Is the new werewolf series from the team behind Teen Wolf, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, worth howling about?
Developed by Teen Wolf creator Jeff Davis and based on the 2004 book by Edo van Belkom, Wolf Pack throws viewers right into the thick of it as a group of high schoolers are stranded in traffic on a stretch of highway next to a California wildfire. After exiting the parked bus, several teens are caught in a stampede of woodland animals fleeing the fire and, in the melee, both Everett Lang (Armani Jackson) and Blake Navarro (Bella Shepard) are bitten by a large “wolf.”
The first episode “From A Spark To A Flame,” dedicates roughly half of its runtime introducing Everett and Blake. He suffers from anxiety, is rich, and has a best friend on crutches named Connor (Sean Philip Glasgow); she refuses (or can’t afford) a cell phone, has acne and lives with her divorced father Roberto (James Martinez) and autistic brother, Danny (Nevada Jose).
These details are expository, but the premiere dedicates a significant amount of time exploring how Everett and Blake’s response to danger and trauma are contextualized by their home lives. It’s also an “opposites attract” set-up as the pair make googly eyes at each other, particularly once the wolf bites begin to affect their bodies (like characters in a superhero film, overnight Everett gets a six pack and Blake’s acne disappears so that she becomes “beautiful”).
Once the opening action sequence wraps, Wolf Pack descends into pretty simplistic storytelling, especially for viewers familiar with Teen Wolf. The formula remains intact: hot bods and pretty actors, shallow characterizations, blue and red mood lighting, and plenty of slow-motion action at the expense of an actual narrative.
While the fiery animal attack opening kicks off the new series with a propulsive bang, its effect is dampened by the extremely dodgy FX look of the animals. This sadly extends to the series’ Big Bad: a giant (were)wolf, which is basically just a large grey outline with burning red eyes.
As Blake and Everett go their separate ways – Everett to the hospital, Blake to a cheap motel – the series tangentially introduces its adult cast: arson investigator Kristin Ramsey (Sarah Michelle Gellar), who suspects one of the teens on the bus has set the fire, and Ranger Garrett Briggs (Rodrigo Santoro), who is caught in the middle of the flames.
Neither of the series’ biggest names are given anything to do in the first two episodes sent to critics. Kristin would be a nothing character if not for the actress in the role. Sure SMG can rock a slow motion emergency room entrance, but otherwise Kristin exists solely to show up once an episode to ask the teens questions at inopportune times. Considering how much the former Slayer’s presence is being used to sell the series, her lack of screen time is especially disappointing.
Santoro isn’t much better served: he spends the first two episodes by himself, covered in soot and running through CGI flames. Presumably both will have more to do in subsequent episodes, but for the first quarter of the season, they’re effectively sidelined in favour of the bland teen cast.
Garrett is the adopted father of twins Luna (Chloe Rose Robertson) and Harlan Briggs (Tyler Lawrence Gray), the series’ very thinly sketched other protagonists. They’re introduced halfway through the premiere in a jarring perspective switch. Luna is hot, nervous about the fire and their missing surrogate father, which Harlan is hot, bitchy, and looking for a gay hook-up at a rave (because we’re still aping imagery from the 90s?)
None of the central foursome is particularly interesting, nor is the narrative compelling. The premiere is especially disjointed, with its expedited action start that transitions into an urgency-free episode (isn’t there a GIANT wildfire right outside?!). The four leads inevitably meet-up for a compulsory closing scene wherein Everett whispers “werewolves” and director Jason Ensler tilts up to the full moon. It’s an odd conundrum: the show frequently feels like it is taking shortcuts and moving through plot too quickly despite the 50+ minute episodes feeling agonizingly slow (for example, it takes forever for Everett and Blake to acknowledge what is happening to them).
There are certainly questions and mysteries to be solved, such as who set the fire, who is the Big Bad/ father of the twins, and who is the mysterious person on the phone warning the teens they’re being hunted. Overall, however, it’s all too familiar, and more than a little boring.
Combine the bad FX, the stock characters, the uninspired, undercooked storylines, and the misuse of SMG, and Wolf Pack is hardly appointment television.
Wolf Pack airs weekly on Paramount+