MTV: Network on the prowl

In what might be the finest instance of audience targeting ever orchestrated, MTV debuted its new supernatural thriller Teen Wolf Sunday night, immediately following the conclusion of the network’s two-hour Movie Awards telecast.

Lone wolf · Scott McCall (Tyler Posey) must confront his newfound identity as a werewolf all while dealing with school, girls and lacrosse. - Photo courtesy of MTV

After the 120-minute Twilight lovefest ran its course (the stars of Eclipse, the latest installment in the still-unfolding franchise, accepted awards for best male performance, best female performance, best fight, best kiss and best movie), those who were still tuned in were precisely the demographic that would be interested in the fare MTV would be serving up in Teen Wolf: high school social struggles (drama!) compounded by pesky supernatural complications (super-drama!).

With all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, MTV actively sought to remind audiences tuning in for the Movie Awards, “Yes, you do love Twilight, and are both open to and eager for a television show in the same vein that just might be able to tide you over until the November release of Breaking Dawn.”

Specifically, they were being primed to welcome yet another shape-shifting Adonis into their living rooms and lives, this time the relatively fresh-faced Tyler Posey.

Teen Wolf’s shaky pilot finds 16-year-old Scott McCall (Posey) poised to enter his sophomore year of high school in the fictional town of Beacon Hills, Calif. Scott has big hopes for the coming school year, not the least important of which involves earning a starting position on the school’s championship lacrosse team.

Scott’s plans for a good night’s rest in preparation for lacrosse tryouts and the first day back at school are derailed, however, when his best friend and fellow nobody Stiles’ (Dylan O’Brien) vaguely troubling penchant for eavesdropping on his policeman father’s phone calls and radio dispatches sends the pair into the woods on a morbid goose chase to search for the other half of a dead girl whose body recently turned up.

Predictably, the two end up getting separated, and an animal attack from which Scott emerges alive but not unscathed leaves Scott feeling not quite himself the next day. Supersonic hearing and superhuman athleticism — to say nothing of an uncannily brief recovery time on a wound that was gaping the night before and gone by the next day — might be a source of confusion, but also prove to be wellspring of good fortune, too. An out-of-nowhere stellar showing on the lacrosse pitch garners Scott the unprecedented attention of his coach and the vengeful ire of the threatened big man on campus Jackson Whittemore (Colton Haynes), and his newly bolstered powers of hearing allow him to capitalize on conversational footholds with the beautiful new girl in town, Allison Argent (Crystal Reed).

Someone’s patently discourteous decision to host a big party on the night of the full moon causes all type of problems, and an enamored Allison is oblivious to the fact that she might have some conflicting loyalties — namely, to a hunter and his prey.

Photo courtesy of MTV

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Teen Wolf’s pilot doesn’t reflect the art of screenwriting at its finest; the bulk of the writerly energies expended in creating this inaugural episode seem to have been directed toward mapping out a story that bounces from one scene showcasing Posey’s bare chest to the next as many times as possible in 41 minutes. The requisite lines of exposition were painful but mercifully brief, and if nothing else, a number of revelations and realizations that could have just as easily been scattered throughout the first three or four episodes were consolidated into the pilot — a detail that bodes well for the pacing of future episodes. In truth, there really wouldn’t be any point protracting Scott’s realization that he had been bitten by a werewolf and was now, in fact, one himself — audiences could gather as much from the title of the show.

Little about Teen Wolf could be considered innovative: The title is borrowed from a 1985 Michael J. Fox vehicle, its very existence is owed to the lingering trendiness of the sexy monster genre (True Blood, Twilight, The Vampire Diaries), and the show is giving no indication it will be contributing anything new to the vast body of existing werewolf lore. Though you’ll most often hear her assertion that vampires in direct sunlight don’t burn, but sparkle, being made the butt of jokes, at least Stephenie Meyer added something to the centuries-old accumulation of supernatural mythology — Teen Wolf doesn’t appear to have anything new to say whatsoever.

Despite having to contend with a less-than-nuanced script, interactions between the young residents of Beacon Hills ring pleasantly of authenticity. Stiles’ sarcasm and self-assured nerdiness meshes perfectly with Scott’s frequent exasperation and initial awkwardness — the friendly dynamic reads more realistically than most everything else on the show, actually. Holland Roden’s Lydia and Colton Haynes’ Jackson, the ‘it’ couple pairing of the brainy hot girl and the top jock with all-American good looks, come across as stereotypes, but if they’re going to be stock characters, at least they’re competently recreated.

Teen Wolf suffers from misplaced efforts. Much more time appears to have been invested in honing Tyler Posey’s lacrosse skills than in drafting lines suited for a budding teenage romance for instance. More hours were doubtless spent sculpting the young actor’s lean, chiseled build than rehearsing plausible human reactions (not every development requires an impression of Macaulay Culkin’s Home Alone face).

But now the scene has been set, the characters introduced, the world established and the supernatural drama set in motion. What was an indisputably rough pilot just might have cleared a path to move forward and pursue a story.

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