Let's just get this out of the way: Yes, MTV's Teen Wolf is chock full of shirtless hardbodies standing around in locker rooms and various other shirt-free zones, and for some fans of the show that is a big draw. It's silly P&A (pecs and abs, obvi) that the show knows is silly. The series, now in its second season, has become very self-aware; it's started throwing in bits of goofy homoeroticism because it knows its gurgling audience very well. Last week's trip to a gay nightclub (featuring the show's out gay character) was perhaps the apex of Teen Wolf's "Oh ya like that, do ya?" nudging, a giggling bow and flourish to the viewers at home who are tuning in for some summertime skin. So yes, the show has a certain, er, carnal appeal for some, there's no denying that.
But! But. (Butt.) The show is also more than that. Sure it looks like it's lit by a bad high school lighting designer, and yeah, OK, a fair bit of the acting is as wooden as an old coffin, but there's something going in the series, some current of spark and imagination, that makes it one of the most delightful shows currently airing. Teen Wolf is a deceptively smart, sly show, one that knows it's junk food and simply aspires to be the tastiest garbage around. And it succeeds! While the show will never reach the serious/silly sleuthy heights of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, perhaps its chief influence (well, that and True Blood), there is still plenty of satisfying teens-figurin'-it-out mystery intrigue, mixed with snappy humor and a few genuine scares, to make it a worthy successor.
The show's first season dealt with the origin story: Teen wallflower and lacrosse star wannabe Scott McCall is bitten by a werewolf one night and ushered into a nightmare of uncontrollable impulses and hair in strange places. He eventually figured out what was going on with the help of a mean, older (but not that old) werewolf named Derek, and scurried around with his wacky pal Stiles trying to keep his secret and win over the girl of his dreams, Allison. (Dear reader, he did.) It was all fairly traditional stuff, certainly entertaining enough to hold attention, but not exactly appointment television. But in its second season, the show has opened up, loosening but honing its meta sense of humor and driving the stakes down deeper. The mythology of the show has widened — we've got more than just werewolves in play ("How many things are there?" was a great line from this season, uttered with wide-eyed dopiness by Tyler Posey, who plays Scott), the antagonizing cabal of werewolf hunters (of which Allison is a direct descendant, natch) have gotten meaner, and even more people seem completely allergic to shirts — while the romance has gotten pleasantly goopier and the jokes sharper. The acting has also improved, as the young cast settles into the groove of their characters (they actually are real, fleshed-out characters! Sort of!) and the writers give them increasingly clever knots to play with.
It's maybe a bit much to go into all the plot particulars at the moment, if you're curious there are approximately a zillion fan sites that can explain them to you in great detail (peppered with omg shirtless picz), but know that the twists and turns are more exciting and more interesting than anything True Blood has thrown at us in the past couple years. The mythology can be a little unsteady at times — at least Buffy invented the Hellmouth to explain why all this bad shit was happening in one small town — but it at least genuinely and frequently surprises. Villains aren't all bad, heroes aren't all good. There is actually some shading being done on MTV's Teen Wolf, as strange as that is to type.
This is all to say that not everyone who watches, enjoys, and eagerly anticipates episodes of Teen Wolf is some Pervy Mervy. I mean, yes, there is a lot of the Pervy Mervy stuff — Colton Haynes can ya hear me — but there's also a pretty well-built show surrounding all those well-built people. The series' wry willingness to make fun of itself is actually its true source of power; the lack of shirts is all part of a bigger joke. Teen Wolf should never win a single Emmy, never ever. It should probably not win any awards at all! But this is the summer, and we're allowed to indulge in some well-articulated cheese in the hot months, and Teen Wolf is the form at its best. Funny, spooky, sexy (deal with it), and as intriguing as a beach read, it's True Blood without all the lugubrious excess. It might not be for everyone, but it's certainly for way more of you than you'd think. Give it a try! See if you can make fun of it before it makes fun of itself. You might not be able to — it's got super speed after all, and it's only getting stronger.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.