What Teen Wolf Gets Right

That weird, disgusting sound you heard last summer was the collective noise of everyone in the world simultaneously rolling their eyes at MTV's announced reboot of the 1985 Michael J. Fox non-classic film Teen Wolf But in the Vein of Twilight. Wait, what? Why. Why on earth, MTV? I mean, we live in gross, reboot-heavy times, so perhaps this project was a statistical inevitability, but still: There was no way Teen Wolf: The Show wouldn't be just another cynical cash grab destined to end up in some dark, unvisited corner of our Netflix Instant Streaming queues, am I right? Nope! I am not right, as it turns out!

Teen Wolf is not going to win all of the Emmys this year or next year or any year. Granted. But I'm here to tell you that after eight episodes, the jury's finally in: Teen Wolf is not terrible! In fact, Teen Wolf is pretty good in a number of ways. Perhaps it's summer and there's not a ton of competition, and maybe my brain is sunshine-damaged and Popsicle-ruined, but file this under Credit Where Credit's Due. Teen Wolf is good TV, and here's why:

1. Teen Wolf looks awesome.

Australian director Russell Mulcahy helped shape the visuals for the show, and he's one of the most criminally underrated genre directors of our times: He made Highlander! And Razorback! And Ricochet! If you're a student of badass cinema, you know who Russell Mulcahy is, and you know that making stylish, scary movies on a shoestring budget is his calling card. Well, Teen Wolf is one of the handsomest, best-filmed productions on television. Last night's episode featured a tracking shot of two characters walking into the woods that was so cool I had to pause and rewatch it twice, or even THRICE!

2. Teen Wolf has a MAJOR crush on The Vampire Diaries.

I wonder how long it took the producers to realize that pitching a show as "Teen Wolf meets Twilight" was a terrible idea. First off, nobody cares about the original Teen Wolf except for, I don't know, designers of ironic T-shirts. Just don't tell me that modern teenagers care about it. So the producers must've looked to Twilight for inspiration instead, but then I guess somebody remembered that the Twilight saga isn't actually a story, it's just a couple thousand pages of some religious lady's rubbin' fantasies. So Teen Wolf's producers eventually settled on another, better source of inspiration: The Vampire Diaries. Obviously Who wouldn't?

Vampire Diaries' influence on Teen Wolf isn't just in the overt references (early on, there was a lacrosse match played against Mystic Falls) or copycat casting (Lydia's mom is played by the same actress who plays Tyler's mom on TVD), but it's also in the show's fundamental elements. Teen Wolf wisely lifted the paucity-of-parenting element from TVD, not to mention its small town incompetence toward crime solving and/or murder prevention, its underpopulated high schools, and characters with asymmetrical faces (Hey Bonnie!). And towel scenes. Tons of towel scenes. But even the things Teen Wolf does differently from Vampire Diaries strike me as conscious decisions to learn from TVD's shortcomings. For example...

3. Teen Wolf's mythology is refreshingly uncluttered.

It helps that Teen Wolf has a mere fraction of the number of characters that Vampire Diaries does, but also it only has ONE type of monster, and a historically uncomplicated one at that. At first I feared this was a recipe for a bore-fest, but it turns out that leaving enough time for casual banter, compelling character moments, and actual dramatic tension can be a GOOD thing? I don't know, call me old-fashioned, but the thing that's always bothered me the most about Vampire Diaries' insane, whirlwind storytelling is that nobody ever gets a simple, random character beat. “No time! We have a thousand new characters to introduce and kill off immediately."

As for Teen Wolf's mythology, all we know so far is that an appealing, dim-witted kid with a crescent moon-shaped head got bit by an evil werewolf and now he must fight beastly urges. Also, he's in love with a girl who is a descendent of an ancient family of werewolf hunters, obviously. And the evil werewolf is still out there somewhere, constantly murdering townsfolk. There you go! With so little backstory, it's no wonder that these characters actually still go to class and have grounded, relatable lives.

Plus, there's an overarching Twin Peaks-esque mystery. WHO is the evil alpha werewolf? Is it Scott's absent father? Is it the shouty lacrosse coach, suspicious animal Vet or nebbishy teacher? There's only like six other characters tops, the choices are limited. THIS is a mystery I can handle!

4. Teen Wolf's characters look and behave like actual teens.

Much like the pumpkin-headed dunces on MTV's Skins remake, Teen Wolf's actors actually look young enough be in high school. Imagine that! From Scott's stilted, adolescent line delivery to Jackson's peaking-in-high-school swagger, these characters come off as vulnerable, mixed-up kids, which weirdly lends credibility to their sometimes terrible decision-making. But unlike the ones on Skins, these are kids with natural charisma and entertaining dialogue. The best characters are obviously the funniest: Holland Roden's Lydia is a pill-popping mean girl who also knows how to make a Molotov cocktail (?), and Dylan O'Brien's Stiles (the show's best character is played by its best actor!) was probably conceived as the comic-relief sidekick, but has slowly become the main character to root for in this whole enterprise.

It's a testament to the show's confidence in itself that it can regularly put aside the werewolf curse plotline in order to squeeze drama out of ordinary teenage problems: Accidentally yelling at your girlfriend, being late for your parent-teacher conference, getting caught making out with your girlfriend in front of her dad's automatic rifle collection, having your feelings hurt when the gay jock doesn't find you handsome. These are all low-stakes problems, but in this world they seem just as compelling as a full-moon mauling. But with that said...

5. Teen Wolf is genuinely scary.

Everyone knew to expect a romance and a wisecracking sidekick and a ton of obvious hormonal-teenager-as-monster metaphors. But did anyone actually expect this show to be so scary? It's like a weekly horror film up in here! It's crazy, but so few shows have the knack for slow-burn terror and surprising payoff that Teen Wolf does. Take the episode where paranoid jock Jackson found himself trapped in an empty video store with a werewolf and a corpse. It was drawn out, creepily filmed, and didn't end in a cheap scare—not to mention it was just the cold open! Or last week's episode, where our five main characters were relentlessly pursued through the dark hallways of their abandoned high school by the same glowing-eyed beast—one that, unlike the werewolves on True Blood and TVD, looked like an actual monster and not some growling dog. Say what you will about the romance aspect of the show, but the writers seem to understand that the emotional impact of a teen romance is nothing compared to the push-pull, tension-catharsis of good, old-fashioned horror.

6. Teen Wolf would like you to know that ALL OF ITS ACTORS HAVE GYM MEMBERSHIPS.

Okay, got it, thanks for the constant reminders, Teen Wolf!

7. The things that are bad about Teen Wolf are also still pretty entertaining.

The evil alpha werewolf looks like claymation! California is constantly foggy and dark and its citizens take lacrosse VERY seriously. (Fun fact: We don't!) Scott's werewolf makeup makes him look like a child gone trick or treating! Mentor-werewolf Derek lives in a dusty shanty in the woods for no reason! There's always something laughably over-the-top in Teen Wolf, and that's part of the fun. In fact, badness is almost crucial to a good teen supernatural serial, if you ask me. It kind of keeps you on your toes and provides a good foundation for when things are genuinely good.

Of course, Teen Wolf could all go wrong and introduce a moonstone or a useless witch or something. But for now I'm totally still on board. This is one cynical cash grab I'm happy to keep watching.

What about you? Are YOU still watching Teen Wolf?

And if so, what do you like best about it? What would you change?

Finally, and most importantly... Do, Dump or Marry: Scott, Stiles, Derek / Allison, Lydia, Aunt Kate?

Like TV.com on Facebook