Fur. Growling. Eyes that glow. Awkward teenage interactions. Makeup and CGI that probably could have used a bigger budget.
These are all hallmarks of the popular MTV show, Teen Wolf. Though it pretty much has nothing to do with the original 1985 movie, the show was inspired by the film's success and general premise. A couple of character names even followed over from the film to the show as an homage.
But Teen Wolf has made its rounds on the internet as a series that had many mixed opinions and reviews. It's often made fun of because it's so highly geared towards teenagers, has infamously dance-like fight scenes, and doesn't always have the best makeup or CGI to capture the essence of its supernatural creatures. Plus, there's just a lot of growling.
With six seasons and 100 episodes, it does beg the question - is Teen Wolf actually well-written or did its success ride solely on having attractive actors?
SPOILER ALERT - I will be discussing several spoilers throughout this blog post. This includes character deaths/departures and plot twists.
As a fan of the show, I've seen it twice now. Watching it for a second time really made me notice more about the storytelling and how it changes over time.
There's a lot to talk about here, so I've created a character graphic in case you have no idea what I'm talking about and need a reference.
To make sure I'm considering all aspects of storytelling, I'm going to break this down into four categories - season arc, humor, plot twists, and character arc. At the end of this, I'll also be ranking the various story arcs by how well-written I think they are.
Over six seasons, the show was broken into eight story arcs. Seasons 3 and 6 had two arcs in them, each with distinctive storytelling. It might get a little confusing, but I'm going to try to keep them as simple as possible.
The early seasons of Teen Wolf took awhile to hit their stride. Season 1 spent a lot of time focused on the setting and familiarizing the audience with the large cast of characters, causing the story to fall to the side. The developing romance between Scott and Allison is far more interesting than the mystery of who the Alpha werewolf is, especially when we learn that Allison's family hunts werewolves. And though Season 2 has a stronger plot, its somewhat confusing execution can make it hard to follow. Both times I've watched this show, I found myself looking online for thorough episode breakdowns to help me keep track of what was happening in Season 2.
Most of the show's audience can agree that Season 3 is easily the best season of the entire show, not only in ratings and viewers, but also in overall execution. It peaked in writing and execution, allowing the story to shine through the actors' talents. Personally, I think one of the reasons why this did so well is because Stiles became a much more central character in both arcs. His exploration of his mother's death and how that affected him not only shows off Dylan O'Brien's acting skills, it also shows a character depth that we don't really get with the other characters. Plus, his portrayal of the Nogitsune opposite himself - two brilliant minds battling each other - makes for a thrilling arc in the second half of the season. Season 3 also begins the show's much darker plots, but it balances the heavy subject matter with clever humor and amazing character development. It also helps that the pacing is immaculate, never leaving the audience bored or feeling like the story is rushed.
Continuing with the strong arcs in Season 4, this storyline did a fantastic job of calling back to earlier seasons while setting up for future seasons. The writers introduced a younger cast, reminding audiences of what it was like when the show first started and how much the initial cast has grown.
With 20 episodes to tell a whole story, Season 5 has the longest arc in the show's history. Personally, I've always found it a bit confusing because it starts off in two timelines before finally meeting around Episode 16. Most of the season is told in flashbacks, occasionally switching to the present to give viewers more context about the past. However, the long arc can drag at times and be frustrating to watch, especially when we learn that Stiles was right about Theo from the beginning. The weird path the writers took Kira on didn't help the story either. She spent most of the season being confused about her powers because she couldn't control them, only to be written out in the season finale because I'm pretty sure the network knew they were going to cancel the show after one more season. It was disappointing since there are no other non-Western supernatural creatures in the pack after Kira's departure, and she was beginning to get a really interesting arc as a powerful Kitsune. But, alas, they had to give her a strange exit that has her promising Scott that she'll come back to the pack eventually, only for him to start dating Malia at the end of the final season.
