back to the future, better off dead, bobby finstock, boof, charles de mar, chris knight, curtis armstrong, drew barrymore, family ties, francis, gary wallace, james tolkan, jay tarses, jerrry levine, jim mckrell, john stockton, lorie griffin, magic johnson, mark arnold, mark holton, marty mcfly, michael j. fox, michael jordan, mick, mtv, pee wee's big adventure, poison ivy, real genius, stiles, susan ursitti, teen wolf, tv show, val kilmer, weird science, werewolf, wisdom
In 1985, no one was hotter than Michael J. Fox. From starring in the classic TV show Family Ties to doing TV movie Poison Ivy (no, not the sexy movie with Drew Barrymore, you dirty-minded fools) to launching the smash first installment of the Back to the Future trilogy, Fox could do no wrong. Which brings us to Teen Wolf, where Fox plays Scott Howard, your typical average American Joe who finds out that his family has a little secret…he and his dad are werewolves (his mother was as well, but she died).
But before we get to that part, we have to start at the beginning, Scott is a middle of the pack guy – not popular, not unpopular. He plays point guard on the basketball team, but it’s a shitty basketball team coached by a terrible coach (more on him later). His best friend, Stiles (Jerry Levine), moves in and out of the popular circles and is known for his wild antics and schemes. Basically, not the guy you want your kids hanging out with. He has the hots for the class actress Pamela (Lorie Griffin) who doesn’t really notice him and has a big boyfriend on the rival basketball team (Mark Arnold), but is adored by Boof (Susan Ursitti), his best girl friend, whom he ignores with hopes of bagging Pamela. Your standard high school tale, truthfully. Complicated relationships that really shouldn’t be complicated at all.
When he finds out he’s a wolf, he’s scared but is told by his father that with being werewolf comes responsibility and also enhanced powers. Scott, being the insecure 17-year old that he is, struggles with his wolf side unsure of how to handle it as well as what to do should he turn into the wolf in front of people unexpectedly.
He “comes out” as the wolf, so to speak, to Stiles who isn’t put off by it and can immediately sense an opportunity which to exploit, which doesn’t make him feel any better about his situation. What Scott fears most about being exposed as a wolfman finally happens in the middle of a contested play during one of their hopelessly awful basketball games. At first people are stunned, but when Scott takes over the basketball game and starts playing like Magic Johnson, John Stockton and Michael Jordan all wrapped up in one person, people LOVE it. Check it out:
So Scott’s fears are assuaged immediately and takes on the persona of the Wolfman almost full-time, much to the chagrin of Boof because Pamela actually starts to pay attention to him. He becomes the “it” guy at school – people love him and want to be around him. Stiles starts a budding wolf souvenir business and is making money hand over fist. The basketball team is on an unprecedented run, but the players resent Scott for basically making every play. Scott has drawn the ire of Vice Principal Thorne (Jim McKrell), who was once a wooer of his mother who lost out to Scott’s father and he still carries a grudge, not unlike the relationship Marty McFly and VP Strickland (James Tolkan) have in Back to the Future. So as Scott spirals into a routine that creates more loathing than love, he realizes he has to stop it all. So when the Beavers make it to the big championship basketball game against the rival Dragons and Pamela thug ass boyfriend Mick, he decides to play it straight, as Scott not as the Wolf. As you can imagine this ruffles the feathers of the fans who came to see the spectacle, but Scott and his fellow Beavers don’t disappoint. The ending is as you would expect – Scott’s move makes everyone happy after the team wins, he bypasses Pamela who for some reason remains interested in him and finally gets with Boof and all is right. A nice tidy ending to your standard 80s teen comedy.
This is all well and good, but behind the scenes is a character on the periphery, an unsung hero remains…and that is basketball coach Bobby Finstock (Jay Tarses). A man of philosophical depth that few movies in the 80s ever saw and few have since.
While he may appear aloof and uninterested in the students, his players and really the game of basketball itself, Bobby Finstock is really a motivator and his techniques were way ahead of their times. Only now are we realizing what a genius this character really was. His three rules to live by are as follows:
- Never get less than 12 hours of sleep
- Never play cards with a guy who’s got the same first name as a city, and
- Never go near a lady who’s got a tattoo of a dagger on her body
Rare is it that nuggets such as these are dispensed, free of charge no less. These are rules that can easily be applied to this very day. And the story he tells about the kid who needs to quit the basketball team to help his family out with money is poetry, pure and simple and I think really touched Scott in a way he wasn’t expecting. If you haven’t seen the film, feast your eyes here and soak up everything the man has to say:
Bobby Finstock is one of my favorite 80s movie characters, up there with Charles De Mar (Curtis Armstrong) in Better Off Dead, Chris Knight (Val Kilmer) in Real Genius and Gary Wallace (Anthony Michael Hall) in Weird Science, which is some testament because he leaves as lasting of an impression as many of the main characters have.
If you mix all of this up with the fact that Francis from Pee Wee‘s Big Adventure (Mark Holton) is also in this, you have the recipe for a fairly satisfying 80s comedy. That this has been re-appropriated by shitty ass MTV and made into a TV show is not surprising given their trend of taking something that has name recognition and whore it out for a new generation. While I haven’t seen the show, if MTV has anything to do with it, you can be sure it falls somewhere in between a pile of shit and a herpetic sore. Not a gamble I’m willing to take.
Teen Wolf isn’t the strongest of the 80s teen comedies, but it is still fun. It apparently translates fairly well to newer generations as my sons both adored it when they saw it. In thinking about it, a basketball dunking werewolf is pretty much in their wheelhouse, so it’s no surprise. I hold out hope that Bobby Finstock’s words of wisdom embedded themselves deep within their brains, available for recall when they most need them. And if you are curious where the cast has ended up, check this out.
Here’s the trailer: