground food chain. He was torn between Derek (Tyler Hoechlin), the local Alpha werewolf, who urged him to concentrate on learning to control his new wolfy talents, even at the expense of his humanity, and his love for Allison, whose father (the very capable David J. R. Bourne) would really love to just kill him. The first season ended with the werewolves occupying the high moral ground, after it was revealed that the hunter Kate, who was Allison’s aunt, was a sadistic murderer who had burned innocent werewolves alive and who trussed Derek up for a hardcore S & M torture session. The new season has the members of Allison’s family gathering at Kate’s funeral and being joined by Allison’s grandfather, played by Michael Hogan (previously of Battlestar Galactica and Smallville). Grandpa is soon shown to have a mean streak, taunting a scraggly haired werewolf in an Army-surplus jacket who has stumbled into a hunters’ trap. Although the guy seems harmless, Gramps wants to declare a zero-tolerance policy toward werewolves, and he seconds his own motion by slicing his victim in two. For a second, the screen is dominated by a man who, hanging upside down, casts a disbelieving look at the empty space where the lower half of his body should be, and once again, it’s anyone’s guess whether this is supposed to be terrifying, funny, or a little of both.
Teen Wolf has been called a big improvement on MTV’s usual scripted, live-action shows, and if the yardstick you’re using is based on the likes of Skins, then maybe it deserves that compliment—though it scarcely deserves to carry Awkward.’s neck brace. The show always has a lot going on in it: O’Brien is often funny, and Crystal Reed’s sultry pout all but mists over the camera lens. And the introduction of Hogan’s character promises to both raise the stakes dramatically and give Bourne the opportunity to provide some shading to his character, now that he has a real, out-of-control murderous badass to define himself against. If only the series had some atmosphere; whether the action unfolds at the school or out in the woods after dark, it has practically none, which is a serious failing for a show that hopes to mint its own mythology. I also wish that it added something new to the whole “Teenage hormones, monstrous transformation: potato, potahtoe” genre. It doesn’t add much of anything to it, except for the details of its own secret-wars conspiracy storyline. So how devoted you are to this show may come down to whether the best examples of this genre, such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer, spoiled you for the more ordinary ones, or if you love this basic concept so much that you can scarcely imagine wanting to ever watch anything else.
- The guy who plays the man in charge at the graveyard looks like a grizzled version of John Sayles, whose early screenwriting credits include the late-canonical werewolf movie The Howling. Who knows if this was a deliberate piece of stunt casting or a lucky accident of which the film crew itself was barely aware? The important thing is, it made me chuckle.