Would you like to know the best way to tell that this review is truthful? Because I kind of liked Scream Queens, and — full disclosure — I absolutely cannot stand show runner Ryan Murphy or anything he does. I find Glee to be insufferable and silly; I find American Horror Story to be hamfisted and over-Gothic. I generally feel like Ryan Murphy most of the time a.) thinks he’s cute, b.) thinks he’s clever, or c.) thinks he’s doing something really important. Your thoughts may differ, but I’m not a fan of Murphy, though you completely my be (and if you are an Emmy voter, you clearly are) and I just want to put it out there up front, because of how I’m going to start the next paragraph.
Fox’s comedy-horror hybrid Scream Queens is not terrible. In fact it’s kind of fun, despite a lot of glaring problems. I’m going to keep watching it, and I’d go so far as to recommend you check it out as well because it has some potential.
There are a lot of things I don’t like about Scream Queens and a lot of things I do like about it; so where would you like me to start? Okay. I do love that Scream Queens is an effective comedy-horror take that actually works — especially since currently anything labeled “comedy-horror” turns out to be a terrible, terrible mess (Bad Milo, Hell Baby, anything starring a Wayans). Scream Queens has a lot of great jokes in it and, likewise, some fairly brutal murders as well. The central plotline centers upon the beleaguered Chanel, president of the snotty Kappa Kappa Tau sorority and generally horrible human being, working her way through another year of school while dealing with various murders popping up all around her due to a devil-masked slasher on the loose on campus. That’s pretty much it, so far. There are a number of subplots but we don’t need to go into those right now; none of them have really panned out into anything yet.
The good news is that some of the dialogue is pretty strong (I found a bon mot referring to someone as “Pissy Spacek” to be particularly enjoyable), and the central tone of the show — a throwback to both Scream-era horror and the slasher flicks of the eighties — to be agreeable; the soundtrack largely consists of eighties-music covers and horror homage easter eggs are to be found by the truckful. The horror, largely, is sound as well — as I mentioned earlier, some first-and-second-episode murders, involving a deep-frier, self-tanning and a riding lawnmower, are particularly creative and gruesome. At one point I mused aloud to myself “I’ve probably paid for worse entire horror movies than this pilot episode,” and I’ll stand by it. It’s creative and inventive (so far), and though it makes a huge play to the high school crowd, it’s engaging enough for anyone to watch for a few episodes or until we see how this experiment is gonna go. Jamie Lee Curtis as well makes an appearance as the Dean of Students, a cameo that is…well, okay, it’s not subtle whatsoever.
Of course, this being a Ryan Murphy endeavor, there are similarly some things I’m not crazy about: some of the African-American characters are pretty broadly-drawn and the overall concept owes a LOT to the movie Heathers; I hope the creators of that film are receiving some mighty royalties (one scene, featuring human-head croquet, damn near rips it off completely). It’s also extremely clear that Ryan Murphy didn’t spend a lot of time in sorority or fraternity houses in college but rather watched a ton of movies about them in the 1980’s, as he characterizes almost all Greeks as exactly what you’d presume — shallow and ridiculous. For someone who has spent so much of his career breaking down stereotypes of gay people, he certainly seems to be just fine generalizing all over people he doesn’t care for. It’s all fine, though, as the pomposity of these characters, strangely, adds to the charm (a meat-headed BMOC named “Chad Radwell,” played by Glen Powell, threatens to steal the show entirely).
Is Scream Queens perfect? Oh no. No no no no no. Not even close. Is Scream Queens a fun diversion and, alternately, a show which is not about a type of police person in Las Vegas/Los Angeles/New Orleans? Yes. It’s easily one of the more creative new pilots of 2015 and I’ll give it that. It’s the kind of show that at any week could suddenly pull the wrong lever and lose you completely, and you have to know that going in, but until then I’m going to give Ryan Murphy the benefit of the doubt for once. Will I finish out the Scream Queens season? Given what I’ve seen, I’m going to give myself a 30% chance of that. Not great odds, but Ryan Murphy has me so far, and that’s at least a step in the right direction. So let’s see what happens.