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Wolf Lake

Sometimes television surprises us. It gives us shows that we love - carefully made, well-acted shows, with characters that we want to spend time with. Shows that make us laugh, shows that startle us, and most importantly keep us entertained. Most of the time though, television just drives us nuts. Its favourite way of doing this is by deluging us with nonsense; but most frustrating of all is its sneakiest trick. This is when it gives us the things that we love; teases us with promises of all that's to come; and then takes it all away again just when we're getting acquainted.

Wolf Lake ran for nine episodes in 2001. This is frustrating for two main reasons. Firstly because there were only nine episodes; and secondly because, had they waited and made it a few years later, it would probably have stayed on the air. Nobody seemed terribly interested in werewolves at the time, but with the current trend towards shadowy things, and semi-supernatural romances, it would probably do rather well.

There is so much to this show. Okay, so there's only nine episodes, from what was probably intended to be a season of twenty-two. It doesn't go anywhere; it doesn't have time to reveal itself properly. There are such tantalising glimpses, though. Wolf Lake's greatest strength was in the world-building, and it's hard not to get drawn in by that. Any failings that exist stem mostly from the frustration caused by detours from the storyline. When you think you're going to have twenty-two episodes, I guess you figure you have the time to add a few more plot threads here and there. When you know you'll only get to see nine, you find yourself wanting it to get a move on. I'm kind of glad it's the way that it is, though. It all helps add to the colour.

So, Seattle cop John Kanin witnesses the abduction of his girlfriend, but the only clue he has is a man's severed hand found at the scene of the crime. Going AWOL from the force, he tries to find his girlfriend, getting nowhere until a mysterious telephone call sends him to the strange little town of Wolf Lake. Surrounded by vast forests, almost perpetually shrouded in mist, and populated with Twin Peaks-style characters, it's a town of secrets. There's a cemetery full of dead teenagers, the biology teacher at the local high school is several thousand years old, and nobody seems to eat many vegetables. Kanin soon discovers that his girlfriend is a local, and that she had been living with him in Seattle under a false name. Nobody will tell him a thing, aside from the immortal biology teacher; and he only speaks in riddles. While Kanin's trying to solve his mystery, we're busy meeting the inhabitants of Wolf Lake, learning about their society and traditions. It's remarkably compelling stuff. Somebody went to some real trouble thinking up this whole scenario, which only makes it all the more of a shame that they never got the chance to do anything with it.

It turns out - although it's probably not much of a surprise, given the title - that the inhabitants of Wolf Lake are shapeshifters. Some are ordinary humans (I don't think we're ever given a ratio), but most are "Other". They have a multitude of supernatural abilities, and can turn into wolves at will. It's a change that comes over them during puberty, and as the hormones build, the first change kicks in. It's a dangerous time, as the first transformation sometimes goes wrong; hence all the dead kids in the cemetery. Once transformed for that first time, life is all about thrills and animalistic instincts, looking down on the rest of the world, and living for pleasure. It's not all fun, however. In order to protect their secrets, they're forbidden from leaving the area, and are subject to the dictatorship of the pack leader (currently Willard Cates, father of Ruby, Kanin's missing girlfriend). One of the lone voices of discontent is Sheriff Matt Donner, who disapproves of wolf society, and its attitude to humans. Having tried to break away as a young man, he married a human, but it's strongly implied that she was murdered by the pack. Now he's raising their teenage daughter alone, and hoping desperately that she's her mother's daughter, not her father's.

If there's a failing in Wolf Lake, it's in Kanin. He's not annoying, especially. He's not a bad character. It's just that he's rather surplus to demands. His search for his girlfriend doesn't reveal anything to the viewers; it's not his investigation that allows us to discover what's going on in town. We find that out on our own, rendering him rather pointless; and he takes up time that would be a lot more fun spent with the local residents. Here and there are hints at a bigger storyline for him, admittedly. He obviously has some connection to the immortal biology teacher (sorry, he does have a name, I just like writing that), and he's clearly been brought to the town for a reason. Since we never get close to finding out what that is though, he seems pointless and distracting. Meanwhile there's so much going on elsewhere. Evil Tyler Creed, who wants to be pack leader, and his battle against Sheriff Donner; Donner's awkward relationship with his daughter Sophia, who doesn't yet know whether she's wolf or human (or maybe something else?); the continuing imprisonment of Ruby, who escaped the pack and was brought back by force; and, later, a murder mystery (which needless to say remains just that). There's also the teenage population, led by Willard's son Luke, all fired up on animal instincts that they haven't yet learned to control. There is such a great community only just beginning to reveal itself. So much potential. Television really is the most frustrating thing at times.

Still, I have all nine episodes, so I'm at least a little bit happy right now, regardless. :)


Sherman Blackstone, immortal biology teacher.

Wolf King Willard Cates.

Vivian Cates, the double-dealing queen of the wolves.

Luke Cates (I think he's in The Vampire Diaries now? Maybe that's popular enough to encourage a DVD release).

Ruby Cates, who spends the entire series looking forlornly out of windows.

John Kanin, who spends the entire series looking forlornly for Ruby Cates.

Matt Donner, local sheriff and unwilling wolf.

Sophia Donner, possibly a wolf, possibly not.

Tyler Creed. Splendidly evil, and rather inclined to bite people's heads off. That's fairly unique with bad guys, you've got to admit.

Miranda Devereaux, kleptomaniac lounge singer. Usually found either in jail, or handcuffed to the sheriff's piano.

And a wolf. Well, you might not have known.

If anybody's interested, the show's on YouTube here. I recommend it. I freely admit that my definition of "good" doesn't always tally with that of the rest of the world, but this time other people agree with me. So I may actually be right. I know, but it does happen. On occasion.

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