Scream Queens First Impressions
What the… I don’t… Okay, when I first heard of this show, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was hyped as being from the guys who made American Horror Story and Glee, and I didn’t know those two shows were created by the the same people. So I was wondering how they were going to work together with such different backgrounds. But when I watched the episodes I knew that Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan had made American Horror Story and Glee, and that kind of made it better because this show feels like if a season of American Horror Story was written around and starring the types of characters one would find in Glee. And I’m not entirely sure how well it works.
So the show starts out as it means to continue, with horrible people at a big ol’ horror house painted eggshell blue. It’s a party at the Kappa Kappa Tau sorority on the Wallace University campus in 1995. A girl heads downstairs with blood all over her hands and brings three other girls, including the Kappa president, up to the bathroom where one of their sisters has given birth. But then a TLC song comes on downstairs so they all fuck off to do the wave on the bar. When they come back, the new mother is dead and they have no idea what to do. Flash forward to 2015 and our current Kappa president, Chanel. She also has minions. They are Chanels #2, 3, and 5 (Chanel #4 died of meningitis, the bitch). Chanel is a horrible human being who I want to see die, so I already have emotional invest in the show. She’s been running the sorority since the former president had an unfortunate accident with a spray tan machine and some hydrochloric acid. The new dean of students, Cathy Munsch (played with wonderful cynicism by Jamie Lee Curtis), thinks Chanel sabotaged the machine and has made it her mission to destroy Kappa and the Greek lifestyle in any way she can.
Meanwhile, we also have Grace. She is a new student at Wallace University and plans on rushing Kappa. Her mother, who died when Grace was very young, was a Kappa and Grace wants to enter the sorority to try to connect with her late mother in some way. And as luck would have it, the Dean has just made it so that anybody who wants to rush Kappa has to be allowed to rush, doing away with the incredibly selective process Kappa had been using up to this point of “Are you hot?” This swings the doors wide open for out cast of characters to join the sorority just in time for murder, as a man wearing a very shiny devil costume has begun killing people.
And that’s our main plot. There are a bunch of little subplot things going throughout the premiere that we’ll get into a bit more when we talk about the characters. But for a base plot of a slasher-like show, it’s not a bad one. Sororities have a long history of being savaged by various killers, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a group of people living in an enclosed space, more often than not events conspire to keep them from being able to contact any kind of law enforcement, and (at least in movies) they’re all terrible people with so many different faces and backstabs happening at any given moment that they lend themselves well to character drama and being murder suspects.
But the show does run into a bit of a problem for me in the second episode (the first two episode were broadcast together). The bathtub from the beginning of the show gets found by Grace, which leads her to think the killer is the baby from back then who would be about college age now. They also start setting up various red herrings, and reveal something pretty big for one of the show’s more bankable stars. I’m not going to say who that person is or what exactly happened, but it felt really early for something like that. Even for a 15 episode show, that moment felt like it should be closer to the halfway point.
The second episode also doesn’t have the same level of humor and quickness that the first did. In the first episode, dialogue was delivered fairly fast, giving it a good pace for the Scary Movie-esque humor. One of the first main kills of the series felt like it was ripped right out of one of those movies, and it worked well. The rest of the humor in the first episode came from the characters, especially Chanel, being just the worst kind of people imaginable. I know that doesn’t sound all that funny, but in the context of the show it made me laugh. The first episode had me laughing quite a bit, but the second barely made me chuckle. It was more focused on the story side of the show, dealing with the red herrings and subplots, and it hurt the episode for me a bit.
Emma Roberts’ Chanel is the face of the series so far, so let’s dig into her. She is one of the worst people I’ve ever seen. Besides the fact that she has literal minions that are all named after her, she’s a big ol’ racist, too. She calls the sorority’s housekeeper “White Mami,” and she has this lovely tirade in a coffee shop about how letting ethnics into the sorority will make the house smell terrible and destroy the toilets because fat people will eat the spices the ethnics put in all their food. That’s really what she says. She treats everybody around her like a slave or some kind of walking disease, and the people that actually willingly spend time near her without calling her out on her bullshit are almost as bad. But I think she works for the show. In that tirade scene I mentioned, I was laughing throughout most of it. She is written and played so over the top terrible that it comes around from being loathsome to being funny for me. Plus, she’s kind of OCD about her little life of perfection. It’s honestly a little sad at times.
