Messy. That’s the word I would use if you forced me to give my simplest reaction to Scream Queens, the new Ryan Murphy show that will premiere on Fox this fall. The characters are incredibly one note, the dialogue feels forced, and the situations stretch credibility. And yet, by the end, something starts clicking and the show finds the scary funny shocking mix it’s looking for and the template is there for what should be one of falls more entertaining shows.
The show begins with a prologue set in 1995. We meet a the Kappa Kappa Tau sisters during a party, where one of them running downstairs with bloody hands alerts the rest to the fact one of their sisters has given birth. Rather than help the girl (thereby ruining the party) they go downstairs and dance to Waterfalls by TLC, which gives their pledge sister time to die. Flash forward twenty years, and Kappa Kappa Tau is being forced by the new Dean of Students (Jamie Lee Curtis) to accept any pledge (played by the likes of Skyler Samuels, Lea Michele, Keke Palmer, and Breezy Eslin) who wants to pledge, much to the chagrin of its president (Emma Roberts). This coincides with several strange deaths on the campus and the emergence of a devil faced killer.
In terms of plot, there’s not much that’s spectacular about the pilot, as Murphy and co cover the basics of introducing us to the girls, the set up, and how menacing our killer will be. There is room for some nice character moments, but Murphy seems to be wanting to play the long game with many of these characters. I will say that the show does have some of Murphy’s biting wit, and will hopefully find a good balance of funny and scary going forward. Visually, the pilot is also a weird amalgamation of American Horror Story, Glee, and Scary Movie, which keeps you both off kilter scares wise and just watching the show wise. Hopefully they streamline it a bit in the coming episodes.
I mentioned above that the characters feel incredibly one note, by virtue of what we see them doing, but that doesn’t mean the actors aren’t trying to sell the hell out of it. Emma Roberts can play a bitch in her sleep and she cranks it up to 20 here, spouting off offensive quips and strutting down hallways with aplomb. She’s matched in vitriol by Jamie Lee Curtis, playing a former revolutionary now dean of students hellbent on breaking up the sorority, all the while smoking pot and blackmailing students on academic probation into sleeping with her. Curtis is clearly having a ball and I’m interested to see where her character goes from here. Speaking of students the only other actor to wrestle the screen away from these two is Glen Powell, who is the jock preppy white boy match to Roberts sorority girl. He plays the douche so perfectly and gets the best character beats of anyone in the show. His read of Chanel by virtue of his psychology degree thinking is one of the best scenes in the pilot. No one else acting wise is really touching these three although, Nick Jonas pops up for a quick scene and gets in one of the pilots best jokes (I immediately thought about how I can’t wait for Mark Johnson to hear it).
Though he show is a mess, I must say that at the end it really came together in two of the best death scenes. There are a grand total of four deaths in the pilot (this will be fun to see if they can keep this up over the show’s run) and Ryan Murphy’s twisted mind concocts some truly shocking deaths, including one that involves texting and Twitter in the best way. It’s just too bad the whole episode doesn’t have that kind of balance.