Written by: Brent R. Oliver
I’ve been excited about Scream Queens ever since I saw the first trailer for it on Fox. I mean, Jamie Lee Curtis returns to horror during TV’s new Golden Age of programming? Fuck yes. Fuck yes and a half.
After watching the two-hour series premiere last night, I can comfortably say I’m now excited at the prospect of never watching this show again. Those one hundred twenty minutes last night were pure drudgery packed with derivative themes, flat storytelling, over-the-top performances, and terrible dialogue. Also, it sucked.
The show centers around the Kappa Kappa Tau sorority and opens with a party set in 1995. One of the Kappa pledges gives birth in a bathtub during the festivities. It was an empty bathtub, she wasn’t doing some kind of natural, underwater, hippy childbirth thing. She didn’t even know she was pregnant, she just thought she’d packed on the freshman fifteen. That pretty much set the tone right there. She ends up dying and it gets covered up.
Jump to 2015 and Chanel (Emma Roberts) is now queen bitch of the sorority. She’s surrounded by several underlings, all referred to as “Chanel” plus a number, as in “Chanel Number Two,”since they’re just supposed to be clones of the queen. That’s direct plundering from the film Heathers. In fact, Scream Queens is pretty much a ripped-off combination of Heathers, Clueless, and Legally Blonde. They also pilfer the scene from Psycho where the shower curtain is ripped down as Janet Leigh collapses.
Grace (Skyler Samuels) has just arrived at college and is determined to pledge KKT. Her mother, who died in a fire when she was two, was a Kappa and Grace sees this as a way of connecting to her memory. Her father (Oliver Hudson) thinks it’s a bad idea and gives her the fairly accurate advice that sororities are a lot like Game of Thrones once you’re on the inside.
Nonetheless, Grace pledges and instantly starts butting heads with Chanel. Grace is the goody-goody character so she’s naturally appalled at Chanel’s just-short-of-pure-evil behavior. Chanel is Kim Walker’s Heather from Heathers. A spoiled, entitled, racist, elitist, rich asshole who sees her popularity as ultimate power. And it’s easy to forget that the setting is college because everyone behaves like this is high school. Despite most of the characters being around nineteen or twenty, they whine, preen, sulk, pout, and party like they’re fifteen and doing all this for the first time.
The killer wears a bright red devil costume which, keeping true to form, is over-the-top. Painfully so. Despite the costume being the school mascot uniform, it still cements Scream Queens firmly into the “horror/comedy” category. Just without the horror. There was nothing the least bit scary, sinister, spooky, or macabre in this show. It was shitty 90s high school humor and characters that were the worst kind of overblown caricatures, right down to the stereotypical sassy black roommate. It would probably be entertaining if there were anything lurking underneath all this. Like if the extravagance and indulgence were just the top layer coating some smart satire or witty parody. But it seems like the aggressive unoriginality is all there is.
In addition to lacking any darkness or creepiness, there was also a dramatic lack of suspense and mystery. There was just too much snark and goofiness to ever foster a sense of dread or anticipation. Not that there were no really funny moments. There were. Quite a few. But that’s all there was. It was comedy relief without ever having anything to be relieved from.
Although some of the humor was truly sublime. When the devilish killer confronts Ariana Grande’s Chanel, they’re standing right in front of each other. They don’t talk, however. They text. It’s fucking fantastic. He actually texts her “I’m going to kill you now” and she texts back “Wait? Whaaat?” Then she Tweets for help. I laughed till I peed a little.
There are plenty of scenes with most or all of the girls screaming, which is fitting considering the title of the show. Their howling is pretty good, especially in a scene where the pledges are buried in the lawn up to their necks and the killer fires up a riding lawnmower. But none of them are the strong, bad ass scream queen that Jamie Lee was.
Speaking of, she did okay. Her character, Dean Munsch, is sleazy and unethical and has the potential to be tons of fun.
I, however, will never know if that potential is realized because I’m never watching another episode of Scream Queens. It tried to build up the mystery by implying that one of the girls is the bathtub baby squirted out two decades ago but I don’t care. I also have zero interest in finding out who the killer is because this show did the opposite of intrigue me.