Our other main, Grace, is a bit less fun than Chanel. She wants to get closer to her dead mother, so she joins the sorority. When she gets there and sees what Chanel has done to the place, she decides to tear it down from the inside. With the help of Pete, a barista/journalist/love interest and our first major red herring, she’s going to tear down the sorority from the inside and rebuild it in a way that she sees fit. Her actress, Skylar Samuels, does a good enough job at the role, but there’s not a whole lot for her to do with it. Grace is what she seems to be at face value. She’s the polar opposite of Chanel, not giving a damn about the sisterhood and what it stands for now. She is one of the few good people in the series, and that honestly makes her a little boring.
Jamie Lee Curtis’ Dean Munsch is pretty great. She legitimately hates Chanel and the Kappa sorority, and whenever she succeeds in making their lives more difficult there is sheer glee (badum tish) on her face. Most of her lines are delivered with great cynicism, especially a monologue she gets in the first episode where she talks about her college days. Apparently she was a college activist, burning bras and smashing the windows of the people running the school and whatnot. Now she’s in charge and she has no idea how that happened. Also, she’s shtupping Chanel’s idiotic and sociopathic boyfriend, Chad Ridgewell. Apparently he’s terrible in bed.
Every other sorority character in the show is barely a character, with only one character trait each. The exception might be Lea Michele’s Neckbrace, but she only has one scene where she gets to be anything other than a sorority groupie, so I’m not even sure if that matters. We have the black best friend, the lesbian Tumblr user, the weird girl (she vlogs about candles), and the deaf girl who loves Taylor Swift (don’t worry, she’s not around for long). The Chanels get a bit more to them, but not enough for me to remember anything about them except that #2 was played by Ariana Grande and #5 was played by Abigail Breslin. I was wondering what had happened to her.
Outside the sorority sisters, the characters don’t do much better. Chad, as I mentioned before, is very disturbed. He gets turned on by dead bodies and likes choking he girlfriend during terrible sex. Beyond that, he’s a generic bro. His actor is actually so generic looking, in his second scene in the first episode I thought he was an entirely different character. Chad’s best friend, Boone, is a gay bro. That’s all he gets. And Grace’s dad is gonna be sticking around for a while. He makes playlists and is a dad.
I can think of two reasons why the writers would make all of their characters this one note. 1) They wanted the characters to be simple and broad to pull in the viewers, but then, over the course of the season, they would expand and build on them; or 2) Characters in slasher movies are broad and simple, so they took it the extreme for their comedy show and made everyone so one note it’s ridiculous. I’m inclined to believe the latter option more so than the former.
Oddly enough, the character I like the most so far is the killer. The costume the killer wears, a devil outfit that serves as the school mascot, looks really great. It has a fairly unique feel to it despite the fact that it looks like most of it came from a Party City. The mask has this little smirk on it that makes him look so satisfied with himself whenever he kills someone, and after one of his kills he does the success fist pump thing that makes him feel like an actual character. Hell, they even made his text notification noise a cartoon devil laugh. It’s a bunch of little things that end up making a kind of fun killer. Not scary in the slightest, but fun.
Finally, I have to give some props (badum tish) to the production design. I wasn’t really sure what it was about the sorority house that I kind of liked, but then I mentally pallet swapped the walls and carpets and stuff and I knew what it was. This is a murder house that got a fresh coat of paint. The place is fucking huge, almost cavernous in some rooms. It kind of reminds of the mansion that was used in the shitty remake of The Haunting, just minus the giant lions everywhere, the greenhouse, and being complete shit. There are a couple of moments in the first and second episodes where the lighting changes just a bit and you get to see how creepy this house could be. Hell, in the second episode they replace the traditional lighting with red and green floodlights and it turns into fucking Creepshow for a second. It came out of nowhere and I fucking loved it.
Much like Kora’s thoughts on Gakkou Gurashi!, your mileage may vary with this show. The humor is fairly lowbrow and the characters are mostly detestable pieces of paper with a single trait written on them, but that kind of worked for me. I’m apparently a fan of stupid humor, and the characters were played as such ludicrously awful people that I ended up laughing at them. The weakest part of the show, though, is the mystery part of it. Trying to find out who the killer is and uncovering dark secrets about that night 20 years ago was the main thrust of the second episode, and it suffered for it. This show is at its best when it’s being fast and stupid. I can’t say it’s great, but I’m definitely sticking with it for a while. Assuming it doesn’t turn to shit next episode, anyway.
I'm a sucker for anything horror related, apparently, and that might be why I kind of liked this premiere. Most of the characters are such ridiculously bad people that I find them funny, and the ones that are a single character trait don't get enough screen time to annoy me too much. The humor is fast and stupid, which kind of counters the actual plot of the show, which is fairly slow. The set design looks like someone renovated a murder house, and goes with the overall feel of the show of Glee meets American Horror Story. It's not great, but I enjoyed it enough.