If you love Paul Wesley at the romantic, bloodsucking badboy in The Vampire Diaries, then you must check him out as the lupine shape-shifting teen in Wolf Lake.
The series takes place in a small Seattle town that is home to two rival clans of wolves. Though the wolves change into people and back again, the show doesn’t go for the typical werewolf mythology. This is more in line with old Indian lore relating to shapeshifters and as such it has an earthy, ancient vibe that’s pretty cool.
There are plenty of elements that we’ve seen before. Like the whole concept of teenagers going through puberty and experimenting with their supernatural powers. What I like about Wolf Lake’s twist is that the teens appear to have a choice regarding their initial transformation. They can make it happen or they can resist and keep their humanity. Plain Jane Sophie (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is at that age and she’s getting pressured by her peers (including Wesley’s Luke) to join the hairy club. Sophie’s father the sheriff (Tim Matheson) tries to keep her from giving in and it all sounds very much like the typical, parental ‘don’t do drugs’ or ‘have teen sex’ talks, so the parallels work beautifully.
In addition to the shifting teens storyline, you have Lou Diamond Phillips as Detective John Kanin who has come to Wolf Lake on the pretense of official business. The truth is, he’s really looking for his girlfriend Ruby (Mia Kirshner) who mysteriously disappeared after she was attacked in her car. (Left nothing behind but the hand of the attacker.)
Phillips quickly realizes that the townsfolk are hiding plenty of secrets along with his girlfriend and he’s determined to get to the bottom of it all even if he dies trying – which he might.
Wolf Lake also stars Twilight’s Graham Greene and Rizzoli & Isles co-stars Bruce McGill and Sharon Lawrence.
The series was shot in 2001, which is hard to believe when you realize that Wesley (credited as Paul Wasilewski) hasn’t changed one bit. Makes me wonder if he has a touch of vampire in his blood. It aired on CBS, did poorly and was canceled after only 9 episodes, so don’t expect a lot of closure on the DVD. I think Wolf Lake’s problem was that it was ahead of the curve. The series would fit in beautifully in our Twilight-touched world. It has so many of the elements we see in The Vampire Diaries and Supernatural, Grimm and True Blood. So if you’re a fan of those shows, you should give Wolf Lake a try.
One more thing. Entertainment One has included the unaired pilot for the show on the DVD and it’s a fascinating look at the evolution of a TV series. It’s all the same actors, same basic premise but it comes from a completely different place. Instead of being a detective in search of his girlfriend, Phillips is a ranger relocating wolves back into the wild. The inciting incident is the death of a wolf girl at the hands of a hunter. It’s all very interesting but it moves too slow and features the wrong characters in the lead roles.
Once you move into the first aired episode, “Meat the Parents,” it picks up the pace, turns darker, is more exciting and reeks of danger. Phillips becomes the outsider, the audience point of view, and it really works.
With only 9 episodes, I can’t promise you a totally satisfying experience, but Wolf Lake has a terrific cast, a spooky backstory and some unexpected twists on an age-old legend. I highly recommend it.
Wolf Lake: The Complete Series is available now on DVD.