Last Saturday marked ten years since the premiere of MTV’s Teen Wolf. I, like so many people who watched the show while it was on the air, was overcome with nostalgia as I watched tributes pour in across social media – from cast members reflecting on the last decade, to fans reminiscing about the best moments from the pilot. It got me thinking: was this show really as much fun as I remember it being? Does it hold up in 2021? I lasted about two days before I finally broke and re-watched the pilot to see if it still has the same appeal.
And folks, this show is still great.
Teen Wolf had many of the makings of a show that wouldn’t stand the test of time. For one, it was an early-2010s show written mostly by white men that prided itself on its diversity – always a recipe for disaster. It was also a show that went on for far too long, constantly trying to one-up itself with every new villain until it just wasn’t believable anymore. The rotating cast of writers meant that character development was often inconsistent, and I’ve honestly never watched a show that’s so hilariously bad at writing characters off in a way that feels natural. By the time the finale aired, I know I wasn’t alone in being glad to see this show finally over with. But just in the last year, I’ve seen two of my friends discover Teen Wolf for the first time and fall completely in love with the show, even enjoying the last few seasons a lot more than I did. Clearly, this show has some staying power.
Here’s why I think it still holds up in 2021.
This is the main thing I remember loving about Teen Wolf, and the main thing I noticed during my re-watch. This show is so quotable. That “where are you getting your juice?” line is one of my favourite TV lines of all time, and it was in the pilot. Yes, this show was unbelievably ridiculous most of the time, but the writing was legitimately good.
Even if you haven’t actually watched Teen Wolf, you’ve probably come across quotes without realizing it. It provides a lot of material for those “incorrect quotes” pages. “Where are you getting your juice?” is obviously a popular one, but you may also recognize a quote where a character’s parent threatens to punish them by “taking away” their best friend. That was a Teen Wolf scene. Scott’s mom “took away [his] Stiles” when she couldn’t find another way to punish him.
There were more serious quotes that resonated with fans, too. “Some of us have to make mistakes… some of us are human” was a good one. “Be your own anchor” as well. “If you’re gonna do this, then I think you’re just gonna have to take me with you” was an extremely powerful line in the show. I think what makes this show so popular with “incorrect quotes” pages, though, is that a lot of the best lines are dialogue. The characters bounce off each other so well. It’s not just one-liners.
Dylan O’Brien as Stiles
Don’t get me wrong here – this show had a great cast. Everyone did a great job. Dylan O’Brien was not the only good actor on this show, and the other cast members all deserve acclaim. But revisiting Teen Wolf ten years after the pilot really drives home just how much Dylan O’Brien carried this show. Stiles is easily the most likable character right from the start. He has the best lines. He has chemistry with everyone. And do I even need to mention O’Brien’s performance as Void Stiles in season 3?
Stiles was always so much more than the funny best friend or the comic relief; he was often the one making things happen, always wanting to uncover new mysteries about the supernatural, to investigate strange things happening in Beacon Hills, to help people even if it meant putting himself in harm’s way. He was relatable, as the only fully human character in the pack, and as someone who just… found the supernatural world really cool. The show did a lot of things wrong throughout its 6 season run, but one thing it got right was keeping Stiles as a funny guy with a baseball bat and a little bit too much interest in the supernatural world. Also, again, Dylan O’Brien was legitimately amazing in this show. I don’t understand how he hasn’t blown up more since it ended.
Here’s the thing with Teen Wolf. Yes, the special effects are bad. Yes, the plot starts out ridiculous and gets worse from there. Yes, they keep doing product placement in a way that’s completely unnatural. No, the acting in the first few episodes isn’t that great. Objectively, I wouldn’t say the show is especially “good.” But that’s all part of its charm.
This is what first drew me to the show. You always feel like you’re in on the joke. You can’t criticize Teen Wolf for being ridiculous, because it knows it’s ridiculous. Take, for instance, this TikTok, which encapsulates how I feel about this show:
Is that scene an example of good acting or special effects? Absolutely not. How could anyone have possibly thought this was a good idea? But it’s so bad that it’s accidentally good. Teen Wolf never got overly self-referential in the style of, say, Glee, but it poked fun at itself just often enough to let the viewer know that they weren’t supposed to take it all that seriously.
