TV Ratings: ‘The Muppets’ Tops ‘Scream Queens’ in Premiere Week’s Tuesday Debuts

23 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Ariana Grande’s Scream Queens debut: the best TV moment of the year?.

NBC and CBS both had something to be happy about on Monday night with strong premieres for both Blindspot and Live in Pieces, respectively, but the most-hyped debuts of the first Tuesday of the fall season were on ABC and Fox. Last night, on Fox’s debut series “Scream Queens”—a campy horror series starring Emma Roberts as Chanel Oberlin, all-around horrible sorority girl—Chanel, for no discernible reason except hollow shock value, calls the house’s maid “white Mammy.” Context: “I call her ‘white mammy’ because she’s essentially a house slave.” “Mammy” is one of the most enduring racialized caricatures in American history—still conjured up by Aunt Jemima, “Gone With The Wind,” and most recently, “The Help.” It refers to an older domestic servant who is a black woman, because so many white people, well into the ‘60s, had a black woman around to call the help. “Scream Queens” isn’t trying to be racist or demeaning—it’s being fake-racist, as a way to be funny.

The 23-year-old singer-and-actor has a number of projects on the go currently, as he is promoting his new TV series Scream Queens as well as his forthcoming third studio album.The first episode of Fox’s Scream Queens, a new slasher-themed drama set in a sorority house and made by the creators of Glee and American Horror Story, aired in the US last night – and one particular death scene has already managed to set the internet a-buzz. The two networks launched The Muppets and Scream Queens, with one overlapping half-hour at 8 p.m., and the the clear victor was Jim Henson’s aging puppet troupe.

He released track Levels in August (15) as part of his upcoming music offering, a song that represents the creative depths the star is attempting to plumb right now. “Levels is a good introduction to the next step,” Nick told Entertainment Weekly. “I think [the album will] go even a bit further with some more soul and R&B sounds, even hip hop influences in there. The social media-obsessed character came to a sticky end after she was stabbed to death by a mysterious masked killer known as the Red Devil – while in the process of sending a final tweet. I’m really just digging deep.” It seems the entire Jonas family is looking to expand in new ways, as his brother Joe just released a fresh song called Cake By the Ocean with his pop-rock band DNCE. There’s the issue at hand of how entirely unearned it is for a white man (showrunner Ryan Murphy), a white actress (Roberts), and a white maid (Jan Hoag) to toss around such a loaded phrase. Nick thinks his sibling Joe will “really kill it” on the music scene with DNCE and he insists there is no rivalry between them, even though their original family group the Jonas Brothers disbanded in 2013. “As far as collaborations, I’m not sure,” Nick said when asked if a Jonas Brothers reunion is in the works. “It’s important for both of us to support each other and be excited for each other, but give each other that space as well to do our own thing.

While New York Times praised the episode’s referential humour, Variety’s critic Brian Lowry felt that it was “too derivative to be truly exciting or particularly suspenseful”. What struck me was the desperation of calling upon unabashed fake-racism to sound smart or funny or interesting—witty or cool, at essentially any cost. “The Muppets,” which also debuted last night, is geared towards those members of the viewing audience who think that Kermit the Frog having a sex life is inherently funny. For every crystalline moment of daring or every perfectly snapped insult, there are several cringe-inducing and downright offensive moments that make you question the taste of everyone involved.

We want [to] win together, even if it’s doing different projects.” “We have not picked a date officially yet, but we have a sense,” Nick confirmed. “It’s going to be at some point early next year, so probably the end of February or early March.” As was the case on Monday, and every day so long as society doesn’t collectively cut the cord, these live-plus-same day ratings tell a fraction of the story.

The show was developed by Bill Prady, who in addition to starting his career with the Jim Henson creative team has executive produced generic sitcoms like “Dharma And Greg,” “Caroline In The City,” and, currently, “The Big Bang Theory.” Naturally, the combination of long-running, low-investment comedy and a wildly beloved childhood institution must have made dollar signs light up in the eyes of ABC executives. (Just to seal the deal, ABC appears to have molded the show to be a pitch perfect puppet-rendition of its Emmy-winning hit, “Modern Family.”) But “The Muppets” isn’t really the Muppets, except in sad facsimile. This includes legacy pledge Grace (Skyler Samuels), who is skeptical of all things Greek, even as she rushes (her long-dead mother was a Kappa, see…), and enthusiastic probable psychopath Hester (Glee’s Lea Michele). It’s grown up, but without any discernible payoff, except titillation; it’s difficult to find the warm-hearted but wry humor that made the Muppets into a national institution. Thus, a struggle for power between the lacquered, bubblegum pink mean girls and the try-hard weirdos is born — and then people on all sides start dying. To paraphrase my former colleague Zack Handlen, the show both wants to inflate the Muppets’ perceived importance through nostalgia and then to poke holes in that same nostalgia—a strategy has determined not just the show’s plot but also its incredibly irritating advertising campaign.

