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Review: Scream Queens 1x1-1x2 (US: Fox; UK: E4)

Posted on September 23, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Scream Queens

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, Fox
In the UK: Acquired by E4 for autumn for broadcast

The list of evil was long, my foreboding great:

  • Created by Ryan Murphy, creator of Glee, American Horror Story, The New Normal, Nip/Tuck and Pretty Handsome
  • Teen heroes and heroines
  • Guest stars from Glee
  • A spoof of slasher horror movies, particularly from the 1980s
  • Pop star Nick Jonas
  • Sororities
  • Rich kids
  • The Fox network
  • No female writers

How could it go right, I wondered? Even with the possible saving grace of Jamie Lee Curtis starring in it, Scream Queens was going to be wretched.

I picked at my nails. I watched 800 Words. I even contemplated sitting down to struggle with The Bastard Executioner or re-evaluate The Muppets.

But no, this is a blog with a cast iron guarantee that it will cover every new, scripted US TV show for adults, provided they don't feature too much music, appear on some obscure network I've never heard of or start in August. Could there be any stronger bond of trust with you, dear reader? 

And gods damn it, it's September.

So I sat down and braved myself to watch two full hours of Scream Queens. And waddayaknow? After an initially bumpy start, Scream Queens turned out to be the first new show of the Fall 2015-16 that I've actually enjoyed.

Here's a trailer.

Plot
Part black comedy, part slasher flick, the hotly anticipated Scream Queens is coming to E4 this autumn. The series is a modern take on a whodunit in which every character has a motive for murder... or could easily be the next victim.

Kappa House, an American university sorority for girls has recovered from the catastrophic events of 1995 after a sorority party ended in tragedy, and is now the most sought-after sorority for pledges (for potential new members), ruled with an iron fist (adorned in a pink glove) by Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts, American Horror Story: Freak Show, Scream 4). But all hell breaks loose when anti-Kappa Dean Cathy Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis, Halloween, A Fish Called Wanda) decrees that sorority pledging must be open to all students, and not just the school’s silver-spooned elite. To make matters even worse, a devil-clad killer begins wreaking havoc across the campus on the 20th anniversary of the party.

Scream Queens is from award-winning creators Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story), Brad Falchuk (Glee, American Horror Story) and Ian Brennan (Glee).

With an all-star cast, including; Golden Globe® and BAFTA winner Jamie Lee Curtis, Emma Roberts, Emmy® Award and Golden Globe® Award nominee Lea Michele (Glee, New Year’s Eve), Academy Award® nominee Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine, August: Osage County), Nasim Pedrad (Mulaney, Saturday Night Live), Oliver Hudson (Nashville, Rules of Engagement), Skyler Samuels (American Horror Story: Coven), Keke Palmer (Akeelah and the Bee, Masters of Sex), newcomer Billie Lourd, Diego Boneta (Rock of Ages), Glen Powell (The Expendables 3), Lucien Laviscount (Episodes, Coronation Street), Niecy Nash (Getting On, The Soul Man), pop superstar and actor Nick Jonas (Kingdom) and Grammy® Award nominee and actress Ariana Grande.

Scream Queens is from Ryan Murphy Television and Brad Falchuk Teley-Vision in association with 20th Century Fox Television. The series is created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan, who also serve as writers and directors on the series. Scream Queens is executive produced by Murphy, Falchuk, Brennan and Alexis Martin Woodall (American Horror Story: Hotel).

Is it any good?
It's actually pretty good. Probably a little too slick and empty to really resonate, but it's cleverly written, has some laugh out loud moments and a great 80s soundtrack.

The show is one part satire to one part mystery. The show revolves around Emma Roberts and the fellow members of her sorority. Most of the jokes are about sorority girls being either airheads or spoilt, clueless rich girls, and since Clueless gave us more or less the definitive word on the genre over 20 years ago, you'd be tempted to wonder what the point is of retreading this territory.

Of course, sororities have moved on and the rich/poor divide widened to the extent that the headlines are full of the callous excesses of college kids around the US. The kids of today are more easily satirised as pampered airheads, insulated from the real world by social media and no real struggles in life, too.

What Scream Queens does well is mimic the language and attitudes of this new kind of real world Sorority Girl, revelling in their prejudice, inanity and shallowness with gasp-inducing, politically incorrect one-liners. At first, this begins to feel a bit cliched and even misogynistic, but it soon becomes clear that as well as sending up this kind of real world Sorority Girl, it's also sending up the Sorority Girl of horror movies, as well as Frat Boys, lesbians, gay men, rich white people, poor Latino people, rich black people, nerds, the disabled, deaf people who are really big Taylor Swift fans - in fact, just about anyone with a functioning respiratory system.

It also likes sending up the tropes of both the horror genre as well as of drama itself. When principal Jamie Lee Curtis invites someone into her office for a meeting, she offers him a drink. All seems normal and we expect the scene to go all exposition on us. It's a perfect couple of comedic seconds before her guest asks, "Wait, is this bourbon? It's 10 in the morning!" There's also a number of almost Austin Power-esque scenes where the characters simply squabble over semantics, syntax and more, and there's plain old slapstick at times, too.

But the show offers some depth as well. Braindead Frat Boy Rich Kid Chad (Glen Powell) is the kind of person who talks about himself in the third person, gets sexually aroused by dead bodies, drive golf balls at members of Amnesty International (aka 'hippies') and who'd dump his girlfriend for being an unpopular 'garbage person' (but because she had been formerly popular, rather than always unpopular, in which case he could have made her popular because he's so popular). But his best friend Boone (Nick Jonas) is gay and he's happy to share a bed with his frightened friend to comfort him, despite the previous incident - and then to dump his girlfriend for being homophobic when she objects.

The show's also quite good on the mystery side. Who is the man (or woman) dressed in the red devil costume who keeps killing everyone? Is it something to do with the baby born 20 years previously? Is it Jamie Lee Curtis, who has an odd habit of talking to herself? And there's a couple of fun red herrings to play with, too.

Where it fluffs is the lack of hero to root for - or, as this is a horror movie pastiche, a heroine. The most obvious candidate is Grace, the new girl (Skyler Samuels), who may or may not be the baby all grown up, but is very curious about her new sorority. Unfortunately, compared to Emma Roberts' sorority queen and despite an amusing relationship with the school newspaper's tenacious reporter and barista (Diego Boneta), she's a very pale creature whom it's hard to care about. Inevitably, it'll be one of the nastier, more vapid of the show's creations you'll end up loving, but as they're charicatures, it'll be hard for you to truly care about them.

All the same, when the comedic competition so far has been Life in Pieces and The Muppets, Scream Queens is the clear winner. So screw your courage to the sticking place, overcome any natural aversion you have to Ryan Murphy and Glee, and give it a try.

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    A review of the TV, films and theatre I saw in the week ending Monday 12 October 2015
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