Here’s a confession: I have never seen Glee, not even a single episode. So despite being a sometimes viewer of the hit or miss American Horror Story, I didn’t really know what to expect from Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk for their new television venture, Scream Queens. The series premiered this past week to somewhat mixed reviews, despite already having high user ratings on IMDB.
The basic premise of Scream Queens is that a sorority party gone awry in 1995 has terrifying consequences in the modern day. From the opening scene of the party, the viewer is taken to an upstairs bathroom where it’s revealed that one of the sorority girls has given birth in the bathtub. As her sisters crowd around her wide eyed, the tone of the show is set when one asks, “Who told you you could have a baby here tonight?!” This scene was one of the more comical, as the lead sister continues to note what an inconvenience this is to her. She leaves when a TLC song begins to play downstairs, stating, “I am not missing ‘Waterfalls’ for this. ‘Waterfalls’ is my jam.” As anyone who lived through the 90’s knows, ‘Waterfalls’ is indeed everyone’s jam.
The scenario does not play out well, as the new mother bleeds out and dies in the tub. Fast forward 20 years: the new reigning queens of Kappa Kappa Tau are preparing for rush week. Or it should really be said, the queen of Kappa Kappa Tau: Chanel Oberlin, played by Emma Roberts. While the show is meant to be a slasher-comedy, Chanel’s character lacks much of the latter half of that combination. Even when her scenes begin with something laughable (like when she orders a trenta, no-foam, five shot, half-caf, no foam, Pumpkin Spice Latte, with no foam at 210 degrees), the joke often plays itself out in a cringe worthy manner (as when she calls the barista a ‘coffee donkey’ before throwing her PSL* on the floor).
*Don’t even pretend you don’t know what PSL stands for
Chanel’s lackeys are simply called Chanel #2 (Ariana Grande), Chanel #3 (Billie Lourd), and Chanel #5 (the talented but much miscast Abigail Breslin). That’s about all that can really be said for them at this point, except to mention Chanel #2 has a scene at the end of episode 1, Pilot, that will genuinely make you laugh out loud. Without spoiling anything, it was probably one of the best scenes in the two part opener. After establishing Chanel’s she-rannical rule over the sorority house, she’s summoned the dean’s office, to also establish her rivalry with Dean Cathy Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis). For horror fans watching the show, the lack of Jaime Lee Curtis may be disheartening, but clues point to her having a larger role within the series.
At this point, Scream Queen’s protagonist makes her debut. Grace (Skyler Samuels) may be another pretty, thin, blonde girl, but she uses her powers for good. This is quickly made evident in the tearful love she has for her father, the wish to follow in her deceased mother’s footsteps by joining KKT, and her quirky style of dress which includes mismatched patterns. As a character, Grace is flat and hard to invest in, which can’t be helped as most of the audience’s direction is pointed in Chanel’s way. No matter: Grace quickly makes friends with her new roommate Zayday (Keke Palmer) and talks her into joining KKT, too.
While it didn’t feel like it while watching the hour long premier, a lot actually happened. In the dean’s quest to crush KKT and their influence, she opens membership of the sorority to anyone willing to join: all the beautiful and affluent girls run away from the now unexclusive house, leaving the Chanel clan with only outcasts, misfits, Grace, and Zayday. From there, the murder, mystery, and intrigue begin as a killer in a devil costume is introduced and Chanel continues to be a horrible, horrible person.
More often than not, the humor was brutal with an uncomfortable mixture of racism, classism, and insensitivity. The two episodes were not content to just push boundaries; they threw political correctness out of the window entirely. Though trying it’s best to imitate cult satires of teen youth, much like Clueless and Mean Girls, Scream Queen falls short.The ability to acknowledge cultural stereotypes and play off of them is extremely hard, so instead, Scream Queens mashes a lot of offensive statements in your face with little supporting context to create actual comedy. The result is a show whose selling point comes off as tacky and spiteful. At the other end of the spectrum, the slasher aspect fails to live up great films like The House on Sorority Row and Black Christmas. The masked killer almost feels like an afterthought, as no actual mood is created. The characters treat murder as if it’s something that they just have to deal with, rather than calculate how to save their own lives.
So, this reviewer’s personal take? Ultimately, the show was hard to get into and I didn’t feel any investment in the characters or mystery. The body count was surprising in a good way considering the premier is only 2/15ths of the entire series, but there was little blood or gore (thanks for nothing, FOX). Certain scenes and lines did make me laugh out loud, but it wasn’t enough to keep me coming back for more. When the credits rolled, I literally just shrugged and closed my laptop. Definitely, this show will appeal to a certain type of viewer, but that viewer most likely isn’t me.