Review: ‘Scream Queens’ Has Bite

Tonight on Fox, Ryan Murphy’s (Glee, American Horror Story) new epic gore-fest hits the small screen with a very bloody two-hour series premiere. To get you primed for all the suspense, YE got a sneak peek of the premiere and is here with all the deets so you know what you’re getting into tonight. Because, let’s be real, you’ll be watching no matter what the reviews say. You pretty much have to watch, because it’s Emma Roberts, Ariana Grande, Lea Michele, and Abigail Breslin. Oh, and Nick Jonas. As a (small spoiler alert) gay, devious frat boy in tacky patterned golf pants. In other words, this is all MUST-WATCH material.

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A newcomer you may not be familiar with, Skyler Samuels (in the promo poster above, The DUFF, American Horror Story), stars as our heroine Grace, an upbeat quirky misfit raised by her widowed dad (Oliver Hudson). Grace ventures to Wallace University as a bright-eyed and hopeful incoming freshman where she dreams of pledging Kappa Kappa Tau, the sorority her deceased mother was in during her college days. But little does Grace know that Kappa is now run by C-U Next Tuesday Chanel (Emma Roberts) and her sycophantic minions known only as Chanels #2-5.

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The Chanels, from left to right, Chanel #5 (Abigail Breslin), Chanel Original (Emma Roberts), and Chanel #2 (Ariana Grande)

In the hands of Chanel, Kappa has ventured away from the welcoming sisterhood that Grace was expecting and become relentlessly exclusionary, full of body-shaming hazing, and a place where all-around toxicity thrives–toxic in that Chanel’s Kappa breeds and environment where women compete with, demean, and sabotage one another…as opposed to an environment where women protect and support one another in the face of adversity and misogyny. Of course, this type of toxicity is not unique to Chanel or the fictional Kappa at Wallace University. Murphy’s representation of Chanel and Kappa is a pretty clear critique of sorority culture and Greek Life in general, as well as a critique of the tendency for women to participate in undermining behavior against their own “friends.” (Hence the term “frenemy.”)

Never without their pearls or pastel business suits no matter the time of day, the ladies of Kappa make everyday on campus feel like an Easter Sunday brunch at a (very exclusive and presumably all white) country club. That is, until Dean Munsch, played by OG scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween), steps in and issues a fatwa on all of Kappa’s exclusionary, demeaning practices. Dean Munsch declares that Kappa must accept any girl who pledges, leaving a horrified Chanel with only the campus “dregs” which include the aforementioned Grace, her sassy roommate Zayday, a tattooed lesbian who serves as the only voice of feminist reason, a hard-of-hearing Taylor Swift wannabe, and Hester (Lea Michele) whom Chanel will refer to only as Neckbrace, because she, you know, wears a neck brace.

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In an effort to rid illustrious Kappa of its new misfit pledge class, Chanel goes to some extreme measures. Accidents happen. Shenanigans ensue. Complicating all of this are the mysterious events of 20 years earlier, as seen in a flashback to the era of TLC’s “Waterfalls” featuring YE cover girl Anna Grace Barlow as a Chanel-like bee-atch. Does what happened in 1995 in Kappa house have anything to do with the creep in a latex red devil costume who has been stalking Kappas? Hmmm… we’ll have to wait and see what that connection may be.

But for now there are tons of other questions: Who loses their head in a hazing accident gone wrong? Who can Grace trust? If there is a connection to the past, who’s in on it? The premiere sets pretty much everyone up as a possible conspirator, leaving several loosely dangling plot lines that could go anywhere. Which is kind of what a Ryan Murphy series tends to do–go in a thousand different directions, leaving the main conflict a miserable mess of confusion and unidentifiable body parts. Maybe that’s what some viewers love about Glee and AHS, the feeling that anything can happen at any time. But in the long run of the series, this habit of deluging the viewer with dozens of bloody tangents only serves to diminish the impact of the main narrative, blurring the true themes of the series. Which is a shame, because the stories Murphy tries to tell, if not so terminally tangential, would be pretty powerful in shifting thinking on important social issues. In one form or another, the theme underlying the entire AHS anthology is developing empathy for and accepting those who–for whatever reason–are different from you. Time and again, Murphy’s work shows those on the wrong side of history getting their comeuppance, a powerful message. Imagine how much more powerful such a message would be if the narrative surrounding it was more cohesive and concise.

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As it stands, Scream Queens is full of snarky bite, irreverent and self-aware, whip-smart, and full of literal laugh out loud one-liners. You might want to run Chanel’s head over with a lawnmower, but you have to give her props for her banging zingers. And even in all it’s snarkiness and pithy pop culture references, Scream Queens still manages to pack in that characteristic Murphy message: Ladies, stop watching Mean Girls marathons, and start just being nice to one another. And that’s a great message for the young women of the world. But let’s just hope that in all the stalking, slashing, and literal back-stabbing, the ultimate message about the dangers of back-stabbing of the metaphorical kind doesn’t get lost along the way.

Check out the trailer now before the big thing tonight:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-FtenR69qmk

 

 

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