TV Series Review: Bitten – Season 1


Bitten, the TV series, is based off of the popular Women of the Otherworld series of books by Canadian author Kelley Armstrong. Focusing predominantly on a pack of werewolves based in a fictional place called Stonehaven, the first book, also called Bitten, focuses on Elena Michaels who is known to be the only living female werewolf. Bitten, the book, tells the story of Elena and her struggles as she tries to stay away from the pack and live a normal life but finds it difficult. When the pack come under attack, she returns to Stonehaven to help and ends up embroiled in a battle with non pack werewolves, called mutts, that may force her to leave her hopes of a normal life behind for ever.

I know these books well, and I mean really well. I have read all 13 books in this series, most of them multiple times. They are exceptional stories of dark science fiction, mild horror and fantasy and as a complete series, cover an expansive other world full, of sorcery, covens, cabals, werewolves, demons and their difficult interactions with humanity. It’s my love of these books that got me very excited to see that SyFy, in the UK, were showing a series I never even considered would be in production but it is that same love that worried me for two reasons. One, this is low budget and while the first book deals with werewolves in relatively standard locations, the second, called Stolen, raises the stakes massively by incorporating all sorts of magical and mythical creatures and I doubt the budget will stretch to doing that well. Because of this I have to assume they will not stick to the storylines from the books as they are heavily linked which would be a shame as each one would make a cracking movie or TV series with the right amount of money to spend. My second fear is simply because this is a book to screen conversion and my experience with those is not always great, especially when you know the books really well and have your own image of the characters and their traits.

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Bitten, the series, was directed by Brad Turner (24, Homeland) and there are 13 episodes in this first season. Like the book, the TV series focuses on the North American pack, under the leadership of the alpha, Jeremy Danvers, played by Greg Bryk (A History of violence, Frontier). The pack are not just a family of werewolves. They are a ruling body in their area – judge, jury and executioners who keep tabs on, and control, all North American werewolves, either pack or mutt (non pack wolves). It is mainly the mutt’s who require controlling though. They are not allowed on, and normally actively avoid, direct pack territory such as Stonehaven and are expected to keep their gift/affliction hidden and secret. Any violation to these rules is deemed as a threat to pack survival which would require the mutt to be found and destroyed. The main source of that destruction is Clayton Danvers played by Greyston Holt (See No Evil 2, Alcatraz). Clay, as he is known, is the violently protective muscle of the pack. He would, and does, destroy any threat to his alpha and adoptive father Jeremy, the love of his life Elena and his family, the pack. He is strong and is feared but also troubled and described, in the books, as being more in touch with his wolf side then his human side.

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An example of this is that it was actually Clay who bit and turned Elena. He loved her, didn’t want Jeremy to send her human self away so without thinking, just bit her. His impulsiveness should have resulted in her death as no female has ever survived being turned but she does and is now the only known female werewolf in existence. Elena Michaels is played by Laura Vandervoort (V, Smallville). Elena is not happy with being a werewolf and is definitely not happy with Clay. She has tried to cut ties with the pack and lives far away from them, attempting to be fully human. She is engaged to a normal, human guy called Phillip and she works as a photographer. She does still have regular contact with one member of the pack, Logan, played by Michael Xavier, who she meets with and who tries to convince her to return unsuccessfully. Elena, in the series is the opposite of Elena from the books. She almost appears to be a socialite in the series, wearing glamourous dresses, high heels and spending time shopping while in Toronto compared to the books tom-boyish, troubled outcast type. This is one of many, many issues you will find if you have read the books. Back to the story though and we learn a little more about Elena, who is struggling to control her body which needs to change regularly, she spends time wandering the streets at night where she can change and allow her body to be in wolf form for a while but her secretive, night time excursions also cause trust issues with her husband to be. She can’t just tell Phillip the truth because if he knew about werewolves, the pack would have to kill him.

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Back to the pack, and there is a problem. A young girl has been killed on pack territory by a wolf or wild dogs, according to the local authorities, though Jeremy recognises it as a mutt kill. The fact that a mutt dared to kill so close to the pack home causes concern so Jeremy calls home all members of the pack so they can find and kill the mutt quickly. Logan and Elena are summoned back to Stonehaven where Jeremy and Clay already are. The rest of the pack include Nick Sorrentino (Steve Lund) and his father Antonio (Paulino Nunes) who are also close by with Peter (Joel Keller) due to arrive later due to being further away. Logan, who has to tie up some loose ends from his human life and with his human wife is also expected to join them at a later time. Elena resists returning though eventually gives in, despite mistrust and concern from Phillip as she spins a story of going to visit family but has already told Phillip she has no family.

