No show makes me feel so absurd by loving it than Teen Wolf does. A wall-to-wall celebration of beefcake, melodrama and more supernatural than I’ve ever wanted in a TV show, the MTV series based off the Michael J. Fox ’80s flick is made for GIF walls and Tumblr shrines – not usually my deal.
But what started as a guilty pleasure (and thanks to many critics comparing it favorably to another great MTV show, Awkward) has ended up with me obsessively keeping up with teenaged lycanthrope Scott McCall (Tyler Posey) and his merry band of fellow friends and wolves completely guilt-free. And all of it is owed to one man: Creator Jeff Davis, who has cultivated the gay-friendliest show on television.
Davis has done what I would have imagined impossible only a few years ago: create a show that appeals to young gay men without condescending to them or making them feel excluded. In truth, for all the “positive gay portrayals” on TV currently, a hell of a lot of them come with baggage. Glee was insistent on making its gay characters fall into the stereotypes of either victim, heartthrob or closet case for almost two and a half seasons before it finally got a grip (and arguably still has a long ways to go). Modern Family, which initially looked so progressive, has trapped its gay characters in the same rote plotlines year after year. Shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race are spectacular salutes to the community, but for the young gay man looking for easily relatable role models, it’s not the best fit.
Teen Wolf does more than feature strong gay characters. In fact, the most central gay character, Danny (Keahu Kahuanui, pictured above at right), isn’t incredibly well-developed – he is very much a periphery character who enjoys minor moments in the spotlight. Remarkably, however, Danny is an openly gay high school student and star athlete who appears to be beyond comfortable in his own skin. However, this isn’t a case where “no one cares” if Danny is gay. Much the opposite. Scott’s BFF and standout character Stiles Stilinski (Dylan O’Brien, always effortlessly charming) cares deeply if Danny thinks he’s attractive. Scott uses a dance with Danny to get out of being thrown out of the school dance. Überjock and überjerk Jackson (the sadly departed Colton Haynes) is best friends with Danny. And now, Danny’s got a love interest in one of the new season’s main villains, a hot twin that would easily be a heterosexual god in another teen show.
In other words, Teen Wolf‘s strength isn’t in its gay characters – it’s what’s happening around those gay characters. Davis has, in essence, created a world free of homophobia. And spoken as a formerly closeted teen, that idea sounds like paradise.
Of course, Teen Wolf‘s world isn’t paradise: there are murders abound, teenagers have to deal with suddenly becoming supernatural beasts and balancing work and studies is the least of most of the characters’ worries. But that’s why the gay friendly nature is so revolutionary – with everything else going wrong in the crapsaccharine world of Beacon Hills, this is one injustice these characters don’t have to deal with. Lesbian victims of an attack are put on the same plane as their heterosexual equivalents. Two men will be making out in the background of a party scene. And have I mentioned how often all the men take their shirts off?
That’s what makes Teen Wolf more than just a thrilling teen show and transforms it into truly important work. It’s serving a completely underserved market in a brand new way. It’s telling gay teens not to feel like they don’t have any allies in the gay world, or that the dulled intonations of “It Gets Better” are the only forms of support out there. It gives gay teens a world to aspire to, and that is truly something worth commending.
Teen Wolf is a tense, enthralling hour every week, full stop. It keeps my attention better than anything on TV (besides Scandal, but Scandal is also superhuman in the TV world). I find myself talking to the TV while watching it, rushing to read others’ opinions on the episode online and tweeting openly about how much fun it is to watch – even blogging about it. But it is so much more than a guilty pleasure, because the world Davis has created with Teen Wolf isn’t something to feel guilty about. It’s something to celebrate.
Follow me on Twitter for more about Teen Wolf, as well as the myriad other subjects I love, at @kevinpokeeffe.