Who’s the Red Devil? Our Scream Queen Theories

23 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Pilot’ / ‘Hell Week’.

Fox is betting big on Scream Queens, which premiered on Tuesday, September 22. The much-hyped comedy-horror show starring Lea Michele, Emma Roberts, Abigail Breslin and Jamie Lee Curtis, has just had its premiere in the US, but it had not been picked up by a UK channel until now.If Scream and Mean Girls had unprotected sex atop the detritus from nine rounds of beer pong while “Bad Blood” played in the background, the fruit of their loins would probably look something like Scream Queens — the latest horror story from producers Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan.

By the end of the two-hour series premiere on Tuesday night, we found ourselves no shortage of moments, amazing one-liners, and deaths to process (R.I.P, lots of people).If you heard the news that at least one character will die on every episode of Fox’s new horror drama “Scream Queens”… you might only care about learning who dies. The latest show from the team behind Glee and American Horror Story is as close to a mashup of those two series as anyone could possibly get, and Fox has accordingly promoted the hell out of it in the hopes that the stylish show can break out of a bland fall TV season.

Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts) is a terrible delight to watch and, as we learn, has a long list of rules that must be obeyed by those around her at all times. As has been endlessly discussed, Murphy shows typically follow the same pattern: They start out really strong and get you hooked with a mix of absurdity, brittle dialogue, insane characters and shocking cliffhangers.

Whether or not you relish equal-opportunity mockery will likely dictate whether you suck up Scream Queens like some sort of bittersweet cocktail. (Be sure to check out my colleague Melissa Maerz’s review for even more commentary.) We open in 1995, with a scene ripped from I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant: Sorority House Edition. A Kappa Kappa Tau pledge—under the mistaken impression that she’s hiding nothing more than the Freshman 15 beneath her yellow taffeta — has just given birth in an upstairs bathtub, while a party rages downstairs.

It began with Chanel No. 2 opening her door to the obvious masked murderer, trying to flirt with him and then engaging in a text conversation with him or her. See: “Glee,” “American Horror Story,” “Nip/Tuck.” So to save you the trouble, I watched the two-hour premiere of “Scream Queens” and will share the first characters to go. 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.

Her disgusted sisters won’t deign to help her until they’ve properly jammed to TLC’s “Waterfalls.” (“A lonely mother gazing out of her window…”) Cut to approximately four minutes and 39 seconds later, and Teen Mom has bled out. The series flashes back 20 years to when a Kappa pledge gave birth to a baby in a bathtub — and her sisters refused to help because it was during a really fun party and TLC’s “Waterfalls” was playing and that song was their jam.

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). 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. Dean Munsch accuses Chanel of Lannister-ian plottings after a spray tan incident left the previous Chanel No. 1 burned and disfigured last year. (Hydrochloric acid will do that to a person.) It’s worth noting this bronzed flashback offers our first look at the Red Devil — a menacing costumed figure and this series’ Big Bad. 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. If you looked at the cast list and saw pop star Ariana Grande’s name and thought “there’s no way Ariana Grande would really be a character on a primetime TV show”… you are correct!

Daddy’s (Oliver Hudson) driving her to college, and as Christina Perri’s “A Thousand Years” wafts from the stereo speakers, he’s begging his daughter not to rush a sorority. Nasim Pedrad, late of Saturday Night Live and Mulaney, brings a welcome jolt of goofy energy as one of the sorority’s alums, and when the premiere starts to lag, Niecy Nash busts in as the sorority’s appointed security officer and lets her impeccable comic timing rip. 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. Which means Neck Brace (Lea Michele), Deaf Taylor Swift (Whitney Meyer), and Candle Vlogger (Breezy Eslin) are all eligible. (But seriously, will someone buy that Nancy Meyers Experience candle for me? And finally, another character that you think is dead is actually a pretty compelling twist, because it’s Nick Jonas — another actor/singer you wouldn’t think would stick around a TV show.

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. Chad bottom-lines it for Chanel: He “can’t date a garbage person.” (Though, apparently, he’s not above sleeping with the Dean…) Chanel hatches her own plan, one she reveals to maid Ms. Bean while at the coffee shop ordering her trenta, five-shot, no-foam, pumpkin spice, half-caf, no-foam latte from barista-investigative-reporter Pete. 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. 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. Grace wants to nark, but Chanel uses the promise of boyfriends and trips to Cancun to persuade the other pledges to falsely accuse Grace of the crime if she does so. (They were stupid not to hold out for iPads if you ask me…) In such a lovely display of team work and sisterly camaraderie, the girls drag Ms.

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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