Oh Hey, I Guess Teen Wolf Is Finally Over

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A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away called 2011, I started watching the television show Teen Wolf because everyone in online fandom told me to.

I tried to love Teen Wolf; I really did. The show was loosely modeled on the 1985 movie starring Michael J. Fox, and it had a lot of hallmarks of the kind of content that I like: supernatural good and bad guys, brooding antiheroes, family drama, close-knit friendships, and pretty people upon which to gaze. The friendly cast went out of their way to interact with fans and even engage with fan theories and popular “ships.” I got sucked into the world of Teen Wolf for a while. I still have a winter hat that I bought, shaped like a wolf’s head, from when I was feeling it.

But Teen Wolf was never a very good show, with its first season consisting of 93% lacrosse games, 4% bumbling high school angsty hijinks, and 3% transformative monster makeup that was usually more laughable than scary. Still, for me, the appeal lay in the sense of community and camaraderie that had sprung up around the show, and the affection for the characters, who all seemed to have clearly defined parts: the smart-mouthed best friend, the beautiful love interest whose family background prompted a Romeo/Juliet-type storyline, the rude, macho jock, etc.

What was exciting about Teen Wolf at the time is that everyone had secrets and suggested hidden depth: the picture-perfect Queen Bee was also a brilliant student, tragedy lay in most characters’ pasts, and the out gay character was the most popular kid in school.

It felt refreshing that “otherness” in the show was represented by being an actual mythical creature, not because of sexual orientation or race. In this representation, Teen Wolf was groundbreaking for a little while. And then, as often happens when there is an obsessively dedicated fanbase, criticism and toxicity set in after disappointed expectations, and the show’s creatives dropped all kinds of (lacrosse) balls. I’ll let the Advocate explain:

Teen Wolf also flipped the objectification script by flaunting the buff bods of the boys in its cast at every opportunity, including numerous homoerotic locker room scenes, and then took it even further. Boys would flirt with boys as well as girls — most frequently by Stiles Stilinski (played by Dylan O’Brien). Before long, it became obvious that the creative minds behind Teen Wolf weren’t simply using queer elements to infuse the show with gay appeal, they were ramping up the gay appeal to court a young audience. And this audience had grown up with LGBT visibility in various forms.

By the time Teen Wolf entered its third season, the show was primed to be one of the gayest ever aimed at a young audience. A new gay teen was introduced in the form of alpha wolf twin Ethan (played by Charlie Carver), who became romantically involved with Danny, and “Sterek” speculation, which had been encouraged by the show’s cast and production team, was at an all-time high.

But while the third season included standout moments for visibility such as a hotel room make-out session between Danny and Ethan in the episode “Motel California” (which was depicted in the same light as an opposite-sex smooch fest that took place later in the same episode), the show’s potential to be an LGBT entertainment beacon began to fade. Danny and Ethan’s romance received little screen time and went largely undeveloped, with Ethan’s character moving away from Beacon Hills following the heroic death of his straight twin brother at the season’s end.

[…] Additionally, the is-he-or-isn’t-he draw of Stiles’s sexuality became less of a reason to watch and more of a point of contention for several fans who began to accuse the show of “queer baiting” by continuing to tease viewers that the character might swing both ways while avoiding any actual payoff.

When news originally broke that Teen Wolf’s fourth season, which wrapped last week, would include a new gay teen of color named Mason (played by Khylin Rambo), many fans were hopeful that the show’s potential to greatly further LGBT visibility would be realized.

Instead, the opposite happened.

Stiles became romantically involved with the female werecoyote Malia (played by Shelley Henning), Danny completely disappeared from the show with no explanation, and Mason — who received very little character development – essentially became a token character.

Fans hungry for LGBT visibility from a show that had begun with such potential were outraged at the new direction, and when The Advocate published a recent interview with the show’s principal cast discussing the history of the show’s positive LGBT elements, a wave of angry comments ensued.

While some might dismiss fan outrage over the show’s dwindling LGBT representation, their passionate outcry highlights a growing divide between younger viewers and those who are creating the shows they watch. For a generation that has never known a time when LGBT people were not represented on the small screen in some form, limited visibility and queer subtext are no longer enough to hold their interest.

Essentially: Teen Wolf built much of its initial wildly enthusiastic reception on a promise of a new era for LGBT characters, then was seen, time and again, to let fans down with teasing winks and nominal characters who were openly LGBT but otherwise unimportant. By the time Ethan and Mason were introduced I had long since stopped watching, but I would see the occasional bursts of frustration and anger go by on my Tumblr dashboard. I’d shake my head and mourn for the promise that Teen Wolf once held to be truly groundbreaking herein.

Instead, like much other media these days, the show seemed to believe that it was enough to simply include LGBT-labeled characters, pat themselves on the back for it, then move on. Giving those characters fully rich romantic lives and plotlines—or, God forbid, letting one of them be a lead character—seemed entirely out of the reach of Teen Wolf‘s claws.

So as I read this morning about the show’s finale, I’m no longer interested in it enough to watch even the last show—Teen Wolf happened for me a long time ago. But seeing so many mentions of it reminded me of when a lot of us thought that LGBT representation was going to get its due on a slick MTV series made for a new generation, and the sadness I continue to feel that we’re still so far from it.

Did you watch the Teen Wolf finale?

(image: MTV)

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Kaila Hale-Stern
Kaila Hale-Stern (she/her) is a content director, editor, and writer who has been working in digital media for more than fifteen years. She started at TMS in 2016. She loves to write about TV—especially science fiction, fantasy, and mystery shows—and movies, with an emphasis on Marvel. Talk to her about fandom, queer representation, and Captain Kirk. Kaila has written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.