Before a deep dive into Paramount+’s latest supernatural teen drama “Wolf Pack,” a bit of housekeeping is in order. “Wolf Pack” is the creation of Jeff Davis, who also loosely adapted “Teen Wolf” (from the old Michael J. Fox film) into a six-season drama, for Paramount’s MTV. But “Wolf Pack” – built from the novel by Edo van Belkom – is not a “Teen Wolf” spin-off, and doesn’t take place in the same universe. But it is about werewolves, and it premieres immediately following the new culminating “Teen Wolf” movie. So that settles that.
That might make Davis’ newest project a tad bit confusing, but it’s also a pretty slick strategy to follow your hit series with a show that resembles it so closely that audiences might not resist its supernatural pull. Basically, Davis has cornered the market on teen dramas for people who stayed angry about Bella choosing Edward over Jacob longer than Jacob did. And those fans will likely scarf down “Wolf Pack” in a single bite and be ravenous for more. But unfortunately, the show’s world building is no more competent out of the gate than “Teen Wolf,” which may limit the show’s reach to card-carrying lycan lovers.
The “Pack” takes shape in a postcard-perfect coastal California town. A pair of telegenic teens, Everett (Armani Jackson) and Blake (Bella Shepard), share a classic meet-cute while their school bus idles in traffic. He’s an affable, if gawky kid, while she’s a lone wolf so invested in individualism that she doesn’t carry a smartphone. Bella’s off-the-grid lifestyle becomes inconvenient when a sudden wildfire tears through the area and she’s the only one who can’t make a call. The blaze triggers a frenzied stampede of forest dwellers across the road as the fire encroaches. Panic naturally ensues, and in all the confusion, something sinks its teeth into both Everett and Bella.
Their respective bite wounds have all the side effects expected of the genre. The damage heals at an unsettling rate, a core of lean muscle appears out of nowhere, and a stubborn skin condition vanishes within hours. There’s also a sudden kinship they’ve never experienced before, a recognition that while they don’t yet know what’s happening to them, only the two of them, working in concert, can figure it out.
Meanwhile, Harlan (Tyler Lawrence Grey) and Luna (Chloe Rose Robinson), a pair of siblings who attend Everett and Bella’s school, are in search of their missing father. They’re seasoned werewolves — at least compared to their recently moonstruck classmates — and they’re suspicious of the wildfire, which bears more than a passing resemblance to a previous fire that culminated in them being bitten. The two stories quickly braid together, with an uneasy alliance formed between Everett and Bella (still warming to their circumstances) and the siblings, who are justifiably afraid of embracing outsiders.
The pilot is entertaining enough despite being a color-by-numbers origin story that resembles a clunky prologue, an unpleasant-yet-unavoidable cost of entry. It’s certainly flashier and bloodier than expected, particularly during the wildfire sequence, which sees motorists trampled and gored by all manner of beasts. (The CGI is inconsistent and frequently shabby, as is often the case with effect-laden shows that carry basic-cable budgets.) There’s a deliberate effort to take advantage of the permissive content standards of a streamer platform, judging from the frequency and pungency of the foul language. That’s par for the teen drama course in this post-”Euphoria” world, but “Wolf Pack” feels especially desperate in its efforts to be edgy for its target audience.
The two episodes screened for critics make clear why Davis was so tempted to push the envelope with violence and prickly language, since the underlying show is otherwise bereft of a voice. The performances from the younger actors are for the most part serviceable, though Shepard has a way of popping off the screen. The biggest selling point of “Wolf Pack” is Sarah Michelle Gellar’s return to a supernatural teen drama — but even her performance is wan and lacks impact. Perhaps that’s because Gellar is playing Kristin Ramsey, a very ordinary arson investigator who suspects that one of the students at Monster High set the fateful wildfire. Her most potent power appears to be her ability to locate multiple points of origin, so having the former Buffy Summers is kind of a bummer.
There are signs of a more interesting show that flicker throughout “Wolf Pack,” like when Rodrigo Garcia intermittently appears to hint at a broader storyline that seems ill-paced. Hopefully more of that show will emerge, perhaps during a full moon, but until then, “Wolf Pack” is all growl and no bite.
“Wolf Pack” premieres Thursday, Jan. 26, on Paramount+.