This Scream Queens review contains spoilers.
Scream Queens Season 1 Episode 4.
Last week I posited a theory I’ve long had about the programming created and curated for the networks Fox by monsieurs Murphy and Falchuk. Because there is nothing less sexy than repeating oneself, I will precis the thesis of last week’s review here: Their shows start off strong and original and very quickly lose steam. We’re at episode 4 of Scream Queens, and while there’s no steam escaping, the engine it’s powering seems dangerously close to careening off the tracks. I am so good at metaphors.
When the movie Scream premiered it received a lot of critical acclaim. Also, Matthew Lillard was in it. Critics and audiences responded positively to smart mixture of traditional slasher suspense and meta-humor. It worked for the same reason the Gravedigger scene works in Hamlet: We need the funny and self-referential and irreverent to co-exist alongside the somber, terrifying, and grave. We can’t exist in a prolonged state of anxiety as a viewer. We need a release.
Scream Queens is like the girl who auditions for the high school musical every year. She is tone deaf and broke her own ankle during the dance segment. She is taller than every other dude in the room. She is wearing enough orthodontia that she could replace the neighboring solar panels and power the neighborhood. She is so enthusiastic that is painful to watch, and impossible to deny. The show does not lack for passion, but its attempts at humor and at terror are both falling, not just short of the mark, but dropped in strange little discordant heaps.
This week’s jokes didn’t land for me. I didn’t just roll my eyes as the Kappas espoused their new-founded feminist agenda before kicking ass in the cafeteria, I felt unsettled. Domestic violence is a complicated issue, and while I appreciate the dissonance they were going for, Emma Roberts was arrested for beating up her boyfriend. Maybe don’t use her as your mouthpiece? Come to think of it, maybe don’t decide at the last minute that your show, a send-up of a racist, sexist genre, needs a mouthpiece. Own it or go home. The Kappas raging out and Zayday aligning with the only main black male character on the show smacks of the worst sort of tokenism. This is a show with a running gag about Serial, that has Niecy Nash rocking ‘90s fab looks in flashbacks, and knows to just step back and let Jamie Lee Curtis do her thing — they are too smart for tokenism.
By the same logic, these are the folks responsible for American Horror Story, they know how to do gore and fear. The red devil popping up in mirrors is getting tired. If the horror isn’t moving the story forward, don’t bother guys! That said when the whole machine is ticking along at the right clip, they really nail it — exhibit Hester’s seduction scene being interrupted by a leaky corpse.
I don’t want to get spoilery though, because the biggest thing the show has going for it (other than Diego Boneta’s Matthew McConaughey impression) is it’s well-plotted mystery. Even if you already think you’ve got the whodunit solved, it’s undeniable that the show’s mystery is captivating and the only real reason you need to watch the show. The pieces will eventually come together — you get the sense that you’re in the hands of excellent story tellers. Is Gracie the baby from the bathtub? Is Denise’s obsession with Zayday well-founded or irrational? Is Dean Munch what she seems? Are Chad and Chanel murderous or just your average privileged psychopaths?