‘Scream Queens’: ‘Means Girls’ + ‘American Horror Story’?

Posted in Screening Room by - September 25, 2015


Emma Roberts’ Chanel sneers at the camera, taking in the doting of all of the pledges for Kappa Kappa Tau. She is the head of sorority after all. She doesn’t take the time to learn any of her underlings’ names. They are Chanel 1, 2, 3, and 5. She likes to pretend the sorority maid is a house slave for fun. Roberts channels Regina George and ratchets it up about a thousandfold. She’s racist, callous, misogynistic, and an absolutely horrible human being. Yet, I was transfixed; this was the role Emma Roberts was born to play. Yes, it’s not terribly different from her appearances on the third and fourth season of Ryan Murphy’s other incredibly successful anthology series, American Horror Story. But this is the ultimate version, the one who revels in all her self absorbed behavior and embraces their badness. For all of her heinous actions, Scream Queens lets the viewer know that greater dangers lurk just below the surface. 

Scream Queens has a pretty wonky premise, a sorority that saw a death 20 years ago is now under attack by a mysterious “red devil” that is slowly killing off the members, one by one. In typical Murphy fashion, the show is over the top and occasionally meta. One scene in particular in the premiere that had Ariana Grande texting back and forth with the killer as he stood in her room was a commentary on the lack of communication skills and over-reliance on technology for the newest generation. Once you accept the absurd, the show becomes a joy to watch. The further I remove myself from when I actually watched it, the more I realize how much I enjoyed it. The cast also includes luminaries such as Jamie Lee Curtis and SNL’s Nasim Pedrad. The young cast is the highlight including Keke Palmer, Lea Michele, Skyler Samuels, Abigail Breslin, and a surprisingly funny Nick Jonas. Each character is a potential suspect, with various motivations that are hinted at. Jamie Lee Curtis’s Dean Munsch is a bizarre, yet hilarious authority figure who can be found simultaneously trying to tear down the sorority, while sleeping with her students on academic probation. Murphy has created this absurd world lampooning the pomp and circumstance of Greek life on college campuses. His American Horror Story run has suffered from some self indulgences in the latter seasons, and Scream Queens seems to be relatively focused, in comparison. 

As one who went through the college experience, I can at least relate to the archetype of many of the characters, and the ridiculous actions that occur are just hyperbolic versions of what I’ve seen. Perhaps that’s why Scream Queens resonates with me on a weirdly personal level, but if you can make the maiming and murdering of innocent(ish) students entertaining, I have to see what it’s all building up to.

The show invokes the feeling of slasher flicks of yore. Blood splatters everywhere, the killer shows up at random times and attacks. Weirdly enough, this killer is somewhat incompetent because he gets stopped at least twice in the pilot and just runs away. It’s not particularly scary, although it is gruesome (the demise of Deaf Taylor Swift was delightfully demented). Given the anthology nature of the show, I’m glad we’ll have the mystery of the show resolved within the initial season run, even if Scream Queens doesn’t gain the kind of audience traction it deserves. It’s definitely influenced by Murphy’s other works, like the aforementioned AHS and Glee, but it managed to stand on it’s own. I can’t say I know where its’s going, but I’m strapped in and ready for the ride. 

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He's a native Texan (YEE-HAW) who loves everything Michael Bay has ever touched. When he's not blogging, he's working on his mobile app, BoxHopp, or tinkering with his fantasy football lineups.
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