Now, the last season has the lowest ratings ever. It really tanked in viewers and the storyline went downhill too. The writers had to rework a lot of the original storyline due to Dylan O'Brien's injury from filming The Death Cure, causing Stiles' character to appear far less over the whole season. Personally, I think 6A's arc is quite masterful for only having 10 episodes and tying in foreshadowing from the previous season into this one. The way the writers prepare for the older cast members to make their exit and handle the idea of being removed everyone's memories works well in the short time allowed. However, the second half of the season falls completely flat and leaves a weak exit for the show's cancellation. Not only is it barely memorable, it scrambles to close off everyone's storylines in a way that doesn't do them justice. Scott begins dating a third member of his pack, Malia, which is just strange because she dated his best friend while he dated two of her best friends. And though it's sweet that they brought back several characters, the show undoes it's own rules about the Alpha status when Scott "leaves" it to Liam and goes off to college.
If there's one thing that Teen Wolf does right, it's humor. The writers are able to infuse an incredible sense of humor into their characters and story arcs. No matter the situation, there's always a guarantee that you'll laugh at some point.
The show captures teenaged awkwardness perfectly, making the audience re-live the cringe-worthy moments of being in high school and trying to figure everything out. Character personalities are also balanced and played off each other with natural ease, showing a wonderful understanding of how each character interacts with the others. Plus, a great use of sarcasm, comedic timing, and humorous situations easily explains why there are so many YouTube compilations showcasing the hilarious dynamics.
It does have to be acknowledged that the humor isn't for everyone though. Several of the characters are incredibly sarcastic and deadpanned, which could annoy some viewers. Nearly a third of the humor can be classified as slapstick, a style that some might consider immature and stupid. Those moments are great when they're executed perfectly, while falling flat in some other places. Later seasons of the show include humorous moments at the end of serious ones, cheapening the effect slightly.
However, I consider the humor to be one of the show's strongest qualities. No matter how dark the storyline gets, there's a balance that reminds us how young the characters are and how sometimes, the best way to get through a tough spot is to find the humor in it. My personal favorite moments are between the stoic characters and the sarcastic ones, making it some of the rare times I laugh out loud at scripted TV shows.
This is one of the most important elements in a show like this. With all the supernatural creatures at play, it takes a lot to twist mythology and surprise audience members with something new. No one thinks twice about werewolves, but you do stop short when Kanimas are brought into the mix, like Season 2's exploration of teenaged identity. The constant twists with this season made it hard for me to keep track of what was going on at times, but the final revelation did make it worth it.
Once again, Season 3 takes the cake with how the writers planned and hinted at the twists to come. The foreshadowing in this season is immaculate, making it a beautiful viewing experience as pieces of the story start falling into place and things become clearer. The easy connection between 3A's Alpha Pack and 3B's Nogitsune arc also shows how much thought and care went into crafting the plot twists. Not only do they handle Allison's death in one of the best character exits on the show, they make it one of the most impactful moments in the pack's dynamics. And though it's a difficult scene to watch because everyone is heartbroken, it was a realistic reminder that not all of the good guys make it out of the fight. However, the twist that really seals the deal for 3B is the revelation of the Nogitsune and Stiles' involvement. We see Stiles spiral over the course of several episodes, wondering if he's really going to end up like his mom. The episodes in Eichen House are so hard to watch, but they make an excellent backdrop for everyone to wonder if Stiles has finally gone insane like he fears he will. Turning the smartest pack member into one of the most dangerous villains makes for one of the most brilliant twists I've ever come across - one that still gives me goosebumps now.
The call back to Peter's during Season 4's plot twist wasn't so much for the sake of shock, but rather for Lydia's character development. Nothing about this season screams "surprise," but it had its share of twists and turns. The same can be said of Season 5, where the major plot twists really have very little to do with the villains, but rather focus on forcing character development and challenging the pack's dynamics. I remember crying when Scott died and his mom was trying so desperately to bring him back. But the best twist of all was definitely in the last couple of episodes, when Deucalion turned out to be semi-good, Gerard got what he deserved again, and Mason got to experience his own smart-guy-being-possessed moments.
The final season is pretty much devoid of plot twists (heh, because Stiles isn't here much and he was Void Stiles when he was the Nogitsune #JokesYouDontGetUnlessYouveSeenTheShow). Other than Stiles being taken, nothing twisty really happens in 6A. At this point, we're so used to Beacon Hills High School's teachers being bad that anyone who appears in the classroom is suspicious, even if they turn out to be good. And if the teacher is remotely hot? That's even worse because they'll definitely try to kill everyone at some point. Maybe we can count Jackson's return as a plot twist, especially since he still has his tail. Otherwise, the end of the show barely registers in my mind, kind of like when the Horsemen take people.