This isn’t to say that Teen Wolf never had anything interesting to say, though. On the contrary, I think Teen Wolf was at its best when it was hiding powerful messages and emotional character moments beneath all those layers of camp and ridiculousness. It’s all about the balance. You’re having fun enjoying silly fight scenes and bad special effects, and then you’re suddenly blindsided by an emotional moment between two characters that you suddenly realize you care about a lot. That’s what makes those emotional moments so much more powerful.
I remember that when I was reviewing Shadowhunters, I would often use Teen Wolf as an example of the kind of show I wanted Shadowhunters to be. That’s because I was okay with bad production quality and cheesy lines, as long as the show was self-aware about it. Shadowhunters always felt like it was taking itself too seriously, and that just doesn’t work when your production quality is that bad. Teen Wolf made its bad special effects and weird storylines part of its charm. Honestly, I think a big part of the reason I lost interest toward the end is because it started to feel like it was taking itself a bit too seriously.
Once again, we have something that doesn’t always work on TV, but definitely worked on Teen Wolf. Not every show can pull off using pop music in their soundtrack, but here, it just fits. It just wouldn’t feel right for this show to have an original score all the time. This is a teen show about werewolves. People frequently run around on all fours. Becoming a werewolf gives you the power to communicate with dogs. Nothing makes sense. Yes, we need dance music over every fight scene, and recognizable pop songs during important moments. That’s Teen Wolf, baby.
Also, tell me you can watch those lacrosse scenes without smiling. You can’t. It is physically impossible. And that’s all thanks to the soundtrack.
Teen Wolf did cast some adults as teenagers, and it did look kind of silly at points. By the end, these characters absolutely did not look like high schoolers. However, there’s something to be said for the way the early seasons of Teen Wolf capture the awkwardness of teenage years. Scott’s relationship with Allison is especially iconic. Take this scene from season three, for example:
Plus, there’s just something so charming and relatable about the way Scott and Stiles navigated High School at the start of the show. They weren’t exactly getting bullied, but they were definitely outcasts, adorably unaware of what was going on with the other students and not totally sure if they wanted to fit in. It’s also rare that stories about teenagers put their characters in so many different relationships, showing that your first love doesn’t have to be your soulmate. Teen Wolf wasn’t exactly an accurate depiction of High School life, but it did get some things right.
Not every romantic relationship on the show worked, but I’m not just talking about the ships here. The friendships and the family dynamics really drove the show. Actually, here’s another thing that Teen Wolf did differently from most teen stories: the parents were not just present, but important characters who were allowed to have complicated feelings about everything their kids are doing. Melissa McCall and Sheriff Stilinski, for instance, were both important and well-loved characters with good relationships with their kids. It worked really well.
Plus, even though the romantic pairings were constantly shifting and characters definitely did fall out with each other on occasion, the show stayed focused on the friendship between the members of Scott’s pack.
Obviously, not every element of this show holds up to scrutiny in 2021. As I said in the introduction, Teen Wolf’s “diversity” feels very early-2010s, even though it was considered progressive for its time. There are very few characters of colour, and while there are a lot of female characters, they’re not always written well. There are LGBTQ+ characters, but not really that many by 2021 standards, and the blatant queerbaiting with Stiles and Derek is always going to make the show’s legacy a bit messy.
Still, Teen Wolf has a certain charm that, I think, gives it staying power, even ten years after the premiere. It’s messy and nonsensical and it somehow manages to be both smart and dumb at the same time, the type of show that will have you laughing for forty minutes straight and then suddenly wondering why you’re tearing up at a moment that really shouldn’t be this emotional. It’s a painfully honest show, and at a time when so many of us are craving lighthearted escapism, it’s a great show to binge-watch, even in 2021.