What shocked audiences more than anything regarding Lord & Miller’s 21 Jump Street and its recently released sequel 22 Jump Street wasn’t that they were good, it’s that they managed to be original despite being very calculated franchise adaptations from a major Hollywood studio. Both films had everything going against them, and by utilizing everyone’s displeasure of the idea, the directing duo flipped expectation on its head and turned out two of the best comedies in the last two years. Now, you’re probably asking yourself what 22 Jump Street has to do with MTV’s Teen Wolf, which premieres an all new season later tonight. The reason we’re reminding you of the excellence that is the Jump Street film franchise is because it went through exactly the same issues Teen Wolf continues to go through today, even on the date of its fourth season premiere.
In 2011, the last thing anyone was interested in was a gritty-reboot of a Michael J. Fox, ’80s horror-comedy, and they were even less interested in that idea being executed by MTV, a network with next to no modern-day scripted drama experience up to that point. Like so much of Hollywood, viewers immediately expected the drama to be a cash-grab that would barely make it to the end of season one before being cancelled. But, it’s this expectation, or lack thereof, that allowed Criminal Minds creator Jeff Davis to fly the supernatural series under the radar and deliver what, today, is not only the best thing on MTV’s programming slate, but one of the best series on television.
Warning! Spoilers for Teen Wolf Seasons 1-3 follow.
From the word go, what Davis’ Teen Wolf does is subvert expectation. From the truly astounding performances of its cast (Dylan O’Brien and J.R. Bourne in particular) to its off-beat, Buffy-esque – stay with us – style and tone, Teen Wolf has always been hungry to prove its uniqueness. The reason we’re telling you this is because even up to just last season, the series has been non-stop drama since its premiere and, above all else, has been a series willing to take risks. Here’s a recent example:
During the second half of last season, we watched as the team dealt with the issue of a nogitsune (a Japanese trickster spirit) that had been released onto the town of Beacon Hills and was possessing the mind of one Stiles Stilinski (O’Brien). Through the course of the episode run, the series plays an amazing guessing game trying to figure out who the nogitsune has possessed, and when it’s finally revealed to be Stiles, O’Brien puts on one of the best performances of the year as a psychopathic, murdering teenager. The writing was unsettling, the performances were unnerving (especially this little bit in the finale), and the final result that saw one of the show’s four major leads get brutally killed in a katana vs crossbow fight was shocking. (Oh, let’s not forget that part of the season where spirit samurais sliced and diced their way through a hospital at the command of void Stiles, that too.)
Ready to watch yet? No? Okay, let’s keep going.
This series is the closest thing we’ve gotten to Buffy since the famed Whedon show ended in 2003. We already mentioned the tone, but what the series also does, much like the vampire drama, is build dynamic, three dimensional characters in a world that’s normally devoid of them. It would be so easy to simply create a show built on the back of a premise – which Hollywood tries to do all the time – but, creating a lifeless series wasn’t in the cards for Jeff Davis. Instead, the first goal of the showrunner was to prove his characters had soul, and to prove they could carry the series when the premise itself wasn’t going to be enough. That is what makes us want to preach the gospel of Teen Wolf to you lovely readers. Through witty dialogue, a sense of purpose and willingness to admit their faults, these characters prove they are people you want to spend time with, and what is great television if not that?
MTV’s Teen Wolf had no reason to be great; hell, it barely had reason to be passable. But, because of that lack of requirement to be great, it chose to be that and more, simply to prove that it could. At times, it even feels like the series plays a catchy top 20 pop song and shows off the shirtless abs of a gay werewolf (we’d love dive into the fantastic equality work this series does as well, but we don’t have three days to spare) just to say those elements can be used the right way, and in the only way that matters: to benefit the story. Teen Wolf is a series about story and character first, premise second, and that’s why you need to be watching it.
Teen Wolf premieres tonight at 10/9c on MTV.
Got a favorite character moment? What are you most looking forward to in Season 4? Let us know in the comments below.