Elena is mentioned as being needed as she is, by far, the best tracker the pack has so when she returns, she get’s straight to work trying to identify the mutt while also avoiding Clay as much as possible. In fact, she comes across quite dismissive and standoffish with every member of the pack, which is again unlike her book character. While hunting the mutt they discover a new victim and that he has a new scent. The pack have a newly made mutt in Stonehaven killing at will and this is a huge problem. They just don’t quite know how big yet. Tensions continue to grow as locals and local law enforcement grow suspicious of the secretive Danvers family, especially when evidence of a body is found on their land. Another mutt, Karl Marsten (Pascal Langdale) also arrives in town and seems to be willing to help the pack though is known to not be the most trustworthy wolf around.

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The pack finally find some answers when they uncover a room belonging to one of the murderous mutts which also contains trophies from his kills. Realising these are all newly turned mutts, but also, human killers before turning, finally awakens the pack to the truth, they are actually being cleverly attacked. A mutt is turning human killers into werewolves and releasing them in Bear Valley. When another person goes missing, the police decide to search the Danvers land, along with some locals. The finger of suspicion points very firmly at Clayton now, his strength mixed with antisocial and temperamental characteristics make him an easy target. With evidence found on the property, it becomes clear that Clay is being set up.

Back in the human world and Elena needs to return to Phillip before he and his whole family descend on Stonehaven at a most inopportune time. Clay follows her, as protection but also to be away from the watchful eyes of Bear Valley, but Phillip is attacked by yet another mutt. Around the same time, Daniel Santos (Michael Luckett), a long time enemy of the pack reveals himself as the leader of what they are calling a mutt uprising, hell bent on the destruction of the pack to enable them to live and hunt freely, but also because Daniel has a thing for Elena and wants her for himself. When Daniel reaches out to the pack for a meeting, all hell breaks loose and the pack become engaged in a battle that has disastrous consequences. As the pack numbers start to dwindle, Clay gets captured and the pack are ripe for the taking. Will Elena fully embrace the wolf within to save the man she once loved? Can Jeremy save his son and the pack enforcer? Even if they can, will there be much of a pack left to save?

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You will have to watch to find out. Safe to say though that the series comes to an end with the best action of the whole series in a brutal, and bloody battle that sees both sides lose a great deal.

So, as a show, it isn’t absolutely terrible. The acting is okay, not great, maybe not even good but it is watchable. The story moves at a decent enough pace and there are a whole bunch of interesting secondary characters like Karl Marsten and Daniel Santos which add depth and hint at deeper relationships and stories to come. The locations are as you would expect with a mix of industrial zones, woodland and forest and a few scenes in the small rural towns. It is all shot well enough – nothing looks glaringly bad while there is also nothing to really stand out as an interesting idea, or different style. When in wolf form, the wolves appear to be 100% CGI. While I have read many complaints about how unrealistic they look, I must admit I didn’t think they looked too bad at all. Again, I am expecting low budget here so maybe others went in with higher expectations. I imagine, if I had never read the books I would leave it here and close by saying something like – not bad, but a long way from good. Give it a watch when you have nothing else to watch. Maybe I would chuck a 5/10 at it and, if you haven’t read the books, this is probably where you should stop reading and I hope you get some enjoyment out of the show.

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Still here? Okay then. Time for a rant, starting with, if you have read the books and are looking for an okay but faithful adaptation, this is not it.

It is absolutely beyond me how a prewritten story from an acclaimed writer can be taken by a screen writer and just bastardised. You don’t need to improve the story, it has already been written and is successful! I completely understand you may need to shorten it, tweak plots and lose some sub plots and secondary characters but to completely destroy the main characters of the book shows an appalling understanding of the original property.

