Wolf Pack is proof that supernatural teen shows can still be bad
They can’t all be winners.
Wolf Pack, Paramount+’s latest teen supernatural drama, comes from an esteemed pedigree.
Not only is the werewolf series created by Teen Wolf mastermind Jeff Davis, it stars Sarah Michelle Gellar, the patron saint of the subgenre thanks to her star turn in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Unfortunately, this middling teen series is damned by comparison — it doesn’t have the heart of Buffy nor the innovation of Teen Wolf. Though all the essential parts of a successful show are there, it’s clear that the environment of teen shows has outgrown a by-the-numbers approach.
Though it’s based on a 2004 book, it’s clear that Wolf Pack has learned what it takes to hook a viewer in the streaming age — the series starts in media res with Everett Lang (Armani Jackson) on a school bus, getting guided through a breathing exercise by his therapist. His extreme anxiety is (understandably) triggered by a massive nearby wildfire that causes a horde of animals to run from the woods and attack the students. It’s a surprisingly gory scene that leaves Everett with a strange bite.
But he’s not the only one. We’re quickly introduced to Blake (Bella Shepard), a lower-income student who chooses to not have a phone and spends much of her time taking care of her autistic younger brother. She too is bitten, and notices strange side effects like her acne scars healing.
Then, there’s Harlan (Tyler Lawrence Gray) and Luna (Chloe Rose Robertson), adopted twins hiding a dark secret. Yep, you guessed it — they’re werewolves, and now so are Blake and Everett. The foursome must try to figure out just what is hunting them down, alongside LAFD Arson investigator Kristin Ramsey (Gellar).
This premise would absolutely be an instant hit in 2013, but the landscape of 2023 is a bit harder to find a foothold. Aside from the cultural behemoth that is Stranger Things, the teen supernatural mystery-drama subgenre that was pioneered by shows like Buffy and Teen Wolf has evolved to give us shows like Yellowjackets, Dark, Netflix’s genius The Society, and issue-heavy melodramas like The Wilds.
But even within the bounds of an old-fashioned teen drama, there’s an issue in the execution. The requisite teen squad is assembled, but there’s no clear mentor figure. Every Scooby gang needs a Giles, and Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Kristin Ramsey just isn’t up for the task. It feels like she’s there to put the characters in places to move the plot along, but she’s more of a plot device than a character. Maybe that will change after the events of the first two episodes given to critics, but it’s not working so far.
It’s rare for a teen series to cast all newcomers for their series leads, and it may just pay off in Wolf Pack’s case. There’s an earnestness to them that makes you want to root for them, but the lack of charisma and the succinct “here’s the character and here’s their flaw” exposition makes them seem artificial.
It’s almost like Wolf Pack had the ingredients for a hit teen series — a proven creator, solid source material, intriguing start, fresh-faced talent, and a beloved figure from the previous generation — but was missing a recipe. Paired with this script, the newcomers come off as naive, the story seems tired, and Gellar’s character is almost laughably underused.
If you’re just looking for a nostalgic, formulaic network-style teen drama, you may be able to find the highlights of this show. But unfortunately, the smoke is a bit too thick for the 2023 viewer to find the blazing heart within.
Wolf Pack is now streaming on Paramount+.