Since the premiere of genre-defining staples like Sabrina The Teenage Witch and Buffy The Vampire Slayer in the mid-to-late ’90s, the supernatural drama has been a consistent force in teen-oriented television. From Buffy to The Vampire Diaries to newer entries like Stranger Things, the reliable formula of “soapy teen romance plus pulpy B-movie action plus supernatural elements” has been a go-to for both cable and network television, and MTV’s latest endeavor, Wolf Pack, is certainly no exception. Yet despite all the requisite pieces for success, Wolf Pack comes off as a regurgitation of previous hits instead of a fresh take, even with the presence of Sarah Michelle Gellar.
Starring Armani Jackson, Bella Shepard, Chloe Rose Robertson, and Tyler Lawrence Gray, Wolf Pack follows introverted, anxiety-ridden California high schooler Everett (Jackson) whose life is turned upside down when a mysterious injury during a wildfire makes him the target of a terrifying supernatural creature. Feeling an inexplicable draw to fellow student Blake (Shepard), the two reluctantly join forces to investigate their newfound abilities, allying with siblings Luna (Robertson) and Harlan (Gray) along the way, all while dodging questions from no-nonsense fire investigator Kristin Ramsey (Gellar).
On paper, Wolf Pack has all the requisite elements that have seen success in the past: a young, attractive cast; a gritty aesthetic and penchant for violence (the first episode features some surprisingly graphic kills in a remarkably frightening extended wildfire sequence); and soapy plot points that often surround romance and coming-of-age narratives. But where Wolf Pack fundamentally fails is as a teen drama, and the way the first two episodes (the only ones screened for critics) are structured provides virtually no warmth or relatability in its core four.
Sure, we learn plenty of rap-sheet facts about the characters: Everett has severe anxiety; Blake has a younger brother with autism; Luna has abandonment issues; Harlan is gay. Technically, each of these people has a neat and tidy reason for viewers to latch on and/or understand them . But unfortunately, there simply isn’t the charisma or personality to make any of these protagonists worth watching.
Equal blame can be split among direction, writing, and acting. It’s not a particularly forgiving script for the young cast of relatively up-and-coming talent, who are painfully eclipsed when scene partners with seasoned performers like Sarah Michelle Gellar. They don’t have any particular chemistry with each other, either. Comparisons to Teen Wolf (another MTV-produced werewolf teen drama) are inevitable, but what made that particular series a success were the lovable, often funny and romance-driven heroes. Wolf Pack has none of that crucial coziness.
Ironically, Wolf Pack’s adherence to the reliable structural format by design isolates Sarah Michelle Gellar as a character. In a conventional teen drama format, her older investigator Ramsey would serve as a mentor-type, given how infrequently a single adult is major player in a teen drama. As such, she often feels tacked-on to the story, popping up every 15 minutes or so to demand that one of the four leads come in for questioning and fill in some blanks about what happened during the wildfire.
The specificity and frequency of that particular request becomes frustrating when it’s the only element of Ramsey that we get in the first two episodes: She quite literally does not appear unless pursuing the high schoolers and trying to get their statements from the fire. This is the issue in nabbing a charismatic star whose sheer presence invites viewership but who doesn’t necessarily mesh well with the rest of the cast. She begins, simply, to feel underutilized—or worse, shoehorned in.
What’s frustrating about Wolf Pack’s lack of substance is that with the cancelation of Legacies, the ending of Stranger Things, and Riverdale coming to a close all within a year of each other, there’s a prime spot for the taking as far as supernatural teen dramas. If ever there was a time for Wolf Pack, a gritty show adapted from a book series that stars Sarah Michelle Gellar, it’s now. But as much as the cards are stacked in Wolf Pack’s favor, at least over its first two episodes, this just isn’t a project with enough bite.
Wolf Pack premieres January 26 on Paramount+.