Bearing scant resemblance to the 1985 relic starring Michael J. Fox that ostensibly provides its easy-to-market title, “Teen Wolf” is a serviceable addition to MTV’s nascent scripted efforts – one apt to benefit from its target audience’s limited exposure to such fare. A 15-year-old girl, after all, hasn’t seen a few dozen werewolf transformations, just the “Twilight” series. Launching behind the MTV Movie Awards, the pilot – tonally a macabre serial, not a comedy – sinks its fangs in just deep enough to likely inspire a respectable number of viewers return in less than a blue moon.
The fantasy hook notwithstanding, “Teen Wolf” is really just the flip side of MTV’s earlier scripted foray “The Hard Times of RJ Berger,” addressing pangs of adolescence in an exaggerated way. Granted, in the case of that series, the protagonist’s metamorphosis tends to be a bit more, er, localized.
Scott McCall (Tyler Posey) is the standard ordinary kid with one goofy friend, Stiles (Dylan O’Brien); a dream of making the starting lacrosse team (an odd choice given how the movie dealt with basketball, but whatever); and an inhaler. Lured by Stiles, “Stand by Me”-like, to go look for a dead body in the woods, he’s attacked and bitten by … something shadowy and furry.
Soon enough, changes begin to manifest themselves, from new-found prowess on the lacrosse field to what amounts to super-hearing – which is convenient, since there’s a hot new girl (Crystal Reed) upon whose calls Scott can eavesdrop. It’s only too bad their big first date happens to coincide with a full moon.
Written by Jeff Davis and directed by Russell Mulcahy, the series generally gets the mood right but proves miserly in the details, from fleeting glimpses of the werewolf to Scott’s eventual moon dance, which leaves him looking too much like Eddie Munster. Fortunately, that reference will likely be lost on most of those apt to tune in, who will get an episodic taste of what’s made “The Vampire Diaries” a modest success. (MTV will repeat the pilot Monday, along with a new episode.)
Tellingly, not only does the CW intend to build on its undead franchise come fall, but ABC Family’s “The Nine Lives of Chloe King” premieres later this month, adhering to a similar template about a teen undergoing big changes, mirroring the sense of discovery mixed with confusion here. Put another way, Scott could just as easily have been bitten by a radioactive spider and hopping around in spandex.
In that context, “Teen Wolf” represents less a bold leap for MTV than a calculated hop, conceived to leverage the channel’s existing marketing machinery. And in keeping with that ethos, as in “RJ Berger” the few adults depicted are initially reduced to the role of cardboard scenery.
Then again, when a network primarily known for unscripted programming expands its horizons to include drama, those whose livelihood depends on such programs can’t be expected to look a gift “Wolf” in the mouth.