'Teen Wolf' turns up the humor and the heart in Season 2: Not your typical summer filler

teen-wolf-dylan-obrien-tyler-posey-scott-stiles-gallery-mtv.jpgWhen MTV's "Teen Wolf" reboot first debuted last summer, we'll admit to a considerable degree of skepticism.

Even those of us who weren't yet born when the original Michael J. Fox film was released harbor a certain reverence for the '80s cult classic, and we jumped on the bandwagon of concern that MTV would "ruin" it. Not to mention, the market was already saturated with "Twilight"-driven teenage monsters.

Last night's Season 2 debut proved that there's always room for more monsters, so long as they're accompanied by a sense of humor, high emotional stakes, and, yes -- some eye candy. (What? We're not robots.)

Even the more salacious aspects of the show have a certain depth. "Teen Wolf" features young, hot male werewolves who grow their pack by biting other young, hot guys, near their hip. When we suggested that the location was chosen for maximum shirtlessness potential, executive producer Jeff Davis helpfully corrected us.

"That's where Scott is bitten, and Jackson is bitten -- that's where everyone is bitten," Davis says. "It's partly because it's not like a vampire, and we wanted to make it different, but really, it's because it's a very vulnerable place, right here. If someone grabs you there, you always flinch." The werewolf transformation as a metaphor for vulnerability and exposure may not be what a summer audience tunes in for late on Monday night, but it's subtle touches like that that prevent "Teen Wolf" from becoming "Undressed" with fangs.

The show has all the tension of a romance novel, with newbie wolf Scott ( Tyler Posey) and the werewolf hunter's daughter, Allison ( Crystal Reed) caught in a fraught, epic, seemingly doomed affair. It's oddly relatable, given that we can all remember feeling that our love lives at fifteen were life-and-death situations. That drama is only going to intensify as her hunter relatives grow more involved. "Her grandfather, Gerard, wants her to hunt werewolves, and is very smart about the way that he twists his way into her life," Davis says. "I told Crystal that I want to turn her into Buffy this year, and she's up for it."

The heart of "Teen Wolf," however, is actually carried in the stories of its secondary characters. In Sunday night's episode, Stiles ( Dylan O'Brien) initially brought the laughs, having vocally dirty dreams in a rather public setting, and then unleashing his particular brand of physical comedy (which actually is reminiscent of Michael J. Fox) on a faulty vending machine.  "I know that [the comic relief] is really important to a show like this... I think it helps balance things out," O'Brien explains. "I think characters are more easy to root for when they're human -- when they're funny, and overwhelmed, and emotional. That's what makes people fun to root for. I try to get all that intertwined there in Stiles, along with all the slapstick comedy."

Later in the episode, though, we saw him with his heart on his sleeve, as he practically crouched in a foxhole with his best friend. His voice broke as he begged Scott to save his crush, Lydia, in a moment of vulnerable honesty that's so rare and powerful when coming from a teenage boy. Scenes like that -- where they're not a werewolf and his sidekick, but two scared kids facing an impossible situation -- bring some gravitas and warmth to the show and elevate it from summer filler to must-watch television with an engaged fanbase.

teen-wolf-colton-haynes-season-2.jpgIn tonight's second half of the premiere, we'll dig deeper into Jackson ( Colton Haynes), and again, the emotional resonance of the story transcends the show's tagline. At surface level, Jackson seems like a rather typical archetype -- he's a star athlete, looks like he was carved out of marble, drives a Porsche, and bullies just about anything that breathes. A few tweaks to the cliche have made him a favorite, though -- his best friend is openly gay, and he knows that at school, he's not beloved, but feared. His motivation lies in the fact that he was adopted, knows little about his biological parents, and feels out of place in his family.

Last season ended with Jackson at his most vulnerable, begging to be turned into a werewolf, needing a change and a sense of control over his life. "It's basically the idea of impressing parents who are never even there, making people love you who aren't there, who you've never even met. We're going to delve more into Jackson's family and his history," Davis promised us after the finale.

Tonight's full moon episode will offer some surprising insight into Jackson's future, and if your heart doesn't break for him a little bit by the end, well -- we're not robots, but you might be. Jackson was hoping that being a werewolf might offer him some reprieve from thinking about his family, but he won't be so lucky. "There are a lot of obstacles that come with him having the bite," Haynes tells us. "They could have something to do with him being adopted. We'll learn a little about his family as the season goes on, but I think the audience will really get involved with a lot of Jackson's emotions. Last year he was either crying or yelling at someone. This year, it's a lot more intense; a lot more deep."

There will be plenty of crying in store for Jackson this year, too, but first, he's back to being his old self -- with a new swagger in his step, courtesy of the bite. "He's really excited to make everyone's life a living hell, and he thinks he has what he wanted, but he doesn't realize what's about to happen to him," says Haynes.

If you missed Sunday night's premiere, you can catch an encore on Monday at 9 p.m. EST, followed by the new episode at 10 p.m. EST. Get on board with this summer's not-even-remotely-guilty-anymore pleasure. Just trust us.
Photo/Video credit: MTV
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