Friday, June 3, 2011

MTV's Teen Wolf is All Bite, No Sparkle

As Hollywood scours the deepest recesses of our treasured youth, one thing is becoming painfully clear. THEY’VE ALMOST RUN OUT OF MATERIAL! Luckily, there is one source for “inspiration” that can always be sequeled, re-invented, re-imagined or flat out spackled up on the big screen in 3D. That mystic vein which shall forever be strip mined and not go horror. This weekend, MTV tests that theory with their new show Teen Wolf.

The original told the story of a dorky teen stumbling around his high school, desperate for popularity and the hot girl breasts that go with it. Most kids his age only have to worry about puberty and the hairy palms thing remains a myth. In the case of Scott Howard, his coming of age story comes with full body hair, fangs and claws. As this is the 80’s and we are talking about Michael J. Fox, this werewolf falls somewhere between the classic and the throat ripping variety. The most angry you’ll see him will be when he’s tearing into obnoxious dude clothing. Of course Scott learns about himself and the wolf inside him is just another part of life as the touching keyboard music plays, his basketball team is victorious and he gets the girl he is meant to be with. Awwww. For once (in a positive way) you are thinking, in what awesome ways can MTV fuck with this scenario? We had some time with the man behind TV’s new wolf pack to answer just that.

Enter Jeff Davis, writer of the new Teen Wolf TV series, who is backed up by Russel Mulcahy (Razorback/ Highlander) directing the first 6 episodes. Jeff, an admitted comic book and genre fan, but for something like Teen Wolf, the audience will want to know about his 80’s movie tastes. Among his favorites are Goonies, the Breakfast Club and Lost Boys. In the case of Teen Wolf, Jeff remarks the movie is really more of a comedy…but is REALLY masking the fact that it’s a Basketball movie. I recalled a lot of the movies of that era included the lead characters on a team sport together or having something of the sort to rally around. I wondered what marketing guru insisted on this trend. Jeff suggests Karate Kid had more than a little to do with that. Put a sport in your movie! That’s the ticket! Jeff goes on to say that Basketball and Football were eliminated as the sports of choice in MTV’s Teen Wolf, as we’ve seen it many, many times before. “The sport in our show is lacrosse. And it’s an emerging sport, it’s getting bigger and bigger, and it’s got a very cool pedigree, I think. It’s kind of a very aggressive, violent sport. It was originally created by Native American tribes who would use it to dispute arguments between tribes. So that’s fascinating to me. And I just remember it from high school. All the cool kids walking around with their lacrosse sticks and it’s just a really cool sport. And it also allows us to have him turn into a werewolf on the field and no one notices. One of the first scenes is him discovering his new reflexes and agility through lacrosse. So it’ll be fun.”

The central character is now named Scott McCall, but never fear..some familiar items were kept in place for the sake of retro love. Both Stiles and Coach Bobby Finstock get to keep their names and essential personalities. I asked if this version of the tale focuses more on the entirety of the high school, giving the other characters living with a werewolf in their midst a chance to shine. Jeff says the focus is still zeroed in on Scott, but we will get plenty of time to explore the rest of the cast. Jeff says “The driving engine of this story is this kid who’s turned into a werewolf and he’s not the only one.” With this suggestion of more werewolves on the scene past Scott and his dad, I wondered what sort of tone MTV would be going for. It would be easy to just recreate a sort of Twilight vibe and cash in on all those tween viewers tuning in for a sloppy emo love story every week. Jeff insists the tone will be dark and sexy, but also a lot of fun. “Our tone comes back to much more The Lost Boys, which was just as funny as it was scary, which we liked quite a bit. I think many of the genre shows take themselves very seriously. We decided we wanted to add a little more fun, because the werewolf is not like a vampire, in that is has to kill. The werewolf is granted abilities and needs to learn how to control them, so they’re much more like super heroes to me. The pilot itself is very much a werewolf origin story, but it’s also a kid feeling extraordinary abilities, so it’s kind of a Spider-Man story. He’s kind of like Peter Parker as well.”

All this talk of super heroes and sexy, dark werewolves prowling the night is all fine and good, but horror fans only care about one thing…and it is the one thing Hollywood mucks up more often than not. Transformation. MTV is no stranger to taking chances, so I wondered how far they would take subject matter like this? Jeff explains they are going to go as dark and adult as the powers that be will allow. He also boasts working on the only werewolf show utilizing full makeups! Thinking about practical effects and prosthetics back on TV brings a smile to my face as I start to think I’ll actually be watching something on MTV. I’m told the crew that handled duties on Predators and The Walking Dead tackled the wolf makeups, and on the strength of that knowledge, my smile grows bigger. Jeff builds on my reaction saying “The cool thing too is that what we’re going to learn on the show is that there’s not just one type of werewolf. When we were sitting down to come up with our mythology, we came up with three types of werewolves which I call the alpha, beta and omega. One is the full monster, one is the teen wolf, which is the beta, which is kind of like the baby wolf, and the other is the omega, the idea being that, if you’re the most powerful kind of werewolf, you could transform your body completely and disappear into nature with your full intellect intact. We have good werewolves, and we have ones who are on the moral fence. You’re going to see a background of humans vs. werewolves, and it may be a kind of us against them. Our two main werewolves, the one character is named Derek and one is Scott. Scott’s a teen wolf, Derek’s another werewolf and when I described those characters to them, I kind of described them as Scott as Professor X, and Derek as Magneto. Magneto doesn’t certainly think of himself as a bad guy, but he does very bad things for his people.”

Jeff went on to say there will certainly be some people that know werewolves exist and some that don’t (unlike the movie where Scott transforms and becomes a high school sensation.) This won’t be the type of show were the government knows either…at least for the first season. “We’ve talked about that and agreed for at least the first season, to not get too into the realm of science fiction, because one of the things I’d rather not see is hypodermics being taken out and werewolves being tested on.” MTV will stick to the core story of Scott coming to grips with his new found power and his place, not only in the human world, but in this new larger world with other werewolves around him. Toss in a love interest and now you’ve got the all important teen angst. The boy in love who has a terrible secret. Jeff adds “It’s also going to be a thriller. That’s our first intent, to make a really thriller, with twists and turns, and action, and to make it scary as well. There are a lot of twists and turns throughout the season.”

With the mention of creating a show for MTV that might actually be scary, I pressed the question of how far MTV would allow things to go. “Well, the funny thing is, during the pilot process, when I wrote the script, they kept telling me edgier, push the envelope, goes as far as you can. And that’s something you don’t really get on network television. They usually give the opposite. We can’t obviously go hard R, but we’ll be able to do quite a few things you wouldn’t necessarily see on network television. I think the best writing right now is being done on cable, and my two favorite shows are on a channel called American Movie Classics, Breaking Bad and Mad Men. The things they do on Breaking Bad constantly surprise me. If in my own writing I could come close to that show, I would be a very happy person. Networks are going for a line drive where we’d much rather swing for home run.”

Teen Wolf premieres this Sunday, June 5, at 11 p.m., right after the MTV Movie Awards!

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