Someone new will die in every episode, and if the show gets another season, co-creator Ryan Murphy has hinted that it will feature an entirely different mystery. Elsewhere on ABC, the sophomore run of Fresh Off the Boat, a surprisingly robust midseason entry given Tuesday’s recent history of comedy failures, followed The Muppets with 1.9 rating among adults 18-49.

One of them is even an alcoholic. “The Muppets” brings us to the behind-the-scenes drama of “Up Late With Miss Piggy,” a late-night talk show hosted by Piggy and run, behind the scenes, by her very recently ex-boyfriend Kermit. Jamie Lee Curtis is visibly thrilled to be playing the dean, a ferocious character, especially when she gets to stomp all over collegiate plaything Chad Radwell (a perfectly cocky Glen Powell). Like “Modern Family,” too, the jokes are mostly there to emphasize how (modern or Muppet) life makes fools of us all; from Kermit’s new girlfriend Denise, a near-copy of Piggy, to Fozzie’s loser nice-guy dickishness, set off by a tiny fedora.

Miss Piggy suffers most from the modernization: She has always been written as a histrionic narcissist, and that doesn’t leave a lot of room for nuances of character. “The Muppets” struggles to make her relatable, even as it toys with Kermit’s un-relatability. Interestingly, the character that has managed to survive being modernized is Gonzo, and that’s largely because he’s stayed himself—a wise-cracking marginal character with occasional chances to steal the scene. She has chased a more glamorous aesthetic since her early days on Glee, likely to purposefully distance herself from Rachel Berry’s square wardrobe, but her turn as Hester joyfully undoes that work. His pitch to Kermit for how to incorporate “Dancing With The Stars” host Tom Bergeron into the show—“Dancing With The Czars”—is the only gag in the broadcast that made me laugh. Well, that and the moment when Kermit admitted baldfaced (toadfaced?) to the camera that his relationship with new piggirlfriend Denise began at a “cross-promotional synergy meeting.” Bergeron and Elizabeth Banks, a frequent guest on “Modern Family,” were certainly feeling that synergy.

And Kermit’s new relationship is essentially the premise of the show—meaning it could be that “The Muppets” is showing some signs of self-awareness. The role is an interesting one for Jonas, who occasionally seems to deliberately play to the gay community with vague teases of homoeroticism to gain a passionate fan base. While the most noteworthy aspect of Grande’s performance prior to her death is the impressive swing of her never-ending ponytail, her murder reveals how good Scream Queens could be with a little careful craft.

Chanel No. 2 gets a suggestive text from an unknown number, and while the messages are menacing enough that we immediately know they’re from the killer, she cocks her adorable head and flirts back. She keeps doing this even when the killer enters her room in his signature red devil costume, and when he texts that he’s “going to kill [her] now,” Chanel blinks at him for a second before texting back: “Wait, whaaaaaaat?” The entire scene is ridiculous, of course. It’s encouraging to see Scream Queens trying to balance the wicked and the mocking in a way that echoes those first stellar episodes of Glee so perfectly. Unfortunately, Scream Queens also indulges in some of Murphy, Brennan, and Falchuk’s least flattering writing tendencies — like pretending that simply having characters engage in aggressive stereotyping and spout off racist jokes counts as heady satire. She berates people for no reason other than to feel powerful, and whenever she sees the faintest opportunity to deliver some appalling racism, she pounces.

When giving a tour of the Kappa house, she looks down at the housemaid scrubbing the floors and sniffs, “That obese specimen of human filth scrubbing bulimia vomit out of the carpet is Ms. Murphy’s direction lingers on her stacked wardrobe, her immaculately assembled outfits, her dead-eyed glare at whomever was foolish enough to cross her. “Yeah, Chanel’s a total racist,” Scream Queens seems to be saying, “but isn’t she spectacular?” Well, no. But the show using her racism as a shortcut to explain the depths of her awful behavior while still finding her delightful is hardly surprising from this team. After all, many of American Horror Story’s recent storylines (especially on its Coven season) have depended on racism to sell its unsavory characters and amp up their shock value, like Kathy Bates’s repellent slaveowner/serial killer. Murphy’s sitcom The New Normal featured Ellen Barkin as a woman whose primary characteristic was that she almost physically couldn’t stop making racist jokes.

Glee had a diverse cast, but that often took the form of serving up tired tropes — the “sassy black girl,” “the silent Asian,” “the fiery Latina” — that rarely grew beyond their most basic descriptors. But when the central, most lovingly glamorous character of your series is calling the sole black pledge (Keke Palmer) a “hood rat,” and running to grab white eyeliner so she can better write epithets on her dark skin, you’re not making any kind of interesting commentary. And on top of it all, none of these racist jokes are particularly interesting, funny, or even well-delivered. (Show me a teen who would ever say “white mammy” and I will show you a boring figment of Ryan Murphy’s imagination.) If anything, the most notable thing about the racist text is that it’s all so aggressively unoriginal.

If they applied even an ounce of the creativity they show in the bombastic death scenes to developing villains beyond generic racism generators, Scream Queens would be a force to be reckoned with.

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