Scream Queens: Campy Fun or Plain Ol’ Terrible?

If you don't get off on stiletto chainsaw massacres, is Scream Queens worth your time?

By Brenden Gallagher

If you’re the kind of person who digs through horror TV shows for references to thrillers from the past, then Scream Queens is probably for you. The nods to Scream, Psycho, and other staples of the genre share screen time with snarky quips and bitchy one-liners that have marked the unique tone of Ryan Murphy’s comedies.

If you’ve fantasized about sorostitute mean girls getting their comeuppance, you’re also probably already watching on the reg. Even if you don’t have homecoming queen bully PTSD, you’ll still laugh at self-absorbed girls frantically attempting to tweet and take selfies as they are brutally murdered.

If you haven’t watched yet, you might be wondering if you should make room for Scream Queens on that fully loaded DVR. You probably want to know if you going to get first season Glee greatness or late period Glee trash? Let’s talk about if Scream Queens is worth your time.

Dialogue

No matter where you stand on Ryan Murphy projects, you have to give credit where credit’s due: nobody writes snappy bitchiness like he does. When characters insult each other on his shows, they cut hilariously deep.

We’re only eight episodes in and we’ve already gotten some all-time great Murphy lines like

“This closet is the most important thing in my life. It’s like a second vagina to me.”

and

“Night time is the only time to dress like a 19th century homesteader, which is my favorite style of dress.”

There are the few moments when the show tries to take itself too seriously, like when Mr. Gardner (Oliver Hudson) offers pretentious monologuing following his first film class. Unlike in Glee, Scream Queens doesn’t struggle too hard to wring a moral out of an otherwise enjoyable plot, and thankfully the “deep” moments are few and far between. Don’t worry, there isn’t much navel gazing between bitchy insults.

Verdict: FUN

The Look

Another great thing about Ryan Murphy joints is that the design tends to be flawless. American Horror Story consistently has some of the most interesting production design on television.

You would think that a college campus set would be mundane, but once again, the design team makes the screen pop. Pastel wardrobe, ostentatious sorority houses, and creeping darkness make for a much prettier landscape than your standard frat house comedy.

Even when the plot gets convoluted, Scream Queens is great to look at, a lovely canvas for the buckets of blood to splatter all over.

Verdict: Fun

Story

After the pilot, Scream Queen starts drifting off the rails. Satisfying horror, or at least, horror that aims for more than a body count, operates like a great mystery. Suspects are brought in and out of the story as the manhunt surges and the corpses pile higher. Compelling evidence is planted, refuted, overlooked, and re-examined. Scream Queens isn’t terribly interested in plotting clean twists. You don’t see the exciting moments coming, but it isn’t because you missed a subtle clue, it’s because the twist doesn’t make much sense.

On this show, plot only moves forward as an excuse for more murders and insults. Your best bet is to enjoy the ride and don’t look too hard as the plot holes pass you by.

Verdict: Terrible

Character

Scream Queens has assembled a great group of young comedic performers. Glen Powell’s turn as frat douche sex god Chad Radwell and Emma Roberts’s work as leading frenemy Chanel Oberlin are both pitch perfect, and consistently hilarious. Supporting efforts from seasoned comedic actresses like Niecy Nash and Nasim Pedrad buoy the story whenever they show up.

Even though the ensemble is tight with their comic delivery, they aren’t given much to work with. Scream Queen’s characters are little more than types. We have the bitchy alpha female. There’s the frigid female dean. There’s the boistrous know-it-all security guard. There’s the sensitive intellectual head over heels in unrequited love. The characters don’t seem to have will of their own, but instead they tend to behave as needed for the next kill. These aren’t really people as much as they are cogs in the murder machine.

Sure, comedies often prioritize jokes over emotional truth, but if the characters aren’t really people, it’s hard to care whether or not they die.

Verdict: Terrible

Final Verdict

Scream Queens is pretty and funny, and if you get off on Scream style self-reflexive horror or Heathers inspired school girl satire, then you’ll like this show. If horror isn’t your bag, and if you need more than bitchy one-liners punctuated by chainsaw massacres to keep your interest, this may not be the show for you.

Even though you have to respect bits like Coney the ice cream cone mascot being beheaded

and the Backstreet Boys inspired chainsaw fight

there isn’t much beneath the surface of Scream Queens. The show can be at turns hilarious and horrifying. Even if sorority house chainsaw murder is your jam, you have to admit, this show is

TERRIBLE.