The creators of Glee and American Horror Story bring us a twisted horror spoof of bitchy proportions. On the twentieth anniversary of a sorority sister’s death, Wallace University’s campus is plagued by a series of grisly murders by the masked Red Devil. From all the promotional trailers and TV spots, the show played up the tongue-in-cheek self-awareness of the horror genre that made Wes Craven’s Scream so brilliant. Co-creator Ryan Murphy even stated that the series would be Halloween meets Heathers. Given the showrunners’ credentials and the eclectic cast of characters, Scream Queens seemed to have all the ingredients to be something truly special. What we got though…can’t justly be summed up in a mere sentence.
Emma Roberts stars as Chanel Oberlin, the malicious president of everybody’s nightmarish idea of a sorority named Kappa Kappa Tau. She meets her match in Dean Munsch (the original Scream Queen herself, Jamie Lee Curtis). Determined to take down Chanel and her vile sorority, Munsch kills the prized exclusivity of Kappa by allowing anyone to pledge to the sorority. As you’d imagine, every ideal pledge bolts, leaving only the runts of the litter (including a nerdy blogger who enjoys eating candle wax) to endure Hell Week. Just as the hazing begins, so does a string of murders—like an outlandish lawnmower decapitation—by someone dressed as the school’s infamous mascot, the Red Devil.
Despite what its marketing claimed, Scream Queens is not a horror show, but more of a spoof of the genre. Everything is essentially played for laughs; some jokes hitting their marks while others…not so much. Strangely enough, the peculiar layouts of each murder are the funniest the show has to offer. The dialogue, on the other hand, is very hit or miss. It’s overly apparent in the sorority sisters’ pop-culturally fueled monologues that the writers are trying to be snappy and sarcastic, but let’s face it. Try describing sex as being, “Eiffel Towered by two hot morons who are brothers,” or “spit-roasted by hot golf frat twins,” and not feel like you’re trying way, waaaaay too hard. It’s impossible. The members of Kappa Kappa Tau in general aren’t likeable. Everything about the girls, especially Chanel, is mean-spirited, but not in the fabulously-evil Regina George kind of way. If anything, you’re rooting for the Red Devil to go Michael Myers on all of them from the moment they’re introduced.
This week’s episode “Chainsaw” thankfully takes some focus away from the Kappa girls, and it’s a riotous laugh. The brief introduction to the new school mascot, Coney, displays what true spoofs can accomplish. Imagine two school mascots literally fighting to the death as Wham’s “I’m Your Man” plays in the background and try not laughing. As for the main cast, notorious man-whore Chad Radwell and his fraternity brothers steal the show. The best moment of the entire series so far comes from the members of the Dickie Dollar Scholars fraternity.
This dimwitted pack of frat boys, whose combined IQ would be lucky to reach the triple digits, miraculously figures out that their recently deceased brother didn’t commit suicide, but was probably murdered. In an act of retribution, the DDS go “ghetto” by arming themselves with baseball bats as they prowl the streets, attacking anything and everything that’s red from fire hydrants to cars in an attempt to lure out the Red Devil. The absurdity of their plan to face a chainsaw wielding psychopath with nothing but wooden bats is made all the more hysterical by the fact that they’re all dressed in head-to-toe white country club apparel as the Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” plays in the background. That’s “ghetto code” for ya’. As the lyrics order you to “throw your hands up in the air,” one of the two masked Red Devils that confronts the DDS saws both arms off one of the frat members. In the very next time slot over on FX, The Bastard Executioner delivers the same brutal slaying, but it outright loses its effectiveness in comparison to the cartoonish take on SQ. This scene is easily going to be the best clip of any television series to air this week.
That very fact though is part of the problem. Despite that the show is called Scream Queens, the antics of Chad Radwell, the boys of DDS, and the killer are what makes each episode worth watching. The girls leading the sorority rarely ever deliver the goods. Roberts is essentially playing the same character she portrayed in American Horror Story: Coven and Abigail Breslin seems miscast in the role of a minion sorority sister. Niecy Nash, on the other hand, deserves proper kudos for her caricature role as Denise Hemphill, the world’s most ill-equipped security guard. The overall unevenness of the show makes for a rather jarring viewing experience. It has you itching to hit the fast-forward button during at least half the scenes, yet also provokes you to re-watch the few exceptionally orchestrated scenes that will stay with you long after viewing. It’s still too early to give a verdict on the overall series, but for potential watchers, you’ve been warned.
Scream Queens’ “Chainsaw” Rating: B-
Overall Series Rating: C-
"Scream Queens, title art" by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.