Like many other shows, Teen Wolf has its hit-or-miss moments with character arcs. Scott's pack generally has decent developments and storylines, though some character fail to live up to their potential.
It's always been interesting to me that some of the best characters on the show don't have as much time devoted to their arcs. But that's what makes them great characters - their growth in a short span of time.
As the show's focus, Scott goes through minimal development from Season 1-3A. It's not until he begins showing potential as the True Alpha that his character begins changing more. Before that, I'd argue that 70% of his focus is regarding his rocky love life with Allison and the other 30% is what's happening around them. But as the hero archetype of the show, his greatest fault is how much his willingness to believe people and how loyal he is. It's not the most original character arc, but it works for him. What doesn't work is how many relationships he goes through with his female pack members. Dating Allison until she breaks up with him at the end of Season 2, dating Kira until she leaves to learn control at the end of Season 5, and then somehow ending up in a weird romantic tension with Malia that ends with them being a couple. Scott's first two relationships do wonders for his self-discovery and pushes him to be a better leader, but the romance between him and Malia is awkward and uncomfortable for its duration.
Even if you're not a fan of the show, you've probably heard that people enjoy Stiles character the most. The writers did an excellent job with his arc, even when his character had to be given a soft exit in 6B because of Dylan O'Brien's injuries. Not only does Stiles serve as the brains and comic relief, he's arguably the most developed character, going through several distinctive arcs of his own throughout the show. He starts off as the awkward, sarcastic kid who can't get a date and grows into brains of the pack, always being ahead of everyone else when it comes to realizing that something is wrong. He's also the only character who actively deals with mental health problems from the very beginning. As a child, he experienced panic attacks after his mom's death, which also leaves him with a lot of anxiety in general that he'll lose more people he loves or that he'll get the same brain tumor his mom did. With his brilliant mind also comes paranoia that works for and against him, depending on what's happening around him. However, all of this turns him into the most well-rounded character of the show.
The growth of Allison's character takes a few sketchy turns when she's being mentored by her sociopathic aunt, but otherwise, she has a great journey from a scared girl to a strong woman. The difference in her confidence from Season 1-3B is astounding, especially as she grows into a leader that rivals Scott's skills. Like her father, Mr. Argent, she's a brilliant tactician and has the ability to compartmentalize when necessary. And even though her relationship with Isaac, a beta werewolf who leaves in Season 4, was questionable, it showcases her empathy. Of all the characters in the early seasons, Allison also experiences the most heartbreaking losses. First her aunt, then her mother, and then breaking up with Scott so she can rediscover herself. It doesn't help that her aunt and mother died because of werewolves or that her family hunts them, but Allison steers her family in a new direction that ends up creating a really sweet bond between her father and Scott's pack. Her death scene is still one of the show's most memorable moments, and it does her justice as she dies fighting for her friends and revealing a game changer that allows them to beat the Nogitsune in the season finale. And the show continues paying homage to her in seasons that follow, making her one of the pillars of the pack and the show.
Like a lot of teen shows, Teen Wolf needed a ditzy character too. Lydia starts off as an annoying popular girl who only cares about clothes and boys, but the show quickly reveals that she might be smarter than she lets on. A teacher confirms that she's likely a genius, and Lydia confirms this when declares the desire to win the Fields Medal and casually deciphers Archaic Latin in Season 2. The growth from a ditz to becoming the resident genius/Banshee makes her one of the most important characters. It's highly unlikely that people would survive if it wasn't for her, but she does also discover the dead bodies because she's a Harbinger of Death. Her strength as a character ultimately lies in her ability to be herself no matter what and not fear judgement. When she embraces her intelligence, it doesn't take away from how much she enjoys dressing up and looking good. As a Banshee, she learns the ropes quickly and finds herself growing in powers though she might not understand them all yet. And though she has several questionable romances of her own, Lydia does end up with the first person who ever recognized how brilliant she was - Stiles.
