By Ken Tucker
Updated June 06, 2011 at 04:50 AM EDT

The most telling line in the debut of Teen Wolf, which aired after the MTV Movie Awards, was a throwaway joke. The mother of Tyler Posey’s teen wolf warned her son that she doesn’t want to “end up on some reality show with a pregnant 16 year-old.” While 16 and Pregnant and Jersey Shore still do phenomenally well for what are essentially the same train wrecks every week, even TV networks have occasional twinges of pride, shows they want to point to as being quality stuff, or at least minimally classy. In this sense, Teen Wolf is the anti-Snooki, and would be welcome for that alone.

But beyond its good use as counter-programming, Teen Wolf was just plain good — good fun, well-written, and well-acted. Posey stars as Scott McCall, a gawky high school student who’s bitten by a werewolf. The bite proves to be a gift: Suddenly, Scott becomes an artfully adroit lacrosse player and the confidence that comes from this, plus heightened senses, and the general well-being that derives from the knowledge that you can slash any bully into meat cubes makes him attractive to the pretty new girl in town, Allison (the pert Crystal Reed).

Developed by Jeff Davis (Criminal Minds), Teen Wolf has a lot going for it. Posey is convincing as both a baffled adolescent and a confident wolf-boy, and the series benefits greatly from the smart, funny exchanges between Scott and his best pal, Stiles (Dylan O’Brien, who can rattle off wisecracks and lycanthropy factoids with equal ease). In general, the show pulls off a tricky thing: It capitalizes on the current werewolf trend in pop culture (Twilight, True Blood) without piggy-backing on it, if you’ll excuse the mixed-creature metaphor.

When Scott turns into a werewolf, he doesn’t get hairy all over, the way Michael J. Fox did, or as Michael Landon did in 1957’s I Was A Teenage Werewolf. No, Scott just gets pointier ears and a vulpine shape to his face. His pecs remain gleamingly prominent. On a scale of self-consciousness, he looks more like Ben Stiller than a truly hairy beast.

This series is part of MTV’s effort to reintroduce scripted programming as a prominent part of the channel’s identity. (Its other recent efforts, an Americanized Skins and The Hard Times of RJ Berger, were stinky bummers.) MTV knows that it cannot continue to thrive on a diet of reality TV. And the network seems to have utterly lost its touch at being able to draw viewers to the reason the channel exists in the first place: music. (Remember music?)

In the current TV landscape, a show such as Teen Wolf has cable competition from at least two directions. The first is ABC Family, with its highly successful slate of tween programming. The second is HBO, where the werewolves can bite down on more naked flesh more lustily. Clever and fresh, Teen Wolf falls somewhere in between. Here’s hoping there’s an appetite out there among you for its toothy charms.

Twitter: @kentucker