Sarah Anne Lloyd, 2011.
This week's TV Dinner was gripped with an admittedly tough choice between two immediately relevant television hype machines, neither of which seem to be aging very well: Discovery Channel's Shark Week and MTV, celebrating its 30th anniversary this week.
Reviewing any shark-based cuisine seemed a little immoral (read: above my price range), so I figured that MTV had to have something more easily comparable to the sleazier side of our fair city's cuisine. Luckily, I struck gold in the middle-aged music network's first season of Teen Wolf, a heavy-handed look into the emotionally jaded world of adolescents who occasionally turn into hairy killing machines. The way MTV seemed so sure of itself in using two cheesy '80s teen comedies as the basis for an edgy, multifaceted serial drama felt just as equally bold and empty as a dinner consisting solely of hot dogs from Westlake's Dog in the Park.The Cuisine: Dog in the Park sets itself apart from other hot-dog stands with its grilled buns, thorough cooking technique, eclectic toppings, and prime real estate in Westlake Park. Their signature sausage is the All Beef Dog in the Park Favorite, cut in half lengthwise and fried on each side, like all of Dog's sausages, and available with many optional hearty additions, including grilled cabbage and onions or a generous layer of cream cheese. I went the spartan route with mine, having no problem enjoying the summer staple with light, wholly untrained drizzles of ketchup and mustard. My only All-American gripe was that the perfectably reasonable sized beef sausage still left me a little wanting. Good thing I ordered two!
The All-Beef was flawless for what it was, but Dog in the Park's faintly crunchy roll and meticulous dissect-and-fry technique really shone with the stand's spicy Louisiana sausage. In my experience with most hot-dog stands' spicy offerings, cold buns and uneven cooking tend to turn even the pluckiest Texas weenie into an inconsistent mess before you can even pile on the fixings. In contrast, this Creole-inspired dog was spicy and comforting from its first bite to the last.
The only problem I had with Dog in the Park worth mentioning has to do with the actual logistics of moving their grub out of Westlake Park. The stand is forced to make the best of the space that they have, and is therefore mostly limited to paper trays and napkins to keep your items hot and portable. That said, in the age of streaming video godsends like iPad and Hulu+, you could always watch the following monstrosity here.
The Entertainment: Although supporters of lycanthrope athletics will be excited to see that MTV's Teen Wolf has taken to lacrosse, fans of the original films aren't really serviced here. The show actually takes its visual cues from darker, more recent monstrous teen franchises like Twilight or the later Harry Potter films, leaving you to wonder where the film's flighty charm (or open fly shots) went underneath all the melodrama and dreary grey.
Even Teen Wolf's requisite "Main Character Uses Supernatural Powers to Humiliate Mortals in Their Favorite Sport" sequences seem more cribbed from the joyless, rigidly choreographed wire-work in the first Twilight film's laughable baseball scene than M.J. Fox's charismatic hoops clinic. It might be taking it a bit far to think of the original films as more "grounded," but where the first Teen Wolf film had the tangible joy of seeing the previously hopeless Fox effortlessly wrack up a quadruple double, the television show's lacrosse element just comes off like an already-hunky teen doing slow-motion backflips to kill time before the meatier, bleaker storylines about Teen Wolf Hunters or Evil Murderer Alpha Teen Wolfs.
However, perhaps the most egregious error Teen Wolf makes is its episodes' 60-minute length, which ends up making the show take way too much time to get to the fairly shallow issues of teenagedom vs. werewolfdom that the films managed to tackle in under a half-hour. Even if you were the type of person who couldn't get past the fact that MTV doesn't show music videos anymore, you could take some kind of respect in their devotion to snarky, teen 30-minute dramedies like Undressed or Daria. The fast pace and surprisingly rigid plot structures of these shows blew past dour, overly complicated procedural contemporaries like The X-Files, providing a refreshing (if vapid) alternative in shows with a token amount of depth that you could easily watch among friends.
But as hour-long, supernatural serial dramas like The Walking Dead and True Blood have captured the buzz of younger audiences, it really seems like MTV is forsaking its original strengths with a clunkier, more demanding show like Teen Wolf. It kind of feels like if Dog in the Park all of the sudden added chicken stir-fry to its menu because they saw happy people coming out of P.F. Chang's--certainly no one asked for it, and the result seems pretty doomed to be as bland and confusing as the concept.
While Teen Wolf's pervasive bored restraint keeps it far away from being the most offensively terrible thing on television, it just seems like the kind of mistake that's especially embarrassing for a 30-year-old to be making.
The Pairing: At the end of the day, Dog in the Park is still just a hot-dog stand, not a place to get a satisfying square meal by any stretch of the imagination. However, it serves much more tantalizing ephemera than Teen Wolf's flat characters and painstaking dialogue. If you're looking for something light to kill the time or simply keep your brain busy for less than 30 minutes, I'd definitely choose the Dog over the Wolf.
As an added bonus, if you haul down to Westlake Park for a hot dog today, odds are you'll able to get some free cookies!