I find similar arcs in Malia and Liam, both having to deal heavily with aggression and impulse control. To me, neither of them grows much throughout the show, even though their arcs suggest that they do. Both become far more confident in their abilities because of Scott's leadership, but tend to flounder when they have no one to guide or lead them. This is evident in Malia's revenge plan in Season 5 as she sloppily tries to find her mother and barely makes it out alive. Likewise, Liam struggles to find his footing as a leader in 6B when Scott prepares to leave for college. Though he's supposed to take care of the younger pack members, Liam usually ends up letting his romantic troubles get in the way. Combined with his severe aggression issues, he and Malia tend to repeat the same cycles rather than breaking out of them.
Of the supporting characters, Derek easily becomes the most interesting as he goes from being a packless werewolf into an Alpha that can fully shift into wolf form. He starts out as a harsh, stoic loner with anger issues, but slowly grows into a caring figure before making a soft exit in Season 4. What makes him a great character isn't just his growth, but also the fact that he's secretly one of the funniest people on the show.
Of course, there are also characters that will never cease to be annoying - Gerard, Kate, Peter, and Theo being some of them. Not only are they some of the most stagnant characters, they also repeat the same cycles and are varying versions of each other, all likely sociopathic. Personally, I like to throw Liam's girlfriend, Hayden, into this category of annoying too. Not because she's sociopathic or evil, but because her decision making skills are terrible and she comes across as incredibly unlikeable no matter what she does. From her first to final appearance, she remains a one-dimensional character with few to no desires and little personality, making her one of the most frustrating young pack members the show created.
Now, I could easily spend hours analyzing more of the large cast of characters on Teen Wolf, but I think the show's writing ends up falling in favor of the supporting characters. I don't mean that in the sense of them being secondary, but rather that they're the ones working behind the leaders to make sure things actually go right. Several of them could easily be leaders too, but it's their willingness to let other people shine that makes them such great characters in the first place. Additionally, the show creates several fantastic parental characters who actually take the time to understand their children and support them. Scott's mom is an unsung hero of the show, and Stiles' dad really needs a pay raise for hiding all the supernatural crime happening in his town. Having always been a father figure to Scott, Deaton pushes the pack to grow and has no problem leaving them to handle local drama while he jets off to strange places to bring back valuable information that helps the good guys win.
However, I do have to say that at the end of the day, more of the show's character fall into the "frustrating" category rather than the "enjoyable" category. Many of them repeat the same mistakes or each other's mistakes, thinking there can be a different outcome. And in an effort to recreate the the dynamics of Scott's pack with Liam and his friends, the latter just falls into a second-rate comparison of a dynamic that can never be replicated.
- Season 3B - Nogitsune arc
- Season 3A - The Alpha Pack arc
- Season 4 - The Deadpool arc
- Season 6A - The Horsemen arc
- Season 5 - The Chimera arc
- Season 2 - The Kanima arc
- Season 1 - The First arc
- Season 6B - The Hunter War arc
Personally, this is how I would rank the show's story arcs, taking into consideration all the elements I discussed above. Even if I took out my personal feelings around the show, I can objectively say that everything peaked in Season 3 and went downhill on both sides of that. The show is kind of like a triangle with Season 3 at the top, though I'd like to think that Season 6A was a small upward bump on the way down.
With that insanely long ramble behind us, do I think Teen Wolf is actually well-written? Objectively and subjectively, no.
That might surprise some of you considering how much I just talked about the positive things the show did. However, the inconsistencies in writing quality make it unreliable from season to season. You never know what you're going to get or if you're going to be majorly confused, which is a sign of rocky storytelling in general. Plus, the significant difference in quality between Season 3 and everything else does make me wonder if that season was a fluke or if the writers just didn't have the room to recreate that magic in other seasons.
Despite my love for the show, I do only love it for certain arcs and characters. The humor is probably my favorite thing about Teen Wolf, but I don't think that's a good enough reason for this to be considered a well-written, quality TV show. It's definitely not something I recommend to other people because I know how bad it is objectively.
I guess that was basically my long-winded way of saying that most of what you hear online about this show is true. If you didn't follow it from the earlier seasons, it's not worth trying to start now. And though it will have a special place in my heart because of certain characters and arcs, it's definitely not a show that I return to for quality purposes.
What's a poorly written show that still holds a special place in your heart?