Wolf Lake is the first TV show about werewolves. Werewolves! How cool
is that? Unfortunately, (not first-hand knowledge, just a guess) they're going
to cancel it. In the first season. Maybe even before it hits ep. 13 or so. A
genre show. On CBS? Why do they even bother pretending that they're going to
give the thing a chance?
Sorry. I'm just bitter because I've gotten addicted to Wolf Lake. With
each episode, I get more interested. And at least once during each episode,
my girlfriend and I say to each other, with a kind of fatalistic certainty:
"They're going to cancel this show."
Television is littered with the corpses of terribly interesting, terribly
short-lived genre shows. Like, for example, American Gothic: An every-man
doctor moves into Trinity, a sleepy Southern town full of strange people and
strange happenings, and stumbles upon a spider's web of a mystery in which each
strand seems to lead back to the town's charismatic and vaguely sinister sheriff.
Wolf Lake follows the formula of shows like American Gothic and
Twin Peaks. An outsider drifts into a town that turns out to be a virtual
Bermuda Triangle of weirdness. The fun of the show is being thrown into a completely
unknown environment, and picking up the puzzle pieces - clues, portents, foreshadows,
unexpected connections - that have been strewn about, and then trying to fit
those pieces together.
Allow me to give you the soap opera primer: Cop John Kanin (Lou Diamond Phillips
- Young Guns, The Big Hit) loves Ruby Wilder (Mia Kirshner - Crow:
City of Angels). Ruby Wilder disappears, and then it turns out that Ruby
Wilder never existed. No birth certificate, no Social Security number, nothing.
An anonymous phone call leads John to Wolf Lake, a town whose inhabitants
are mostly werewolves. Turns out that Ruby is a werewolf (of course, our hero
doesn't know that yet), and that she's the daughter of Willard Cates (Bruce
McGill - Jack Dalton from MacGyver), the esteemed leader of the town (and leader
of the pack). Willard is dying, and he's looking for possible successors. The
primary contender is young, ruthless upstart Tyler Creed (Scott Bairstow - Harsh
Realm). Evidently, Ruby is being held against her will, with Willard's consent,
in hopes that she will agree to marry Tyler. Tyler, by the way, is also sleeping
with Willard's wife (Sharon Lawrence - N.Y.P.D. Blue).
Willard's son is hot to trot for Sophia, the daughter of the town sheriff.
He's trying to convince her to "flip" (Wolf Lake terminology for changing
into a wolf). She's never flipped before, mostly because her father has sworn
off the whole werewolf life, and he wants his daughter never to start down that
path. The town sheriff (Tim Matheson - Sometimes They Come Back, Animal
House) also has a past romantic connection to Willard's wife. Oh, and then
there's the science teacher / shaman (Graham Greene - Northern Exposure,
Dances With Wolves), who has the ear of both Willard and the sheriff,
and who, it turns out, was the person who made the anonymous tip-off call to
John Kanin in the first place.
Wolf Lake is an odd place. Women give birth to three or four children at a
time, and push their babies around in carriages linked together like train cars.
When John has a bad flu, the science teacher's cure is chicken soup spiced with
hallucinogenics. The sheriff plays piano at the local watering hole. Handcuffed
to his piano is the sultry torch singer, who spends most of her time in the
town klink, kind of like Otis the drunk on The Andy Griffith Show.
Wolf Lake shamelessly cribs its quirky-creepy vibe from Twin Peaks.
But it's not so much a pale imitation of Twin Peaks and American Gothic
as it is a lesser (but still very enjoyable) entry in a television subgenre.
It's not too surprising that John Leekley, the creator of Wolf Lake,
was also an executive producer on Aaron Spelling's short-lived vampire soap
Kindred: The Embraced. I was disappointed when Kindred disappeared,
but I at least could understand why it didn't last long. There was a definite
cheese factor, and then there was the fact that Kindred's "normal
guy who gets stuck in the middle of weirdness" was C. Thomas Howell. C.
Thomas Howell. C. Thomas run. C. Thomas emote. C. Thomas bring the show to a
spectacularly painful halt whenever he's on screen. Howell's acting is so phenomenally
abysmal that I've developed a sort of cruel affection for him. In any case,
it was inevitable that any show with him in it would be put down like Old Yeller.
But Wolf Lake is a different animal than Kindred. It's occasionally
hammy, but it's got a good sense of humor to go with the creepiness. And while
Lou Diamond Phillips is no Kyle McLaughlin, he's also no C. Thomas Howell.
One thing makes no sense to me, though. When John Kanin first came to Wolf Lake,
everyone tried to stonewall his ass out of town. But by the third episode, the
sheriff is asking him to be part of the local police force. Which means he'll
be investigating any crimes in Wolf Lake. Which means he'll have even more opportunity
to puzzle out Wolf Lake's hairy little secret. Perhaps this seemingly incomprehensible
move will be explained in the fullness of time, but, at the moment, it has the
stink of an obvious and lame "we've got to figure out a way to keep our
hero in town and in the thick of things" plot device.
I might also be worried that Wolf Lake will lose steam once its secrets
are revealed and the initial infatuation with its mysteries fades away. But,
no need to worry on that front. It'll get cancelled long before it has a chance
to grow stale or predictable.