You don't have to look hard to find vampires on TV. Young, old — there's a version for everyone. Werewolves? Not so much. Sure, they get a few scenes here and there, mostly fighting vampires, but where's the show that lets the pack shine? Maybe the problem is that historically, werewolves haven't been portrayed quite as seductive as their cold, undead colleagues. The changeover doesn't help. Vampires have neck biting and depending on the mythology, maybe a night buried underground. But werewolves have to deal with their bodies contorting and writhing in pain as the beast unleashes itself into the world. There's also the clothes problem. Undress before the change starts? Or let the change shred everything you're wearing and worry about it later? Werewolves might run free, but without careful planning, they end up in the middle of nowhere naked. It's an inconvenient problem. And one that makes the whole enterprise frankly kind of funny.
“Bitten” wants to take werewolves seriously. The show, based on “The Women of the Otherworld” novels by Kelley Armstrong, focuses on werewolf Elena Michaels (Laura Vandervoort). In addition to planning ahead to avoid the missing clothes situation, Elena is making a life for herself outside her pack as a photographer living in Toronto. Her struggle to deny her wolf nature to herself and her boyfriend is one of the show's themes. The other is her loyalty to the pack, a group of men, whose ancestral home she left a year ago. Elena is the only female werewolf in existence.
The conflict between denying or embracing the “animal self” is not a new idea in werewolf stories. But what is interesting and what makes “Bitten” worth watching is how Elena's status as the lone female wolf affects her emotionally. Like most werewolf tales where the human fights the wolf, the show asks you to imagine how that struggle feels. But unlike these stories, “Bitten” uses gender to complicate the struggle. With no one truly like her, Elena may forge an identity unlike any other werewolf. It's a theme that the series may do justice to if it finds the right balance between action and character.
Unfortunately, action is winning over character, as the pack reunites to first hunt a “mut” who is killing humans in their territory and then solve the mystery of who is targeting them. It keeps the plot moving forward, after all, wolves must hunt, but the show's real potential lies in Elena's story. If allowed to develop, it may pave the way for werewolves to take over more of the small screen.
“Bitten” is on Mondays at 8 p.m. EDT on SyFy.
Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a PhD in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.