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Fall '01: "Wolf Lake"

Wolf Lake stars Lou Diamond Phillips, fresh from several movies that appear to have been funded exclusively by Showtime and HBO, as a policeman. When Lou's girlfriend Ruby vanishes from a blood-spattered car, he hops on his motorcycle and takes off to the Cascade mountains outside Seattle. On the way, the viewer gets an early glimpse of the horrors to come when Ruby's face floats up on the screen in front of Lou's bike. I'm surprised he didn't crash, actually, but I guess the moody music and cutaways to stock footage of a full moon hardened him against cheesy film-school antics. That's probably why he was able to run so well through a forest filled with dry ice in the inevitable nighttime chase.

Speaking of cheesy effects, the producers apparently believe that the best part of Arnold Schwarzenegger's Predator was the scenes where the monster saw with heat vision. Or whatever that was. Oh, and you know that bit where something turns out to be a dream sequence and they suddenly cut to someone sitting upright in bed, covered in sweat? Yeah. For that matter, remember the end of Michael Jackson's Thriller video, when he looks around and his eyes are yellow? That very shot appears seven or eight times in the pilot. Sadly, there are no dancing zombies, presumably because they were all booked by Angel.

I am contractually obligated to mention something good about this television show, so here goes. It's got one of my favorite character actors, Graham Greene! In "Dances With Wolves," he was Kicking Bird, the Noble and Spiritual Native American. In "Thunderheart," he was Walter Crow Horse, the Noble and Spiritual Native American. In the PBS-friendly Canadian show Red Green, he's Edgar Montrose, the deranged explosives enthusiast, which doesn't support my premise, so I'm going to ignore it. But in Wolf Lake, he's the Peculiar and Spiritual Native American, and the role is clearly within his range.

For years, Graham Greene has been the official Hollywood Indian. Well, when they need someone to mutter mysterious wise sayings, anyway. He even got nominated for an Oscar for "Dances With Wolves," although he was pretty much the only person associated with that production who didn't go home with a statue. He's very much within his range here as Sherman Blackstone, who the CBS web site describes as "the keeper of all the town's secrets, and he alone knows the ancient lore of Wolf Lake." He also does magic tricks, possibly to keep himself interested.

So at least there's one entertaining actor. And this is the first time that the Official Hollywood Old Indian (Greene) has appeared with the Official Hollywood Young Indian (Lou Diamond Phillips), so that's something. It's a shame that Lou chooses to mark this historic occasion by acting in so stiffly a manner that it's almost like he's daring the television critics in the world to use the phrase "Wooden Indian." Luckily for the TeeVee legal staff, I am far too cultured to resort to such vulgarities.

When Lou, who I must remind you is playing a very "deadpan" character, arrives in Wolf Lake, he finds that it's populated by mysterious and weird characters. This combination of a stoic investigator and a Pacific Northwest town full of mysterious and quirky characters is presumably supposed to reminded the audience of Twin Peaks, but I don't think the producers counted on us saying "Boy! Twin Peaks was a much better show than this! Even the movie, which made no sense, was much better than this! Come to think of it, even that one Newsweek article that tried to explain the first season of Twin Peaks was much better than this! Maybe instead of watching the rest of this show, I'll just sit back and try to remember what the deal was with the Log Lady."

Lou is not burdened by such thoughts, or, as far as I can tell, any interior monologue whatsoever. In the case of his investigation, there are a lot of what I take to be "subtle" hints that the town is full of werewolves. There are statues of wolves, a lot of multiple births (triplets and quintuplets), and the aforementioned PredatorVision. Of course, those are all wasted because the whole thing is called Wolf Lake, and everyone knows ahead of time that it's a town full of werewolves. Lou comes off fairly thick-headed, never connecting the white wolves wandering around town with the mystery he's allegedly trying to solve. I expect he'll get clued in in later episodes, but if our Dead Pool is any indication of things to come, he'd better get clued in mighty fast, because his show doesn't have long to live.

It's surprising that Wolf Lake ever made it to the screen. Originally, it was going to be about two warring clans of werewolves, produced by the one of the people behind Kindred: The Embraced. But that was too silly (or something), and the whole concept was changed to Lou and his quest to find his lost love. In a city full of werewolves. And the Kindred: the Embraced connection has vanished ever since the producer took his name off the project. That's correct: someone whose resume proudly boasts a series about vampires based on a role-playing game decided that Wolf Lake would bring shame upon his family. Not burdened with such worries is Tim Matheson, formerly of The West Wing and Animal House. And 97 other roles, including the original voice of Jonny Quest. Sorry; I got a little distracted there. It's probably a bad thing when a show about werewolves isn't as interesting as talking about the resumes of the actors.

CBS advises viewer discretion because of the brief silhouetted nudity. I too advise discretion if you haven't built up a powerful tolerance to bad television. This sort of thing requires years of training.


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