When Dylan O'Brien was in Utah for the Sundance Film Festival in January, a lot of people didn't know who he was. Most didn't know he co-stars in MTV's "Teen Wolf." "I'm not sure how many people here are even aware of the show," he said.
And maybe it was better that way while he was promoting the coming-of-age movie "The First Time." Because, to the uninitiated, being identified with "Teen Wolf" isn't a good thing.
That's because a lot of people assume that MTV's "Teen Wolf" is closely related to the goofy 1985 Michael J. Fox movie. Which it most definitely isn't.
The original "Teen Wolf" was a goofy, over-the-top piece of fluff that more closely resembled a kids' cartoon than anything else. It was about as scary as "The Brady Bunch."
The current version of "Teen Wolf" is an often-dark tale where people die and there are genuine scares. There are moments that will startle you. But the biggest surprise is that it's actually quite entertaining.
"We always knew that taking the 'Teen Wolf' title would be tough," O'Brien said. "We knew that people would be really skeptical, whether they were fans of the original movie or not. Plus, we're on MTV, and we know what people think of MTV."
That echoes comments made by Joss Whedon ("The Avengers") and Sarah Michelle Gellar back when "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" premiered. Another unfortunate title; another TV series based on a bad movie; another network (The WB) that didn't have much cachet.
As a matter of fact, MTV's "Teen Wolf" has a lot in common with "Buffy." It's about a bunch of high-school kids caught up in supernatural stuff. "It's ordinary people in extraordinary situations," O'Brien said.
If you consider it extraordinary that your best friend, Scott (Tyler Posey), gets bitten by a werewolf and turned. And that Scott's girlfriend, Allison (Crystal Reed), comes from a family of werewolf hunters. It's a little like the Montagues and the Capulets in sort of an alternate universe.
O'Brien's character is clearly the comic relief. He's hilarious as Stiles, the goofy kid who's loyal to best-buddy Scott, even offering to keep Scott from harming himself or others. "Come on, if I have to, I'll chain you up myself on full moon nights and feed you live mice," he said. "I had a boa once. I can do it."
Goofy? Sure. Entertaining? Absolutely!
"I think it's a testament to the show, that a lot of people do kind of roll their eyes and say, 'I'm not going to watch that,' " O'Brien said. "And then when they do, they like it."
Scott D. Pierce covers TV for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce; read his blog at sltrib.com/blogs/tv.