On paper, “Wolf Pack,” Paramount+’s newest supernatural teen drama, has it all. It’s a show with “Wolf” in the title, created by Jeff Davis, the same guy who created both “Criminal Minds” and the ridiculous and beloved TV show version of “Teen Wolf.” It’s got a diverse cast of hot 20-somethings playing teenagers who sometimes turn into wolves, and, most importantly, it stars supernatural teen drama icon Sarah Michelle Gellar. So it’s unfortunate that “Wolf Pack” doesn’t all come together, at least in the first two episodes made available for review.
The series centers on teens Everett (Armani Jackson) and Blake (Bella Shepard), two opposite teens who both get bitten by some mysterious wolf-like creature when their school bus is derailed by rapidly spreading wildfires. Everett ends up in the hospital with a nasty bite that seems to be quickly disappearing, while Blake rushes home to take care of her autistic brother and deal with her irresponsible father. Before long, they’re psychically drawn back to each other, and they find that they’re not alone in terms of teens who are wolves when they meet up with twin werewolves Luna (Chloe Rose Robertson) and Harlan (Tyler Lawrence Gray) Briggs. Gellar plays Kristin Ramsey, an arson investigator determined to figure out what’s up with the fires and the wolf attacks that come with them.
While Davis and Gellar are obvious boons to a show like this, they’re almost a detriment this time. Comparisons are naturally going to be made to “Teen Wolf” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and the problem is that “Wolf Pack” is missing a major component of what made those shows so beloved: joy.
Both shows were excellent at balancing the scary stuff with the funny stuff, the death with the life. They could go incredibly dark, but never so dark that the personality was gone. Buffy Summers was never without a quip, even in the face of the literal end of the world, and Scott McCall remained a sweet puppy even as he grew into a powerful alpha wolf. Never forget the way “Teen Wolf” told us what it was in one of its first few episodes, when Jackson (Colton Haynes) demanded to know where secret new teen wolf and newly lacrosse player Scott had gotten “his juice.” “My mom does all the grocery shopping,” said Scott, with all the sincerity in the world. So dumb, so delightful, such a great way to tackle the ridiculousness of teen werewolves. That show didn’t make it to six seasons and a movie because it was a great dark supernatural thriller. It lasted because it was a pretty good, pretty campy dark supernatural thriller filled with lovable goofballs and hilariously dramatic slo-mo entrances.
“Wolf Pack” doesn’t have a juice moment, at least not yet. Everything about it indicates that this is a serious show about serious werewolves, and it’s unclear why, especially since it’s based on a series of books for preteens by author Edo Van Belkom. Why are Sarah Michelle Gellar’s lines so humorless? Why is everyone so unhappy? Why is everything so choppy and confusing? It’s not that a TV show can’t be dark. It’s just that with the talent involved here, it doesn’t feel like it needs to be.
The tone could be forgiven if the rest of the show felt new or different enough, but that’s unfortunately not the case. TV teens have been grappling with their inconvenient superpowers for decades now, and “Teen Wolf” covered an awful lot of the particular issues that come with turning into a werewolf. There may be more to tell, but Wolf Pack hasn’t found it yet, and I haven’t yet found a reason to really care about these particular werewolves.
Fortunately, it’s early. The show could still find its legs, especially as the mostly green cast gets more comfortable in their characters. Even “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” took a while to figure itself out, and “Wolf Pack” does have one thing going for it that teen dramas have struggled with over the years. We’re introduced to Everett as he’s calming himself down from an anxiety attack, and it’s made clear that his mental health is a major part of his story. He teaches other characters the breathing technique he uses, and there’s absolutely something valuable about showcasing real world issues, like anxiety, in a show primarily about extraordinary issues, like lycanthropy. The concept of an anxious werewolf isn’t quite enough to carry a show, but it’s an interesting place to start.
Really, the biggest complaint I have about “Wolf Pack” is that Gellar’s character is way too boring for its star. Either there’s more to her arson investigator than meets the eye, or I’m going to be disappointed waiting for a twist that never comes. We all know what she’s capable of, so why waste her as a cop? So many opportunities here are wasted, but it’s the potential of those opportunities that are going to keep me watching to figure out exactly what it was about this show that made Gellar sign on.
And hey, at least this time around, the CGI werewolf fangs look way cooler and way scarier than they did on “Teen Wolf.”
“Wolf Pack” premieres exclusively on Paramount+ on Jan. 26 with new episodes released weekly.