Teen Wolf starts off season 2 (premiere: June 3 and 4, 2012 on MTV) brash and cocky, sure of its appeal, and ready to kick its conflicts up a notch. If adrenaline is the key to avoiding a sophomore slump, Teen Wolf should have no trouble riding out its second season.
With "the Bite" You Get Gym Membership
Part of Teen Wolf's success is that it knows how to present itself. The producers' knowledge of the draw provided by their muscled-up male stars isn't just winked at, it's showcased: the heavily stylized new opening titles provide an excuse to kick off every viewing with a shirtless study of buff star Tyler Posey, who plays the titular lead Scott, and the even buffer Tyler Hoechlin, who plays new alpha-wolf Derek. The very first scene of season 2 is gym-hardened Colton Haynes (Jackson) emerging in slow motion from a lake, for some reason, with what's left of his shirt ripped to artful shreds.
But creator Jeff Davis (who wrote the season 2 premiere, "Omega") and the savvy cast and production team have worked hard to make sure that Teen Wolf is also smarter than that. It provides its relatively few doses of random, more or less gratuitous male (and, very rarely, female) nudity as sauce for casual viewers, even as it gets down to the business of making life difficult for the growing werewolf population of Beacon Hills, northern California (as doubled by various places near Atlanta). Last year I complained that Teen Wolf had a tendency to talk about a "curse" even as it emphasized how awesome it was to be a werewolf (basically, "the bite" gives you a bunch of superpowers). To a certain extent that's still true, but over season 1 and now, especially, in season 2 the danger to Scott, Derek, and the other wolves has been dramatically and continuously ratcheted up.
All Kinds of Problems
Intelligently, the peril they face comes in different forms of increasing levels of horror. Right in plain sight is the straightforward threat of the hunters, and even as Scott establishes a rickety truce with Mr. Argent (JR Bourne), the menacing, wolf-hating father of his girlfriend Allison (the always fresh Crystal Reed), than the most noticeable of this year's new stars shows up: Michael Hogan as Allison's grandfather Gerard, who's so fired up with fury over the death of his (evil, but that's beside the point) daughter Kate and the end of last season at the hands of a werewolf (the old alpha Peter Hale, also evil, but also beside the point) that you expect him to march into the woods and rip open the throat of every werewolf who crosses his line of sight with his bare hands.
A second layer of threat is forming in the werewolf world, and over the course of season 2 some kind of new monster is replacing the overarching victim-mauler of season 1, which turned out to be the alpha, Peter. And then there's the unexpected horrors of being a werewolf--the most internal and uncontrollable, and therefore terrifying, of all the werewolf problems. This year Jackson thought he had it made, ready to make use of the bite he got from Derek at the very end of last season, only to find out it's going very, very wrong. (Maybe "the bite" realized he's already been a werewolf.) And Lydia (Holland Roden), who was torn up by Peter at last year's prom? No one knows what's going on with her.
Even Scott, who's settled into being a werewolf and what he can do (the premiere features two extended, and pretty convincing, sequences of Scott tearing across the landscape running on all fours despite being in human form), is prevented from being with Allison openly as part of his I'll-let-you-live deal with Argent. Even more urgently, like the innocent young hero he is, he feels a responsibility to protect his friends from the danger he's a part of -- not only new wolves like Lydia and even, after a fashion, the arrogant jerk Jackson, but also his human friends and family, and innocent bystanders that might be collateral damage in the brawl between the hunters, the werewolves, and whatever else is out there.
In this respect it's helpful that Posey, so much the green new TV star last year, has grown up over the last year, and has an even better handle than he already did on conveying Scott's determination and conflict. His love for Allison is just the right mix for a teenage boy of hormones and passionate devotion, and because this relationship is at the heart of the show it stands for his idealism and commitment to his friends as well.
I haven't mentioned Dylan O'Brien as Stiles, yet he's invaluable to this enterprise. With Scott, Derek, Jackson, and the rest caught up in their various obsessions, the need for Stiles as a comic relief character is profound. But Stiles is more than the comic relief and the stalwart best friend, both functions that O'Brien executes adeptly. He's the glue that holds this group together: he's so alive that his energy suffuses the rest of the goings-on. O'Brien is acutely aware that Scott needs Stiles: the intensity of what Scott is experiencing as a wolf and in his passion for Allison could submerge him in those worlds. Stiles, and not anything else, is what ensures that Scott hangs onto what's real.
On its surface Teen Wolf is easy to dismiss as a frivolous excuse to draw an audience with an hour of blood, sex, and suspense with a homoerotic subtext. But its high-octane action drives a show that's well structured, thoughtfully acted, and effective.