Teen Wolf’s Legacy: Teens, Wolves and Its Unforgettable Portrait of Male Friendship

TV Features Teen Wolf
Teen Wolf’s Legacy: Teens, Wolves and Its Unforgettable Portrait of Male Friendship

Here are the things I will never, ever try to use as selling points for MTV’s crackerjack Teen Wolf:

1. Plot.
2. Logic.
3. The idea that any of these teen wolves, werecoyotes, kitsune, chimaera and banshees ever attended enough school to graduate (well—maybe Lydia, but she’s a genius).

Here is the one I’ll never shut up about: the show’s radical portrayal of friendship. Specifically, the bone-deep, oblivion-proof, emotionally intimate friendship between alpha teen wolf Scott McCall (Tyler Posey) and (usually) human Stiles Stilinski (Dylan O’Brien)—a masculine-expectations-busting friendship which, on top of being endlessly delightful, serves as the narrative crux of the show’s every arc.

Teen Wolf is not the only teen genre drama to have a friendship like this at its core. In fact, the three teen TV titans wrapping up their long runs this year all feature a patriarchy-defying friendship of some sort: In addition to the entirely un-self-conscious friendship between Scott and Stiles (and, more recently, between Liam and Mason) on Teen Wolf, there were the Liars’ powerful and uncompetitive female friendship on Pretty Little Liars and the robust and unromantic male-female friendships between Caroline and Stefan at the start of The Vampire Diaries and Bonnie and Damon at the end. Each of these friendships laugh in the face of society’s expectations for how girls (and women/girl detectives/witches) and boys (and men/wolves/immortal vampires) ought to relate to one another. And they were all on our televisions for the better part of the last decade, all at the same time! As the kids say: what a time to be alive.

And yet, it’s Scott and Stiles’ friendship in Teen Wolf that I keep coming back to as being the most remarkable, the most charming, the most compelling. Truly, every major plot point hinges on it: Scott’s being turned into a werewolf happens because he and Stiles sneak into the woods on a school night to try and beat Stiles’ sheriff dad to finding the second half of a dead body; Scott’s mastery of his new wildness comes not from the abusive lessons of genetic werewolf Derek Hale (Tyler Hoechlin), but from Stiles’ tireless research and inventive, lacrosse-adjacent training exercises; Scott’s rise to True Alpha happens as a result of Stiles constantly being around as a voice of support in Scott’s bid to prove other werewolves wrong in their insistence that violence and death are the only paths to strength and safety as a person with any degree of power at all. Scott was saved from setting himself on fire in a haunted motel parking lot by Stiles stepping into the gas puddle with him, reminding him that they are brothers, and if Scott goes, Stiles will have to go, too; Stiles is saved from oblivion twice by Scott’s heart so fiercely believing in his best friend’s existence and importance that neither a Japanese vengeance demon nor a horde of soul-erasing Ghost Riders could overcome their bond. The final scene of the penultimate season is literally the two of them riding off into the sunset together in Stiles’ busted-up old Jeep, Stiles’ long-anticipated romance with Lydia (Holland Roden) having been concluded offscreen, Scott romantically unattached, neither fact mattering in that moment of togetherness as the two friends set off on another adventure.

At PaleyFest in 2015, series creator Jeff Davis made a point of underscoring how seriously he takes Scott and Stiles’ relationship as the central relationship of the entire series—how he set out specifically to tell a story featuring the kind of, again, un-self-conscious male friendship he had always wished to have as a teenager, and that whatever other friendships or partnerships or romantic pairings might arise throughout Teen Wolf’s run, it would always, always be Scott and Stiles as the (to borrow a Tumblr term) BroTP. And in the era of Peak TV’s patriarchy-fueled, lone wolf antiheroes, finding a show about a literal lone wolf whose life is both saved and constantly enriched by his deep friendship with another dude, well, that’s a show worth championing.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that there aren’t other qualities to recommend this wild reinterpretation of a 1980s B-movie to just about anyone who likes television and/or fun. There totally are! Gleefully gruesome monster movie blood and nightmares; parents who have their own emotional arcs and multi-dimensional characterization; the most entertaining (/only) depiction of lacrosse you are likely to ever see on scripted television; a remarkably thoughtful bottle episode examining life in a Japanese Internment camp; more raves than any teen I have ever known has gone to; gorgeous cinematography; jokes (holy full moon, does this show have JOKES); more rollicking audacity than most prestige television would know what to do with; even plot, which I so immediately dragged at the start of this thing, well, relative to the slipshod twists and turns reality keeps handing us these days, Teen Wolf even manages to come out ahead on that count. This is a show that truly has it all.

And still, were I to be allowed no more than one single point to sell you on finally picking this masterpiece of teen genre drama up already, it would be Scott and Stiles’ goofy, soul-deep friendship. At the end of everything, they’ll still have each other, so: life fulfilled.

Teen Wolf Seasons 1-6A are available on Amazon Prime. Season 6B premieres Sunday, July 30 at at 8 p.m. on MTV.

Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic whose writing has appeared on Forever Young Adult, Screener, and Birth.Movies.Death. She’ll go ten rounds fighting for teens and intelligently executed genre fare to be taken seriously by pop culture. She can be found @AlexisKG.

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