Saturday, January 18, 2014

BITTEN In a Good Way

Article first written for Seat42F.

SyFy’s new BITTEN is a show about werewolves. OK, cue the groan about the gluttony of vampire, werewolves, and their ilk currently on television. And that frustration is understandable, as even though each story is different there are also some overwhelming similarities. But BITTEN does seem different, at least initially, more about a woman trying to define herself than about the creature she sometimes becomes.

Laura Vandervoort (V, Smallville) stars as Elena Michaels, the only female werewolf in the world. A year ago, she left her pack behind to try to make it on her own. Now, after she’s happily settled, living with a man named Philip McAdams (Paul Greene, Wicked Wicked Games) and getting to know his family, she’s called back to rejoin those she left behind.

It’s not that the pack imposes on her unnecessarily. Bodies are showing up in their area, bodies that are ripped apart, as if by an animal, and clearly killed only for sport, breaking one of the cardinal rules of the werewolf race. Elena is their best tracker, and with no one knowing who this new interloper is, they need her to help them find and stop the murderer.

And so Elena is torn. Should she return home to her pack leader, Jeremy Danvers (Greg Bryk, XIII: The Series), and his son, Clayton (Greyson Holt, Durham County), with whom she was once involved, or should she stay with the man she loves? Can she separate herself from the other wolves, or does she have a duty to those she once lived among?

It’s this primary crisis of conscience that makes up the series premiere, and while the outcome is a given, based on the premise of the show, it’s one that Elena doesn’t make easily, and certainly struggles with even after her mind is made up. In this, it’s a familiar story that is usually told having nothing to do with supernatural creatures, grounding the characters in a way that should be accessible to audiences.

While the cast is not that well known, Vandervoort has her share of followers in the science fiction genre. She is actually a good actress, despite her lackluster beginnings, and it was unfortunate V was canceled when she was just starting to show her chops. I do believe that BITTEN will be a good vehicle for her, and we’ll see some talent emerge that she hasn’t yet had a chance to show the world.

One thing that BITTEN may do differently than other werewolf stories, assuming it stays pretty close to the source material, which the network was kind enough to distribute along with the episodes, its werewolf population is very, very low. In the book, it is mentioned that only three dozen of them exist on the entire globe. This greatly limits the amount of characters that can be shown turning into animals, and shrinks the scope in a very manageable way.

It also means that there won’t constantly be more be more furry beasts showing up or exposing their race to the populace at large. Jeremy’s pack represents a significant chunk of all known werewolves, so they can control the story in a very finite manner.

I am anxious to see the development between Elena and Philip’s family. She has to hide who she is from them, and from Philip himself, which again, is something TV audiences have seen before. But the fact that multiple members of Philip’s family are a part of the cast, including his sister Diane (Natalie Brown, Sophie), whom introduced the couple, indicates Elena won’t be running away from the new life she’s established anytime soon.

Keeping a secret identity is likely to make BITTEN veer near the realm of comic book heroes, as much as it also serves the supernatural fans, and adds another layer to the proceedings. Will those normal characters learn about Elena’s nature and will they accept her? Or will she continue to be torn between the two realms, forever hiding, always on the brink of losing what she cares about?

I won’t claim BITTEN is the best new series on the air, or even a revelation for the genre. But I do think it has a strong structure and a great lead, with plenty of fresh elements to explore. In this, it could easily become a show worth watching, and I plan on setting a season pass for now.

BITTEN premieres Monday at 10 p.m. ET on SyFy.

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