Scream Queens (2015): Season 1
Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk are undeniably two of the most creative and successful show runners in television. A large part of this consistent critical and popular praise is there proclivity for eschewing the so-called traditional tropes and methodologies preferring to bend the crafting of their shows to their uniquely twist concept of entertainment. They decided to tackle the perennial TV favorite, the high school drama, with ‘Popular ‘back in 1999. Then, for their next project they presented a variation of one of the oldest genres in television, the medical drama changing it to concentrate on the practice of plastic surgery, ‘Nip-Tuck’ which premiered in 2006 lasting six seasons. They returned to high school and brought the musical format to weekly TV with the wildly successful ‘Glee’. This brings us to their current endeavors most notably a series hailed as a masterpiece of imaginative writing, forceful direction and creative performances the anthology series, ‘American Horror Story’. While it is not unprecedented for a creative team like this to juggle more than one show at a time Mr. Ryan was determined to return to school with writing help from his longtime partner. The result was ‘Scream Queens’, a wonderfully constructed satire of the slasher film genre. It manages to accomplish on television what the ‘Scream ‘franchise did in the theaters, deconstructing the numerous tropes and archetypes present in every slash and dash movie ever reuniting the components in a novel fashion that forms one of the most innovative dark comedies to spread across the medium in a very long time. Only a person with the fantastic insight and twisted appreciation of reality possessed by Mr. Ryan can come up with a variation of this genre conducive to a serialized presentation. Occasionally, different networks come up with practically identically themes. As is happened several other variations of the weekly slasher film series at simultaneously broadcast. One is a direct member of the aforementioned franchise aptly named ‘Scream: the Series’. Another was not as well received with the straightforward title of ‘Slasher’. Of all of these shows the one that I feel has the greatest potential is under consideration here.
It was not feasible to determine the overall format of the series until the second season but now that that has been shown it is possible to apply hindsight and conclude this is a type of anthology series with basically seasonal themes that stand alone yet at strongly connected. The freshman year begins appropriately enough with a group of freshmen university students. This diverse group of young women is bound together by one goal, to pledge the exclusive Kappa Kappa Tau sorority at Wallace University. Because of the current trend enforcing political correctness on campus the sorority is being forced by Dean Cathy Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis) to expand the candidate pool for potential rushes to everyone. This news is more than a shock; it is a personal affront to everything the current sorority president has worked for. Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts) is finally a senior and has assumed her rightful place as president. Now, instead of being able to choose her sisters from the most elite young women the pool of candidates include little more than a cadre of losers. The only one with any potential is Grace Gardner (Skyler Samuels), a legacy that unfortunately detests Chanel’s elitist attitude and draconian enforcement of her own will. One of the most annoying of the lower echelon pledges is Hester Ulrich (Lea Michele), who besides being exceptionally socially awkward has to wear an extensive neck brace. The other pledges are included only to provide ‘red shirts’ to increase the body count. True to the press releases about the series there is at least one gruesome death each episode.
True to the established ‘mean girl’ accords when Chanel walks she is flanked, in strictly predefined formation by her minions. They have real name but since Chanel’s world view precludes anyone not her from being acknowledged as an individual they are collectedly referred to as ‘The Chanels’, differentiated only by a number. Sadie Swenson / Chanel #3 (Billie Lourd), has retained a modicum of self-identity, sufficient to serve as Chanel Prime’s second in command. She is never seen without a pair of earmuffs that are always coordinated with her outfit. Libby Putney / Chanel #5 (Abigail Breslin), is the primary henchwoman for Chanel Prime. She is emotionally unstable and easily distracted.in the first episode the cast included, Sonya Herfmann / Chanel #2, portrayed by pop singer, Ariana Grande. Do to her busy work schedule this is an example of stunt casting that is part of the methodology and charm of the series. Form alumni of other Ryan/ Falchuk production are prominently placed most notably Ms. Michele (Glee) and Ms. Roberts (multiple seasons of American Horror Story). of course Ms Curtis is a second generation scream queen and, coincidentally, Ms. Breslin was recent the lead in a film entitled ‘Final Girl’, a term used in slasher movies denoting the character that manages to survive to the end.
Naturally, there are young men that belong to the exclusive fraternity but an even snobbier group is on campus for men of the right backgrounds, translating to wealthy parents and no consideration for anyone of ‘lower ‘social standing, ‘The Dickie Dollar Scholars’ lead by its president Chad Radwell (Glen Powell). He is very rich with uninvolved parents going far beyond the traditional n narcissistic personality disorder. He is entirely egotistical a self-absorbed exacerbated by an idiotic personality that stopped its maturation process during the ‘terrible twos’. The cherry on top id this maladjusted sundae is Chad has a predilection for necrophilia. Considering there are fresh corpses on a regular basis this is a great set of circumstances for this ultra-wealthy dolt. I also had the impression had the basis for portraying this character was an overly exaggerated impersonation of former President George W. Bush.
The main antagonist, the thriller of a killer, the Red Devil Killer, a serial murderer dressed in a full body custom of a Red Devil. True to form each murderous rampage is executed with an oddly eccentric panache. For example when pledges have to endure being buried on the field up to their necks, the Devil comes along with a powerful riding mower. This did result is a proliferation of jokes concerned with ‘giving head’. There are so many ancillary characters that the often morbid humor is able to constantly change pace. Campus security guard, Denise Hemphill is expertly played by Niecy Nash, who has extensive experience playing a member of law enforcement that is completely clueless thanks to years of being part of the brilliant improvisational troupe that appeared on fantastically silly ‘Reno 911’. Another journeywoman actress in a lead role is the young but veteran character actress, Keke Palmer. She plays the co-president Zayday Williams to perfection. As part of the open enrolment she is forced to be accepted by the sorority and soon thereafter elected co-president with Chanel.
The clues to uncovering the identity and motive of the Red Devil are entrenched in the past, specifically a murder spree that occurred almost two decades ago. That incident involved the delivery of an illegitimate child born in a bath tub and mysterious murders. It seems that an unusual number of the primary characters have some covert connection to those incidents, the number of suspects continue to grow even after the student population dwindles. The show may sound silly and highly contrived; it most certainly is. The point is that this was fully intended and the series always makes fun of itself, never taking any aspect of its careful crafting seriously.