So, as you may know, I have something of a…troubled relationship with Ryan Murphy. The writer/director/showrunner, along with his oft-partner in crime Brad Falchuk, has produced some of my favourite and some of my least favourite television of the last decade or so. On the one hand, the turgid back end of Nip/Tuck’s run. But the other, the spritely first season of Glee. But then, everything after the first season of Glee. However, American Horror Story. And on and on into oblivion. His TV produce, as far as I’m concerned, is almost astonishingly patchy, but yet I still find myself drawn to whatever new pile of bubblegum poison he’s pumping on to my screen. No matter how ridiculous the concept, how outrageous the casting, how badly I know in my soul it’s going to go wrong, he fools me every time and I come back for more. And that’s how I found myself watching his new show Scream Queens.
Look, there’s a lot I like about Scream Queens. For one, it’s a hearty, unambiguous salute to a specific genre of horror- the teen slasher, which is one of my personal favourites (Friday the 13th REPRESENT). It’s packed full of in-jokes, gloriously violent and horrible deaths, convoluted backstories, and plenty other genre tropes that make me clap my hands together. Plus, there’s the cast, made up of my favourite actors from other Murpchuck shows: Lea Michele from Glee, Emma Roberts from American Horror Story, etc. Plus, there’s Jamie Lee Curtis (basically playing Jane Lynch’s character from Glee, gloriously)!
The plot revolves around a sorority house, led by a sociopathic president (Emma Roberts) who’s intent on keeping her house for the pretty and popular- using deadly means. Initially, the show has it’s charms- the bubblegum world studded with hideous, violent death (spray tan replaced with hydrochloric acid, head-in-the-fryer prank gone wrong, etc) is pretty great, and I actually kind of enjoyed Nick Jonas’ guest turn as the simpering suck-up to the most popular guy in school. The show seems to be having a lot of fun dismantling those cliches, even if it is done with the usual level of sledgehammer subtlety from the team behind this sequence. Skyler Samuels, as pledge Grace Gardner, really reminds me of Jane Levy in Suburgatory, with her laid-back charm that doesn’t slide into gratingly pointed territory, and the almost all-female cast look like they’re having a ball- of course, as anyone who’s even glanced at her work before, Roberts is glorious as the poisonous valley girl, while supporting cast like Abigail Breslin (as one of Roberts’ cohorts) and Lea Michele (as a socially awkward new pledge) fill out the world.
But I’ll tell you the one thing that doesn’t really work about it: the horror. Look, I get that this is a comedy series before a horror series and that’s cool: in fact, I’m hoping the heavily tongue-in-cheek take on horror might get a few more people to seek out the films they’re lampooning and then I’ll have someone to talk to this shit about. But there’s an uneasy balance at work here. The show’s main villain, the Red Devil, has a pretty cool design that suggests someone somewhere was half-taking this seriously-
-and it seems at times as if we’re meant to find them scary. The direct horror sequences lurch wierdly between satrical and serious, and it’s not that good. Look at something like Scream, the ultimate meta-horror. Remember that first time you saw the opening sequence and how shit-scary it was? Yeah that’s what Scream Queens needs. It needs someone who isn’t afraid to really twist the knife (if you’ll excuse the pun) and go hard on the horror, partly because it helps make everything else look so starkly, ludicrously great in comparison. Maybe I’m a horror snob (in fact, no damn maybe about it) but, for all it’s good points, Scream Queens just isn’t doing justice to it’s horror icons.
Dammit, I know I’ll probably be watching the rest of the series. He’s done it again. He always does.