These books work well because there is a brilliant relationship between Clay and Elena. When they fight, they are quick witted and argumentative – like two small children. When they are not fighting, they are overly sexual, funny and still argumentative. Clay is a brilliant character – vicious but not because he is a horrible person, because he is more wolf then human. He is charming, funny, loyal, protective, submissive to his alpha and firmly at Elena’s side as he sees her as his lifelong mate. He is abrasive to other people, not because he is arrogant but because he neither likes other humans or understands them. Nick is a playboy who has a strong, fun-loving relationship with Elena and who play fights with Clay all the time. Antonio is a rock – a strong fighter and key component of the story as well as being Jeremy’s advisor, best friend and defender. As for Jeremy, Jeremy is a pacifist. Often looking to resolve conflict with reason and logic rather than violence. He does not get physically involved in fights unless there is not other choice. He is the Alpha – he sends his pack to battle but always as a last resort.

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What this show does is strip away all the interesting motivations and characteristics from these people making Elena more of a glamorous model with no personality and Clay is even worse. I don’t think he smiles once in the show and is instead relegated to background work most of the time which instantly breaks a relationship dynamic that needed to exist for us to care when he gets captured. If you have read the books, imagine this then – Clay almost disobeys Jeremy when given a direct order. Yep, exactly. No fucking way. Now picture the reason for Clay’s mutinous behaviour. Jeremy is being overly violent and Clay does not agree with it. Yep, absolutely laughable and backwards.

As for the others, well we have Nick, who seems to get a larger amount of screen time than Clay does and is often sent off to track and search first though we avid readers know that his tracking skills were non existent in the book. Hell, even in the show they mention that Elena must come back as she is the best tracker they have but still Nick gets sent off while Elena stands around twiddling her hair and looking grumpy. Antonio is deemed a sub character in the show and is quickly despatched while Logan has a large part to play but, while I can just about get passed all of that, what I can not forgive is what they have done to both Jeremy, and the idea of the pack.

Starting with Jeremy, in the show he is an arrogant fool. He appears to be hotheaded, quick to jump into action and also the first one into a fight. He appears comfortable with violence and torture to a point where he doesn’t appear to have control of the pack as even Clayton questions his over use of aggressive tactics. What book did these writers read that described Jeremy as this? It is ridiculous. Maybe they got him confused with his father Malcolm Danvers who, in the books, is described as being exactly these things. The reason Jeremy became Alpha after defeating Malcolm is because he did not agree with Malcolm’s violent ways.

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As for the pack as a whole, in the story you root for them over the mutts. The mutts are mutts by choice. They could join the pack as long as they can abide by the rules. They kill humans and have no regard for anyone other than themselves. The pack do not hunt them for fun, they don’t actually even hunt them unless they kill someone. Probably because of a lack of time, in the show you do not get enough backstory and, if I had not read the books, I would probably have been rooting for the mutts. The pack came across to me as deceitful, domineering Nazi’s who kill you if you do not do what they say and are led by an overly aggressive master in Jeremy. The mutts appear to just be fighting for freedom to live where they want and do what they want.

One final complaint is how little time they actually all spend as wolves in the show. In the books they are wolves as much as they are humans. They hunt as wolves and they often fight as wolves. In the show, their wolf time is kept to a minimum and fights only take place as hand to hand combat, when in human form. Again, this one little thing changes the dynamics of the story massively as we see people, who sometimes change into wolves at war with other people who also sometimes change rather than a full on wolf pack vs mutt wolf rebellion.

How did these characters get so off track?

I have to repeat myself here and say that you may enjoy this if you have not read the books. As a show with nothing to compare it to, it is okay. Keep in mind the low end budget and lower your expectations and it is actually not the worst thing you will watch this year but, if you have read the books and are watching this because you want to see Elena, Clay and Jeremy portrayed on the screen well prepare to be disappointed. There are fleeting glimpses where one character may, just for a second, act like they are meant to but for the vast majority of the time, they are poorly crafted and pale reflections of what should have been compelling and complex characters. With nothing to like about the main characters, there becomes little point in watching their stories unfold which begs the question,, why does this even exist, and adds one more line of evidence to why people should just leave books to be books. At least, understand that the great thing about a good story is the strength and depth of the characters within. A successful adaptation needs to focus on getting the characters right to work. The story is nothing if you don’t care for the characters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bitten - Season 1
  • 3/10
    The Final Score - 3/10
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