The Scream Queens pilot was just this side of brilliant. Why “this side?” There are a couple of items that feel like a clanger in the making, aka plot hole. However, possible disconnects or logic check fails aside, the bottom line here is that Murphy and his two minion have come up with Animal House meets Scream (the film not the TV version), with a nod to I Know What You Did Last Summer, via Emma Roberts and a slew of tweenie stars who have outgrown their initial Nickelodeon/Disney careers and Jamie Lee Curtis.
Take for example just part of the conversation between Dean Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts) at the beginning of the pilot:
Dean Munsch: “And Kappa is the source of rampant reports of alcoholism, prescription drug abuse, racism, as well as allegations of bestiality…:
Chanel: “No one forced that goat to get as drunk as it got. That’s on him.”
Yup, Animal House. However, a little later in this conversation, we learn that something really bad did happen at Kappa Kappa Ta, shades of Scream already and the hiding of the death at the start fits “IKWYDLS” quite neatly.
FOX has shown MTV the right way to do small screen horror using Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan’s version of a Wes Craven style horror with a heavy helping of comedy. Scream Queens combines the slasher genre with some Scream type sly humor mixed in with a lot of over the top gags thrown in for good measure. (Think Marlon and Shawn Mayans’ Scary Movie but without the overkill punch lines.) While the music channel opted to take the Wes Craven classic film and shrink it to fit TV while they took out any semblance of humor and gave us characters that are impossible to like.
Directed by Ryan Murphy, the maestro of small screen horror via the auspices of American Horror Story (and Glee), the pilot episode sets up the history of Kappa Kappa Ta; the sorority house with its own serial killer. The series opener also explains where everyone fits in and who they are in the scheme of things.
The pilot opens with a death, back in 1995, of a pregnant sorority sister who gives birth and then bleeds to death while her fellow Kappa Kappa Ta’s party-down to Waterfall. A brilliant opening shot has a girl walking down the stairs, hands covered in blood and not one person notices till she reaches the sorority head.
Self-centered is the catchphrase here and it sets the tone beautifully, even before the whole “no one wants to see that gross mess” schtick that prompts horrified giggles from the viewer. Murphy and co. manage to cram a huge amount of gags in the opening sequence and this tells us right off the bat that this is going to be comedy horror with a capital C.
The episode then segues into Emma Roberts doing a voice over, explaining her role in this verse, breaking the fourth wall effortlessly and letting us into the joke. Immediately the show enters non-pc territory with a Butterfly McQueen joke at the expense of the housecleaner at the sorority.
Adriana Grande is the first “Chanel” to become the victim of this verse’s version of Ghostface, a devil (that turns out the be the college’s mascot costume). This was the most surreal and hysterically funny death scene in the show. Chanel #2 getting a text from her killer and even as he is killing her, the two continue to text instead of verbally interact. Add to this cultural humor even more topical comedy as she crawls to her laptop and tweets that she is being murdered.
Later the murders turn more horrific, a la Sleepaway Camp III where “Deaf Taylor Swift” is decapitated with a riding lawnmower. The characters really do feel like Murphy has created them all as an extended homage to National Lampoon’s classic campus comedy.
There are a few hiccups. Dean Munsch, who is dead set on shutting down Kappa Kappa Ta by revoking their charter, appears to have helped to cover up the death scandal at the start of the pilot. Emma Roberts, who kills it as the b*tchy, power-mad shrew who heads up the house, vacillates between being queen bee-hotch and whiny girlfriend (to Chad played by Glen Powell).
Other things do not add up completely but we are having too much fun to care. Scream Queens manages to make fun of everything. From Starbucks customers who insist on having their lattes too hot, and then complaining that the milk has been burnt, to Twilight.
This series is a showcase for not only the iconic Jamie Lee Curtis, but Emma Roberts as well. Roberts kills it with a precise comic delivery (her childish shrieking of the line, “Ms. Bean, I said, lets hit it!” is beyond priceless. Kudos to Lea Michelle who is sidesplittingly funny as the creepy “Can I call you Mom” pledge.
All of the young stars knockout out of the park performance-wise and all the players have excellent chemistry with their co-stars.
To be fair since Ryan Murphy is in charge here, along with his co-creators, this does really feel a bit like Glee and American Horror Story got married and gave birth to Scream Queens. The show airs Tuesdays on FOX and is the perfect mix of the right music, over the top humor, risque gags and very un-politically correct jokes.