MTV’s Scream First Impressions
If I were to try and summarize the pilot for MTV’s new Scream series in a single sentence, that sentence would be, “It’s not good, but it could have been worse.” This statement doesn’t provide a particularly nuanced overview obviously, seeing as it is a single sentence that makes use of only one conjunction, but it remains true of almost every aspect of the production. Now, I don’t really have much bias as far as the Scream franchise is concerned. I have only watched the first film, and up until this week I had only seen it in bits and pieces when it was being aired on TV. However, a viewing of the original film series seems largely unnecessary given the nature of this pilot. The primary element that ties this show to the film series would appear to be its meta elements. The series knows it is a horror series and thus a number of characters express a sense of genre awareness, allowing them to bend and twist the tropes of the genre to their advantage. At least, that is the theory. In practice, it isn’t implemented well, but… it could have been worse.
Our characters are vaguely defined to a point of being annoyingly one dimensional. Our main character is Emma Duvall, played by Willa Fitzgerald, a seemingly goody two-shoes type character that I think is intended to be in the same vein as Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott from the films, but I’m unsure. I didn’t really get a clear grasp on her character in this first episode. She has a tendency to blend in with the rest of her high school friends, of which there are about a half dozen, and it didn’t help that, when she goes to a party midway through the episode, she switches from wearing her hair down to putting it in a braid. This normally wouldn’t be a sticking point for me, but if you have a relatively large cast, many of whom are the same age and all feel like underdeveloped stereotypes, then it would be a good idea to keep their appearances consistent and distinctive, particularly in the pilot episode. The rest of her friends are honestly too bland to distinguish from one another at this point. They either lack development or come across as complete douchebags, as the reactions to the rather brutal death of one of their friends and classmates ranges from mild concern to outright glee. The only particularly likable character so far is Audrey Jenson, played by Bex Taylor-Klaus. Her character feels at least slightly grounded as she is an outsider who was recently outed by a video released online by the now deceased classmate. The only part that rings slightly false is the idea that a video of a counter-culture outsider kissing a girl would go viral and that everyone in the school would care in 2015. However, that is merely a matter of the extent of the reaction, and the emotional core of that storyline still works at least on some level. She’s still, in many ways, a typical loner stereotype, but at least it’s a mildly interesting stereotype. She gets some of the best dialogue (Mind you, that isn’t saying much) and is one of the only characters who feels like more than just a cardboard cutout. Bex Taylor-Klaus deserves much of the credit for making her feel like something that roughly resembles an actual human.
The plot itself is actually quite limited. The opening scene is clearly a callback or homage to the “Do you like scary movies?” scene from the original film, and to the show’s credit it has at least one halfway decent idea. The killer sends his target video clips of her as she moves through her house which does actually lend a nice sense of paranoia to the proceedings. That being said, this is undercut by just about everything else in the scene. The killer never actually calls the target, but instead sends her text messages which adds a bit of distance and feels less unnerving than an actual voice on a phone. Furthermore, despite receiving these messages, the victim, Nina, still goes out to her hot tub alone with nothing to protect herself. Finally, when the killer eventually throws the severed head of her boyfriend into the hot tub (complete with a goddamn “heads up” text), she responds by going and banging on the windows of her own house, which had already been established as being empty. Obviously Nina is quickly disposed of, and much of the rest of the episode is devoted to characters at the school reacting to her death, and a party that is ostensibly held in her honor. As such, the pilot only contains a single death, and the circumstances surrounding it were rather underwhelming. We’re also treated to a local legend involving a disfigured killer named Brandon James who had murdered a number of people and even stabbed Emma’s father. He was obsessed with a local girl named Daisy, which the show quickly reveals to really be Emma’s mother, and was eventually shot and fell into a lake. I can’t tell if the show is making an intentional reference to Friday the 13th with its disfigured killer who is closely associated with a lake, but it comes off as a bit odd that, in a franchise as meta as Scream, no one points out the similarities.
The meta aspects of the narrative actually feel unearned as of yet. There is only one known victim (The killer apparently took her boyfriend’s head with him when he left) and she wasn’t killed in a particularly grotesque manner, so it comes off as a bit odd that a couple of the students instantly jump to the slasher movie villain scenario. The nature of slashers and how they relate to TV horror actually gets brought up prior to the discovery of Nina’s death, but even so, it feels a bit out of place at this point.
Before I wrap up, a few Notes and Nitpicks:
- The story for the pilot is credited to Kevin Williamson, the writer for Screams 1, 2 & 4, and I have to admit that I like this first episode more than Stalker’s pilot.
- At this point, I’ve only seen the first Scream, so if there are any references or similarities to its sequels in this episode, they will likely go over my head. I might watch the second one seeing as it is commonly viewed as the best of the franchise, but I don’t know when I’ll get around to that.
- Audrey does have a peculiar line in which she states that she and Emma used to be friends until Emma became pretty. It rings more than a little false given Bex Taylor-Klaus’s appearance, but somehow she almost sells it.
- Emma’s mother is played by Tracy Middendorf who had previously worked with Wes Craven in New Nightmare.
- Bex Taylor-Klaus has, of course, appeared in Arrow as Sin, The Killing as Bullet, and had a minor role in the last two episodes of the first season of iZombie.
- There is a particularly inane moment where Nina struggles to unlock her phone with her wet hands, only to eventually use voice commands to try and call 911. The phone calls Pottery Barn instead. Congratulations, you stumbled upon that joke ten years after it stopped being funny. Furthermore, touch phones have an emergency icon on their locked screen, further undermining the logic of that scenario.
Like I said at the beginning, Scream could be worse, but that isn’t to say that it is good. Many of its characters are unlikable or indistinctive, and the exceptions aren’t enough to carry the episode. It lacks interesting characters, an engaging atmosphere, and a compelling narrative. I won’t say that the show can’t obtain those elements as it continues onward, but personally I wouldn’t place money on it.
While not entirely without potential, MTV's Scream does not look to be as promising as many of the other modern horror programs available at the moment, or, for that matter, the film upon which it is based.