Teen Wolf: Buffy’s Spiritual Successor
By Alex Cranz
It may surprise you to learn that Buffy: The Vampire Slayer didn’t really hit its mark until the third episode of the second season. Before then it was a fun little spring show that somehow showed up again in the fall, but the minute Spike and Drusilla waltzed in and took the school hostage critics and viewers got how great this show could be. It used the supernatural as a metaphor for adolescence and it was funny and, really important here folks, it was scary. The horror component in Buffy is something people tend to forget. When this show wanted to be, it was really flipping scary.
A few shows over the years have tried to be successors to the mantle Buffy created and left behind. Shows that have milked the metaphor or played on the idea of female empowerment or sought that blend of irony, humor and realism.
Teen Wolf has never openly tried to wear that mantle. It’s a dumb show on MTV that’s supposed to cash in on Twilight and that car surfing movie from the 80s. It’s supposed to be crap.
Only at some point after the first episode it went from being a kind of dumb show to the first show I can safely call Buffy’s spiritual successor.
I’m not saying that lightly either. I loved and continue to love all things Buffy. It’s in my top ten shows of all time and I want to have kids just so that I can show it to them when they’re old enough and delight in watching them to discover it.
So let me break things down.
- The supernatural as a metaphor for adolescence. Teen Wolf is this adorable tween who should be at home talking trash on Xbox or discovering internet porn. Then he gets bitten and starts sprouting hair in new places and getting stronger and having issues with horniness and anger. If you were ever a teenage boy or ever lived with one you will recognize these symptoms…even if you weren’t bitten by a lycanthrope. Like Buffy it’s a pretty smart use of the metaphor. Like Buffy this new “gift” is met with delight but also with horror and uncertainty.
- Humor. When the show wants to be funny it can be funny. It not anywhere close to Buffy territory. Heck it’s not even to Nine Lives of Chloe King territory yet, but that’s why this list is made up of more than two things.
- The friends. A good hero has to have good friends. Teen Wolf has his best friend (who I’m pretty sure is gay), he’s got his smoking hot love interest who is secretly from a long line of werewolf hunters and is forbidden, he’s got his antagonistic super popular dude who will mellow with time, grow fat, give birth to Gina Torres and die, and he’s got his weird super popular girl who is a genius that can construct self-igniting fire bombs but hides behind a masque of ditziness. Not quite the Scooby Gang (a distinct lack of Anya) but these are smart and interesting characters who pointedly highlight the struggles of high school. Especially secret genius and bff who may be gay.
- A wise advisor. Only this wise advisor has tribal tattoos and his eyes glow bright blue and he may be dead and he and the Teen Wolf’s BFF might be a little gay for each other.
- The horror element. And here is where Teen Wolf wins me over every time. This show can be scary. Really scary. I have to leave the room because I’m nervous scary. They wisely keep their werewolf out of focus and frequently out of frame and when the beast does appear it’s deeply unsettling. Glowing red eyes might seem kind of silly on the surface but this show makes glowing red eyes a terrifying sight.
What this show lacks? A kickass woman at the center of things. But I’m okay with that. Our adorable little Teen Wolf’s story is authentic and surprisingly rare. Teen shows tend to focus on the female demographic even when guys are the leads and a show about a vulnerable young guy frightened by the changes he’s experiencing? That’s as rare as shows that pass the Bechdel test.
Usually shows about the young guy experience are all about how great sex is and how melancholic the hero is because the world doesn’t get him. Teen Wolf‘s examination of male teen aggressions is welcome, especially as a sister who suffered through years of a brother with testosterone poisoning.
If you’ve skipped out on Teen Wolf until now then take the time to catch up. That way you can be one of the cool kids who watched its first season when it’s in its third and critics are all fellating it.
Fresh on the heels of this article MTV announced that Teen Wolf would be getting a second season. So now you have another reason to watch the excellent first season.