Teen Wolf is probably one of the most progressive shows on television.
Yes, you read that right. MTV is known mostly for their reality programs or teen dramas, which have always seen their share of controversy. In the summer of 2011, they premiered the supernatural series Teen Wolf, starring a relatively little-known Tyler Posey as a sometimes-inept teenage werewolf struggling to balance the challenges of being a high schooler and those of being a supernatural beast with weird sideburns. These days, the show is in its fourth season, and its success and quality have grown tremendously with each season. It’s not your typical horror-werewolf story, the characters are not always mind-bogglingly complex, and sometimes it can get a little goofy. But developer Jeff Davis and his team are great at creating a show that is remarkably self-aware, and also remarkably progressive with its characters.
Teen Wolf approaches characters with a refreshing restraint in the days of almost relentless drama-baiting by other shows that share its demographic. It’s just as much a matter of what the show doesn’t do as what it does: there are recurring gay characters on Teen Wolf, and it’s not a plot point. There is no episode in which characters’ varying sexualities become a point of conflict or even of much discussion. And while some may say that this glosses over the experiences and difficulties of being a gay teenager, there is something admirable and optimistic about the world in which Teen Wolf seems to exist: one in which being gay is no more a point of contention than being straight, tall, or a Virgo. Furthermore, gay characters on Teen Wolf are never reduced to being nothing more than a product of their sexuality. It’s a neat and pleasant way to avoid the grating and often awful dumbing down of LGBT characters to a stereotype or a consistent gay joke.
Teen Wolf’s writers also take an invigorating approach to their female characters. The women of Teen Wolf consistently hold their own against and beside the men, whether or not they have supernatural abilities themselves. From Allison Argent, who is trained as a werewolf hunter and kicks ass with a crossbow — in a family in which the women are the acknowledged leaders — to Kira Yukimura, who wields a katana and also joins the boys on the lacrosse team (without a single ‘girls can’t play sports’ joke!), the females just don’t do damsels in distress. And even when they take the side of the villains, or become lead villains themselves, they do so with cunning, intelligence, experience, and without becoming an allegory for the terrifying ‘threat’ of female sexual empowerment. Are they sexy, and sexual, beings? Absolutely. And they are on their own terms, in their own various ways, and without any need for input from the male characters, thanks very much. In Teen Wolf, a relationship between a human guy and a were-coyote (yeah, those exist) girl is not approached with a constant underlying joke about being ‘whipped’ by a stronger woman. It just happens. The teen wolves (and hunters, were-coyotes, banshees, and prodigies) of Teen Wolf spend every episode fighting demon alphas and bounty hunters and not arguing about whether girls can fight, because they can, and they do. The girls save the boys, the boys save the girls, the wolves save the humans, the snake monster things… do what they do. They’ve got bigger problems than whether their masculinity is threatened by women who might even be stronger than they are. What a novel idea!
Teen Wolf may not be the next Emmy-award winning drama, but it should be taken seriously as a television show that is doing some things very right. Now let’s hope that the Teen Wolf universe, in which women are accepted unquestioningly as equal and LGBT characters are really just characters with no need for the label, starts to reflect a little more in our reality.
Teen Wolf is on MTV Monday nights at 10/9c. The season 4 finale airs Monday, September 8th. Seasons 1-3B are available on Amazon Prime.