sub_divided: cos it gets me through, hope you never stop (Default)
[personal profile] sub_divided
Convinced by this GIF set to watch Teen Wolf. The first eight episodes are really, really good and make you feel good about the state of cable television. The second season drops most of what was good about the first season in favor of being more generic. ;_; Still, at least I have the memories.

Let's start with the positives. Here’s what’s great about the first season:

1. When he doesn’t have that overly-intense, borderline-psycho look in his eyes, Scott (the Teen Wolf) is one of those dreamy and unfocused guys whose main charm is that he actually listens to women (sometimes even including his great single mom). Apart from actively pursuing the girl, he is a passive character who can generally be counted on to prioritize his love life over whatever very sensible and intelligent (or alternately crazy and dangerous) thing his best friend is currently pushing him to do. The gif maker didn’t like this version of Scott, but I loved it because it left more space for the girlfriend and best friend characters to really shine (and they are great). Also the fact that Scott's regular and full-moon selves are distinctly different allows the writers to explore "becoming a werewolf" as a metaphor for mania (e.g. starting about 25 minutes into this episode).

2. Stiles!!! Stiles is the best character. He’s like this hyperactive nerd, but with a huge attraction to danger and dangerous situations, and an ability to fill in Scott’s awkward silences with constant (entertaining) chatter. Although he's passionately nerdy about helping Scott figure out the werewolf thing and is generally a supportive friend, he also pursues his own goals, or in other words isn't just a sidekick. Actually I am kind of disappointed that "he and Derrick are boyfriends" from the GIF set didn’t turn out to be really true, since that would have given the character more screentime.**

3. Not as impressed by the way the show handles Alison - it almost feels like they make her physically strong (e.g. good with a bow, good at gymnastics) because it’s an easier way to signal "strength" than mental toughness - but she is a very sympathetic character, not just because of her bad family situation, but also because she is nice on top of being pretty and smart. Also, the chemistry between her and Scott is real, yo.

4. OTOH, the other main female character in Teen Wolf, Lydia, is mentally tough and a good contrast to Alison. The show was doing something really interesting with her and Jackson, the seemingly dominant guy (captain of the lacrosse team etc) who is actually deeply insecure. Actually they are sort of an insecure-narcissistic pair, pretty well suited to each other, until Jackson decides he'd rather use Alison to figure out Scott's secrets and Lydia never recovers from the breakup. Too bad they had to make her CRAZY in season 2 >_>.

5. The way the show is shot, the writing. Teen Wolf really does have the feel of an 80s teen movie, kind of de-saturated and slow(er)-paced. There are more shots of people staring intensely at each other and fewer abrupt scene changes. People talk less, but their individual lines are better and the show will often refer back to things that happened earlier in the episode in a wordless shot, trusting the audience to get it. It's not the same post-Buffy pacing we are used to, but it's very good.

6. The soundtrack, 'cause it's this funny combination of 80s music and 00s music that sounds like 80s music, as if we are in an alternate reality where the 90s never happened.

7. But the characters all have cell phones, use computers, use services like Find My Phone and Skype, etc etc. This show handles technology really well.

8. Horror-movie shots!. Actually this is still true in season 2 and might even be a bit better this season - not everything is downhill. The best shots are the ones where the characters are having vivid horrible nightmares that turn out to have actually happened. Approve.

Things I don’t like about season 2, compared to season 1 (SPOILERS):

1. Focus on plot over smoldering intense looks.

1b. ...Actually it’s not the plot I object to, it’s the particular kind of plotting, which is all about misdirection - making you think the bad guy might be this person when really it’s this person, etc. You can’t build up a bunch of false leads without dropping something somewhere, so the writing suffers. Also, the focus on plot twists ironically makes it more predictable, like a procedural, and takes the emphasis away from lycanthropy-as-metaphor-for-madness.

2. Since Scott has now "mastered" his wolf side and the bad alpha wolf is out of the picture, the new focus in season 2 is our-team-versus-your-team. This is fine, except they decided to make Scott the alpha-personality of his group, shifting the focus away from the canonically smarter Alison and Stiles, while the group is fighting against a wolf pack we are supposed to dislike because they are too hierarchical. Also, Scott and friends never tell anyone else the truth and always act on their own, but they are fighting against a wolf-hunter clan whose main issues are that they don’t follow a code and are too secretive. MIXED MESSAGES. (Actually no, the message is clearly "you should root for this guy because he is the main character").

3. Characters become more stereotypical in this season. Scott is the decision-maker and leader, and also develops into a kind of bland I-must-save-everyone hero; Stiles is the sidekick best friend who uses sarcasm to cover up for the fact that he is powerless; Alison becomes the put-upon girlfriend who has to give up most other things in her life to be with Scott; Lydia is still a genius but also a crazy person and her craziness makes her weak and isolates her; Jackson becomes even more of a jerk and also stops being the smart, perceptive guy who was able to figure out Scott's secret just by paying attention and digging around. (OK, so maybe Jackson hasn't changed much.)


TL;DR: Teen Wolf becomes yet another show about a supernaturally powered hero and his group of friends who must keep their crimefighting (and dating) a secret from their teachers and parents and friends. Less Teen Wolf and more Buffy, complete with evil principal. I like Buffy a lot, but Teen Wolf had a very different kind of excellence going on for a while there. No matter what, everyone should still watch the first eight episodes.

**Maybe it's just because I was looking for it (thanks to the GIF set), but it actually did seem for a while like the show was going to pair up Stiles and Derrick - they gave Stiles a bunch of lines about the show’s canonically gay character ("I don’t think he likes me - am I not attractive to gay guys?") and spent some time building up chemistry by getting them alone together and then cutting between shots of Derrick looking intense and scary and Stiles looking scared but not repulsed. I suppose making the best/only friend gay would have thrown the main character’s sexuality too much into question, though. (But how can you watch those scenes between him and Alison and not see how totally into her he is???) If I was a writer on this show, here's how I would handle it: Stiles confuses danger and attraction and falls for Derrick, who falls for Stiles’ talent for filling up silences with endless entertaining chatter. Stiles and Derrick attempt a relationship but it's too fraught, and ends badly. Stiles then experiences a crisis of sexual identity, concludes he must be gay, and goes to a club to try to pick up guys (because when he decides to do something, he does it 100%), but there’s no one there who attracts him and it doesn’t quite work. It seems that some kind of werewolf magic bewitched him, and he’s not actually gay. Later, though, he realizes that he is attracted to men - particularly the overly intense ones - on some level, even though he is like 70% straight. Because desire is complex and bisexuality exists, yo.

***Also in my mental version of Teen Wolf, Alison knows about her family from the beginning, and has an early hunch about Scott when she sees him play for the lacrosse team/when he hands her a pen on the first day of school. She brings the dog to the clinic and agrees to date him because she wants to see if it is true. However, Scott is so seemingly harmless and easy-going that she decides he can’t possibly be a werewolf, and also at some point realizes that she has fallen in love with him. She dismisses evidence that he's anything besides a regular teenager because she likes him so much, and her family focuses on Stiles as the second werewolf. When it turns out that Scott is the wolf, after all, she makes the tough choice to protect him from her family, since he's nothing like the things she was told about werewolves growing up. She starts to question the things her family has told her and eventually rebels against them.

...Yeah, that was never going to happen. (Sigh.)
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January 2013


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