Wolf Pack is created by Jeff Davis, who is also responsible for MTV’s unrelated Teen Wolf series, and its follow-up Teen Wolf: The Movie which coincidently dropped on Paramount+ the same time as this show. This story is entirely separate, developed from the novel by Edo van Belkom, and it follows strange events that coincide with a California wildfire, as animals – and perhaps something a little more terrifying – emerge from the forest and permanently change the lives of two teenagers.
If you’re going to create a young adult supernatural series focused on teens and the issues they face growing up today and incorporate monsters to give them a physical representation, it’s a damn good idea to bring in someone that slayed that genre for years: Buffy herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar. While her role in the pilot episode, “From a Spark to a Flame,” as arson investigator Kristin Ramsey, is rather limited, her mere involvement gives validity to the show and makes it a must watch event for her fans that have been clamoring to see her return to television. She also serves as an executive producer, and Paramount+ has wisely used her image prominently in its marketing.
At the beginning of the show we get a legitimately thrilling, and unexpectedly violent, opening, featuring a musical score that does a great job of building up a sense of panic, fear, and chaos. In it, we see a bus full of high school students caught up in a stampede of animals fleeing the fire, and then the rest of the episode focuses on providing depth and backstory to its main characters as they deal with the aftermath. That development is predominately focused on the two teens who were bitten by something amongst the chaos, Everett (Armani Jackson, Honor Society) and Blake (Bella Shepard, The Wilds).
Everett doesn’t have a lot of friends and struggles with anxiety, to the point where it dominates his personality. He spends a good bit of his early screentime discussing it and teaching some coping mechanisms to Blake once things start to escalate. Blake has also isolated herself from friendships and seemingly everyone but her autistic brother Danny (Nevada Jose), even going so far as to not carry a cell phone. Her homelife is less than ideal, living with her divorced Dad (James Martinez, One Day at a Time) who struggles with alcohol and not being an asshole.
Together, Everett and Blake have chemistry early on, and both actors do a great job getting you to invest in them. Very slowly they start to come to the obvious conclusion as to what is responsible for their rapidly healing bites and subtle physical transformations. Everett is pleased to discover he’s suddenly ripped with an extra 10 pounds of muscle, and Blake learns that a werewolf bite clears your skin way better than Accutane.
At about the midway point of the episode we are introduced to the Briggs twins, Harlan (Tyler Lawrence Gray, KidCoin) and Luna (Chole Rose Robertson, Wildflower). Both get incredible first glimpse introductions. In fact, that’s something the show excels at because not long after – the 30:45 mark if you want to be exact – Gellar first appears through the doors of the hospital Everett is being treated at. Back to the twins though, Harlan is mesmerized as ash from the fire floats down through the ceiling of the club – nothing stops a good rave – before the beat of the Zonderling track “Breng” drops, and he loses himself in the music.
It’s a beautifully lit, very well shot sequence, and it’s nice to see house music at a club represented well for a change, complete with great song choices. There is a cool contrast of “You” by Emmit Fenn as Luna walks through the club looking for her brother, and then the absolute banger by bbno$, Rich Brian, and Diplo, “edamame.” Harlan doesn’t share the same level of concern as his sister when she tells him their father isn’t responding to texts but is intrigued when she says her sense of smell is better than ever.
In that moment you realize that the twins are werewolves, which explains Harlan’s earlier references to the set the DJ was playing. His hearing is exceptional; he’s not just an insufferable music snob. When Luna receives a text that their father’s truck has been found abandoned, they both set off to look for him.
We learn that this is the worst fire since their “Dad”, Park Ranger Garrett Briggs (Rodrigo Santoro, Westworld), discovered them as pups 18 years ago, and we later see him in the middle of the forest trying to escape the blaze. He likely fled after his vehicle was attacked by what the twins believe may be their real father and wound up trapped, but that’s unclear. He starts to give up and takes time to record messages for his children, which are a sweet, but odd way of delivering a bunch of exposition on their relationships.
Even after discovering she can run incredibly fast and being chased again with Everett at her home by what is clearly an abnormally large wolf creature, Blake isn’t willing to accept what’s going on. It’s a bit comical, but to be fair, she didn’t receive the incredibly creepy phone call that Everett did while he was at the hospital which told him something would be coming to kill him before the next full moon. Still, context clues are not her strong suit, or denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.
Finally. we are treated to a few glorious minutes of Gellar when Ramsey calls Everett and explains she knows that the fire was arson and believes it was done by a student. He never says a word – totally understand being speechless when SMG is talking to you – and then abruptly hangs up before he, along with Blake and the twins, are overcome with an urge to go to a particular area of the forest where they all run into each other with glowing eyes under the moon, and there is no more denying what they are.
Wolf Pack, at least early on, falls into a lot of familiar teen tropes, the dialogue isn’t always sharply written or delivered, and the CGI is a bit rough in spots. It’s most noticeable with regards to the animals fleeing the fire and the werewolf itself. Granted, we don’t get long looks at the werewolf in the first episode. It’s always under the cover of darkness and with a lot of quick cuts, but while its glowing eyes seem menacing, the creature itself seems like it could have been more effectively done through practical effects.
That said, for a show that admittedly takes a good bit of its inspiration from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the success of that series was never based on its CGI, but rather its clever writing, great characters, and underlying themes. While unthinkable that Wolf Pack will ever come close to touching the iconic status of that show, it does have some of the pieces and foundation to be successful in its own way, and the added advantage of being able to ramp up the language and violence freely. Jeff Davis certainly knows how to effectively incorporate this particular lore into a story like this one and having the “were”-withal to bring OG Sarah Michelle Gellar on board doesn’t hurt either.