First episode impressions: ‘Teen Wolf’ (TV review)

The aspect of the new “Teen Wolf” (8 p.m. Central Mondays on MTV) series that has gotten the most criticism is that Scott (Tyler Posey), the wolf-boy in this version, plays lacrosse, whereas Michael J. Fox played basketball in the 1985 movie.

Certainly, the outcry over the basketball-to-lacrosse switch suggests that the franchise has a passionate fan base. Another change from the original is the grimmer look — something that’s obvious just from watching clips from each version.

On a side note, I should confess that I haven’t seen the movie, although it’s one of those films that’s so ingrained in pop culture that I feel like I’ve seen it. I have an impression of it being an ’80s classic, yet it only scores a 5.6 on the IMDB ratings, which is actually below the 6.0 of the TV series.

I don’t mind the movie-to-TV changes; if you’re going to remake something, you should have a fresh take on it, otherwise it’s not worth doing. But I do mind that — despite the different sport for the main character and the more moody look — MTV’s “Teen Wolf” doesn’t feel fresh. It doesn’t feel necessary.

This is the second-straight review (following TNT’s “Falling Skies”) where I have to admit that the show is perfectly competent yet I don’t feel a pressing need to tune in.

“Teen Wolf” stars your standard pretty-looking 20-somethings who perhaps also have careers as models. Crystal Reed, as Scott’s love interest Allison, is the most interesting actor, but that’s only because she has a cute dimple; I’m impressed that they allowed someone with such a blemish to be the lead actress. Beyond that, there’s Scott’s best friend, Stiles; an Andy Roddick-looking werewolf, Derek, who is introducing Scott to the wolf culture; and an antagonistic classmate who insists he’s going to find out Scott’s secret. Of course, there are also a couple of werewolf hunters: Allison’s dad and aunt.

Every character on the show is closely involved in the werewolf mythology, so even though the story is being opened up by going from a single movie to a theoretically long-running TV series, it still seems claustrophobic. It’s also dark, but only in its washed-out cinematography; although it has evocative sets such as the run-down house where Derek hangs out, this isn’t a mood piece. The interaction between Scott and Stiles is jokey, and the relationship between Scott and Allison is flirty. While the editing isn’t as heavy on quick cuts as the MTV stereotype suggests, it doesn’t allow you to soak up any atmosphere, either. And yet the plot still moves slowly.

The talks between Scott and Derek are heavy-handed, highlighting the conflict between Scott’s human nature and his newfound animal nature. They also have overly stylized fights before they chat, perhaps to show off the admittedly well-done wolf make-ups. The human-animal dichotomy, of course, is the backbone of every werewolf yarn. It was the heart of Oz’s character arc on “Buffy,” which lasted a half-dozen episodes spread out over a few seasons; frankly, that was a perfectly satisfying amount of werewolf eps for me.

“Teen Wolf,” though, is a whole show about werewolf culture, it unfolds deliberately (we’re four episodes in, and Scott still hasn’t learned the identity of the “alpha” wolf that bit him), and it shows no hints of offering anything fresh.

If this is your first exposure to a werewolf yarn, I guess it’s not a bad introduction. It’s competently made, it looks nice, and the writers understand the source material. But if you’re looking for something original, you won’t go all feral with excitement for “Teen Wolf.”

What do you think of the MTV remake? And do I need to see the 1985 movie?