Teen Wolf 1-01: “Pilot”
For no particular reason, August is going to be all-Teen Wolf, all the time around these parts. Every day this month, I’m going to review/recap an episode of the MTV series, starting right here with the pilot.
Why Teen Wolf? Because it’s sort of adorable. Because it’s often smarter and funnier than it has any right to be. Because one of the executive producers/directors is the always-great Russell Mulcahy, who tends to get name-checked all over the place on this site. Because it’s fun.
Before we get started in earnest, here’s a rundown of the major players:
The titular teen wolf, Scott is an agreeable lunkhead with a strong do-good streak, a terrible academic record, and a propensity for whipping his shirt off at the slightest provocation.
Stiles Stilinksi (Dylan O’Brien)
Scott’s best friend and the son of the local sheriff. Hyper, sardonic, and cute as a bug. Has a dazzling array of weird facial expressions.
Allison Argent (Crystal Reed)
The love of Scott’s life. Strengths: Archery, gymnastics, dimples. Weaknesses: Most of her immediate family members (she comes from a long and distinguished line of totally psychotic werewolf hunters) have a keen interest in murdering her boyfriend.
Derek Hale (Tyler Hoechlin)
Lydia Martin (Holland Roden)
Allison’s friend and the object of Stiles’s unrequited love. Beautiful, cold, and shallow, with a strong mercenary streak and a genius-level intellect that emerges at the damnedest times, Lydia is: a) full of stealth awesomeness, and b) perpetually underutilized by this show.
The captain of the school’s champion lacrosse team, Jackson is as spoiled and as beautiful as his girlfriend Lydia. Snarling, venomous, power-crazed, and hilarious. Sadly, Haynes defected over to The CW’s Arrow after Teen Wolf’s second season; MTV should have ponied up whatever sum was necessary to keep him around, as Jackson was a fantastic antagonist. The malevolent, slightly unhinged energy he brought to the show has been sorely missed in the most recent episodes.
Here we go: We open in the small California* town of Beacon Hills, where half of a young woman’s mutilated body has been found in the woods. The sheriff’s teen son Stiles and Stiles’s best friend Scott sneak out at night to search for the rest of the corpse, for no reason other than to satisfy their macabre curiosity (of the revelation that only half of the body has been found, Stiles proclaims, “That’s the best part!”).
Hmm. Let’s hear from Teen Wolf creator Jeff Davis on this: “I originally had this idea in my head to do an homage to Stand By Me, in the beginning. Kids go out and search for a body in the woods, and it’s not quite what they expect.” Fair enough, but the kids in Stand By Me were preadolescent and thus their moral compasses were still underdeveloped. Scott and Stiles, on the other hand, are both sixteen. They’re too old to be given a pass for their creepy-ass behavior here.
*For the first two seasons, before the entire production migrated to Los Angeles, the role of California was played by Georgia. Eh, close enough.
Whilst snooping around the crime scene, Stiles gets caught by his dad and sent home, leaving Scott alone in the woods. In an excellent bit of casting, Stiles’s dad, Sheriff Stilinksi, is played by Linden Ashby, best known as Johnny Cage in Mortal Kombat, which is the second-greatest cheesy mid-nineties film based on an old arcade game, ever. Left on his own, Scott stumbles across the top half of the mutilated corpse, runs afoul of rampaging elk, and gets his torso chomped by a vicious unseen creature. Apart from confiding in Stiles, he keeps the discovery of the corpse a secret. Nope. Wrong. Totally wrong. Here’s the way it works: You find a dead body, you report it to the authorities. You do this even if you're feeling a little unsettled from being recently gnawed upon by a werewolf.
I’m not going to get serious very often while reviewing this show, because it’s a show about sexy teenaged werewolves, but allow me to drive this point home: Prior to creating Teen Wolf, Jeff Davis was the creator of the long-running CBS crime procedural Criminal Minds, a show that, like Teen Wolf, tends to be much better than general word-of-mouth would have you believe. Anyway, Davis served as a co-executive producer on an excellent early Criminal Minds episode titled “The Popular Kids”, which concerned a group of otherwise well-adjusted high school students who find a body in the woods and who leave it there for, like, months, just for the cheap thrill of watching it decompose. The episode made it clear that this was a morally-bankrupt and unnaturally callous thing for them to do. Mandy Patinkin’s FBI-agent character even said so, in as many words, while wearing a expression that was simultaneously grim and world-weary and heartbroken.
