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‘Big Wolf on Campus’ Offers Quirky Comedy

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Who would have thought that a teen TV series about a high school hunk with lycanthropic tendencies--he turns into a werewolf when he gets emotional--could be so refreshingly normal and funny?

Quirkiness is the calculated, guiding principle in the Fox Family Channel’s new Friday afternoon series “Big Wolf on Campus,” and you can see those wheels turning. But it works. Judging by the next two episodes (last week’s premiere was not available for review), the series, created by Peter Knight and Christopher Briggs, doesn’t have prime-time gloss, but it doesn’t have tiresome angst and attitude either. It does have unpredictable laughs, visual whimsy, often clever writing and likable young leads.

In today’s show, written by Gregory Thompson and Aron Abrams and directed by Carl Goldstein, Tommy (Brandon Quinn) tries to get rid of his werewolf curse with the help of his pasty-faced, electric-shock coiffed, goth-obsessed sidekick Merton (Danny Smith). Merton eagerly offers his own alcohol-swabbed neck for Tommy’s wolf bite, but Tommy thinks the nice, upstanding class president is a more responsible choice. The perplexed male student, however, mistaking Tommy’s approach for romantic interest, dissuades him. And remarkably, the scene is not the cheap shot you’d expect, but comic and even gentle.

Tommy, resigning himself to sprouting hair and fangs, finds it handy when his crush, cheerleader Stacey (Rachelle Lefevre), disappears, and he and Merton tangle with a weird bookmobile librarian. Proving that everyone really does have a book in them, she’s morphing townsfolk into stock for her bookshelves.

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Next week’s episode rises to higher wacky heights. Written by Dan Kopelman and directed by Erik Canuel, it’s “Purple Rose of Cairo"-inspired nuttiness about a ‘50s educational film bad apple who steps out of his black-and-white celluloid world to become kingpin of Tommy’s high school.

Pop references abound in the series, some sly and comic (“Dawson’s Creek” comes up; so does Woody Allen). Series regulars include Tommy’s mountainous couch potato brother (Jack Mosshammer), twin bullies (Rob Dee Leeuw and Dom Di Rosa), and Merton’s sister (Natalie Vansier), who’s so appalled by her geeky brother she pretends they’re not related.

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* “Big Wolf on Campus,” Fox Family Channel, Fridays, 5:30 p.m. Beginning April 17, repeats Saturdays, 11:30 a.m. The network has rated it TV-G (suitable for all ages).

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