Friday, 10 June 2011

Review: TEEN WOLF, 1.1 - "Pilot"

Friday, 10 June 2011

Australian director Russell Mulcahy made his name in the early-'80s with iconic music videos that got playtime on a then-fledgling MTV—which even launched with Mulcahy's "Video Killed The Radio Star". 30 years later he's the jobbing helmsman behind the channel's Twilight-wannabe adaptation of a silly curio from the year he was trying to drag a performance from Christopher Lambert in Highlander. Teen Wolf 2011 owes its namesake 1985 movie very little, as it's clearly more of an attempt to replicate the twin successes of Twilight and Vampire Diaries, with the aide of a funky-sounding title that's retained some pop-culture cachet.

16-year-old Scott McCall (20-year-old Tyler Posey) is our Californian hunky hero; another of US TV's alleged "everymen" who's already poised to adorn the inside of teenage girl's lockers the world over. There's consequently no huge transformation in social status for Scott after he's bitten by a wolf while helping his best-friend Stiles (Dylan O'Brien) find a dead body in the forest—having overheard the town's cops are in hot pursuit of a killer. As we all know, if there's a murderer on the loose, teenagers just can't resist trampling through a crime scene and potentially being mistaken for the killer by armed police in the dead of night, right?

The idiocy of this moment aside, Scott is duly bitten by the pursued killer (a werewolf) and goes through the usual changes we're overly accustomed to: suddenly being able to hear people talk over vast distances, developing super-reflexes he can use to impress his lacrosse coach, rapid healing, etc. Scott's sudden rapport with canines also endears him to high school newcomer Allison Argent (Crystal Reed) after she accidentally runs over a dog and Scott's on hand to tend to the pooch's injuries, leading to a first date at a pool party—scheduled on a Full Moon, natch...

Teen Wolf is an evenhanded, unremarkable addition to the "supernatural high school" subgenre, which has already gone through many permutations (Buffy's vampires, Roswell's aliens, Smallville's superheroes, et al), but offers very little that's fresh or invigorating. It's a magpie's nest of ideas, meaning there's little about this pilot that leaps off the screen and impresses you with its uniqueness. I suppose it's a relief the characters didn't spend forever wondering what's going on (Stiles' first theory for his pal's newfound skills is lycanthropy)—and, in a reversal of its namesake movie's intentions, Scott's transformation is played more as a curse than a liberating gift. He doesn't turn the attractive girl's head purely because of his superpowers (it's more his kindness), so his lupine powers are a barrier to him having a regular relationship and easygoing life.

Michael J. Fox's character became a local celebrity and basketball sensation who was (very inexplicably) a hirsute turn-on for women; while Tyler Posey's character isn't likely to announce his lycanthropy to the world (what, no van surfing this time?) and it's something that's a real danger to his loved one because it comes packaged with blood lust. The story is therefore not about realizing people should value you for who you are on the inside, but... um, being a werewolf has its ups and downs when you're a good-looking, horny teenager trying to bang the new girl in town? Oh, especially when your love interest's father (JR Bourne) is the main villain.

Mulcahy's career may have been in free-fall for the past few decades (lately reduced to a Resident Evil threequel and direct-to-video sequel The Scorpion King 2), but given his experience it's no wonder Teen Wolf looks surprisingly good for a TV pilot—echoing the woodland aesthetic familiar from the Twilight franchise, despite the fact the show's set in sunny California. There are no truly memorable sequences, however, which is a shame for any pilot wanting to make a big impression. Even Scott's first transformation in a bathroom felt strangely inert, mainly because they've decided they don't want to disgust girls by having Wolf-Scott resemble a lanky ape-man (a massive flaw in the original), an expensive CGI creature, or a monstrous Wolf Man biped. Scott instead morphs into a more angular, sweatier version of himself; with fangs and pointy ears giving him the look of a Thundercat, blessed with absurd red-on-black night-vision. The complete transformation even appears to wear off rather quickly, so in theory Scott just needs to lock himself in his bedroom for an hour every month—which is nothing for most teenage boys.

The performances are, much like the show itself, reasonable but lacking bite. The obvious danger is that once the novelty wears off (which will be quicker for such a prolific genre), audiences might not find Teen Wolf intrinsically enjoyable through the actors and their interactions. I'm not sure this ensemble's that interesting. Nobody's an embarrassment to celluloid, but there wasn't very distinct about Posey, Reed or O'Brien to get you excited about their characters or dynamic. Chemistry may develop, so it's by no means certain the actors won't find something in themselves that viewers will want to watch every week, but after the pilot there was nothing lingering in the air to tempt me back from a character perspective.

It's all familiar stuff, basically: young man receives superpowers, shares his secret with a quirky best-friend, falls in love with a stunning girl at school, has to defend himself from a jock who now perceives him as a threat to his own masculinity, blah-blah-blah. Throw in some mythology with a gang of Hunters who track and kill werewolves (why has nobody in California heard a wolf's howl before if there are werewolf exterminators in the area?), and you have a TV show that's exactly what you expect and nothing more.

If you want something original and edgy, look elsewhere. If you want comfortable familiarity, delivered by a fresh ensemble of sexy American actors, MTV have followed the recipe to create the next iteration of that.

written by Jeff Davis, Jeph Loeb & Matthew Weisman / directed by Russell Mulcahy / 5 June 2011 / MTV