The advertising for Ryan Murphy’s horror comedy Scream Queens has been around for almost as long as Freddy and Jason. The exhaustive ad campaign for this show practically wore everyone down to the point of defeat, and it is one of the buzziest new shows of the fall season. My personal indifference towards the project turned to reluctant eagerness in the last few weeks, but is the hype worth it? Good horror is hard to do. A good self-referential horror project is even harder. Scream Queens had a lot of potential, but the tedious 2-hour premiere isn’t as killer as it thinks it is.
Everything kicks off in 1995 when Kappa Kappa Tao’s latest rager turns bloody when a sorority sister gives birth in an upstairs bathroom. “I didn’t even know I was pregnant!” she tells her unsympathetic sorority sisters. Before you know it, the new mother is dead, and the girls vow to cover it up. We flash forward to 2015 (you know, as horror stories go), and KKT is still being ruled by a bitch in heels. Emma Roberts is no stranger to working with creator Ryan Murphy (she joined the third season of American Horror Story), and it’s not the first time she’s played a petulant princess. She plays Chanel, and her minions – played by Abigail Breslin, Ariana Grande, and Billie Lourd – are also named Chanel because the original “didn’t care to learn their names.” Breslin is lucky enough to be No. 5.
This cast is massive, and all of the characters come out to play within the first two episodes. Jamie Lee Curtis plays the sorority hating Dean Cathy Munsch (cue the lesbian jokes!) who tries to get Kappa’s charter taken away. In the first episode, she decrees that the house must allow every pledge inside Kappa’s doors, and that leads to even more characters entering the mix. Lea Michele is a death-obsessed girl in a neck brace, Keke Palmer plays a headstrong law major, and Skyler Samuels plays Grace, the good girl who might have a connection with Kappa’s past. As a side note, Samuels could be a hat model if Scream Queens isn’t picked up for a second season.
A killer nicknamed Red Devil begins offing sorority girls, and a lawnmower is put to interesting use at the pilot. Is it someone from the house’s past? Surely that prologue won’t go unnoticed for too long? One of the girls bites it early in the 2-hour premiere in a hilarious scene where she begins receiving texts from the killer. She actually types out her pleas as texts instead of screaming them and then tries to send a tweet about it. Instead of going gothic like Horror Story, Murphy is gunning for a winks with his scares. The Kappa house feels like Coven: The College Years, and it’s light design and whipping sense of humor feels intentionally like Clueless mixed with Sorority Row.
But does it work? Some of the humor feels too left field and distracts from the overall uneven tone of the show. Queens wants to be a mixture of horror and comedy, but the ingredients sometimes separate too often. Chanel’s egomaniacal boyfriend, Chad (Glen Powell), has a literal boner for death and admits that he got his first erection while watching Faces of Death. Nick Jonas plays a gay golfer named Boone (Chad’s best bud), and a scene between them laying in bed together for comfort is played for laughs too eagerly that even I rolled my eyes.
It’s too bad that Scream Queens felt the need to premiere two back-to-back episodes. It’s clear that Fox needed to deliver with all the hype around it, but the evening only dragged. There are twists at the end of each episode, and they would have been more than enough to keep viewers interested (that luring, almost voyeuristic scene of Jonas working out at the end of Episode 2 would have had audiences clamoring for more). There are too many characters to digest, and the suspicion of the identity of Red Devil feels almost yawn-inducing. There is good stuff, though. Lea Michele is fun as an eager pledge, and Niecy Nash steals the show as a campus security guard – Denise Hempville – tasked to protecting the girls. Murphy is clearly having fun with a genre he loves. The score is a tribute to 80’s horror, and the atmosphere reeks of a classic slasher flick with its dark suburban streets and disposable characters.
Sometimes horror needs some tender care. If only the presentation of the show didn’t feel forced on you like an unnecessary sequel.