So… Scott and Stiles, your actions in this episode with regard to the poor mutilated dead woman would make Mandy Patinkin sad. And Jeff Davis, you know better than this. Due to their behavior here, I didn’t like Scott and Stiles much when I first watched the pilot. That’s a shame, because from the next episode on, these two are a delightful and charming pair of irrepressible scamps.
Morning: It’s the first day of school at Beacon Hills High. Scott’s bite mark has mysteriously healed itself up. We’re introduced to super-pretty transfer student Allison, upon whom Scott develops a massive instant crush, and to queen bee Lydia, who promptly gloms onto Allison and invites her to her swanky back-to-school shindig. We first meet Jackson when he zips into the school parking lot in his silver Porsche, swings open the door with enough force to almost knock Scott off his bicycle, and hisses out a warning to Scott not to mess up his paint job. As character introductions go, it’s not bad, though in future episodes he’ll reach such dizzying heights of hilarious douchebaggery as to make this look like amateur hour.
After school, Scott brings Stiles into the woods to show him where he found the corpse. The corpse is now gone, but they run into the hunky and brooding Derek Hale (Stiles helpfully exposits to Scott that Derek’s entire family was killed in a fire several years back), who glowers handsomely and snarls at them and frightens them off.
Then there’s a meet-cute with Allison at the animal clinic where Scott works part-time. She hits a dog with her car and understandably loses her shit about it, he calms her down and picks eyelashes off her face and asks her to go to Lydia’s party with him, they compare dimples and start to fall in love. They make a beautiful, sweet-natured, deadly dull couple.
I’m going to zip right past a whole bunch of plot, because not every Teen Wolf moment needs to be recounted in loving detail. Rest assured, though, Scott finds some excuse to take off his shirt in pretty much every scene.
Lacrosse team tryouts! Perpetual benchwarmers Scott and Stiles try to make the first line. Scott’s werewolf superpowers (super-hearing, accelerated healing, heightened speed and reflexes, glowing yellow eyes) kick in on the playing field, thus rousing the suspicions of surly team captain Jackson, who slams Scott into lockers and mutters dark threats about how he’s going to uncover all of Scott’s secrets. It’s great. All lacrosse-related Teen Wolf plotlines are sheer gold.
Scott’s new lacrosse prowess leads Stiles to draw the only logical conclusion, i.e. Scott is now a werewolf. I mean, obviously. As there’s a full moon out, Stiles urges Scott to skip the party and cancel his date with Allison. Scott dismisses Stiles’s fears and goes to the damn party anyway…
…where he promptly turns into a werewolf and flees into the woods to avoid ripping Allison to pieces. So that turned out well. Derek, looking waaaaay too old to be hanging out with high schoolers, sidles up to an abandoned and disgruntled Allison at the party, claiming to be one of Scott’s friends, and escorts her home safely.
Suspecting that: a) Derek is also a werewolf (correct!), and b) Derek is going to kill and eat Allison (incorrect!), a fully wolfed-out Scott ambushes Derek in the woods and rolls around on the ground with him for a while. There are many reasons to watch Teen Wolf—come for the hot shirtless guys in overtly homoerotic predicaments, stay for the clever sight gags and witty banter!—but the special effects and werewolf prosthetic makeup maybe shouldn’t be too high on the list.
Their battle is interrupted by the arrival of a team of crossbow-wielding werewolf hunters, led by Allison’s sorta-evil dad, Chris Argent. Chris nails Scott to a tree; Derek rescues him and hauls him to safety, then volunteers to serve as Scott’s personal guru in all werewolf-related matters.
Scott is not thrilled by this turn of events.
An imperfect start to the series—there are definite traces of the great charm and wit that will come to define the first season, but, as is often the case with pilots, all the right elements aren’t quite in place yet. Give it some time. It’ll get there.