By Erin Valentine and Katie Tabeling
Originally posted for Legendary Women
“Scream Queens” made its debut on Fox Tuesday, and in creator Ryan Murphy’s words, the show is supposed to focus on women in a new genre. The anthology will focus on two female protagonists in a groundbreaking comedy-horror hybrid. Horror films are a weird combination of empowering and misogynistic — the bulk of women characters being used as titillation and then being butchered while one woman defeats the killer. The Scream Queens sense of humor already reflects that. The opening line in a series about a serial killer hunting sorority sisters is a menstruation joke when a sorority sister has blood on her hands. Ha ha, like no one’s heard that one before. And then, the sorority sisters, who clearly have the emotional capacities of teaspoons, choose to jam out to “Waterfalls” instead of helping out a fellow sister.
Where the wit rests is in the biting-the-hand humor of the genre. Instead of having characters discuss the tropes like in “Scream,” the characters treat classic tropes like obvious choices. When the killer already starts piling bodies, Jamie Lee Curtis gives a long speech about how the teenaged girls are safer at school than going home. The security guard, hired to protect the sorority girls, tells them to run away and scream. When Emma Roberts escapes from the psycho that attacked upstairs in the sorority house, she chooses to go back upstairs to catch him. The clincher is when she goes back up: SLUTS WILL DIE is written in blood. The horror conventions are in effect full-throttle, played over the top to ridiculous results.
The characters themselves seem like extreme parodies of arch-types. Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts) is the president of the Kappa Kappa Tau. She’s well dressed, rude and highly homophobic, classist and racist. Her prejudice borderlines on absurd stupidity, like calling the maid “white mammy” and welcoming a gay pledge to appeal to the “gross gay fans and gay hairdressers” she’ll have to deal with in the world as a future news anchor. Her entire world is focused on college and how she can rule it — she’s desperate to stay popular and loved by dating Chad, even though he might be into necrophilia and a general jerk. When the dean decides the sorority needs to accept everyone, Chanel’s response is to fake burn someone’s face off. Chanel is more interested in demonstrating her power over the other girls in Hell Week despite the bodies being dropped. Her Mean Girl style comments are hit and miss hilarity, leaving the audience to wonder if her offensive comments are more sociopathic than comedic.
The antagonistic to Roberts’ character is the lovable, well-intentioned Grace (Skyler Samuels). Raised by her HOT father (Goldie Hawn’s genes will do that to you), Grace dresses like a hipster with a love for 70s flair. She’s a character with a conscious… for now. Of course, she gets involved with the creepy but alluring investigative reporter student who has been an admirer of Chanel’s in the past. Grace snoops around the house and plots with her boy toy on how to bring down Chanel’s shady empire.
Others seem to be in a study of subversions, like memorable Hester (Lea Michele), a girl with scoliosis. The neckbrace and ice-cream cone sweaters make her seem like she’s desperate for friends. Instead, she’s not freaked out by the bodies dropping around her — in fact, she’s got some helpful tips about disposal. Chanel # 5 (Abigail Breslin) starts off as the beaten down flunky, but has biting moments of sarcasm and calls herself Chanel’s best friend. Zayday (Keke Palmer) is good girl Grace’s roommate and fellow Kappa pledge. She’s the main target of Chanel’s racism. While her character isn’t as cliché as the security guards, Zayday is clearly there to be the standard BBF, or black best friend.
But the queen of killing clichés is Dean Munsch, played by Jamie Lee Curtis. She’s the complete antithesis of the roles she played in horror films in the 80s — the sweet virginal final girl. Here she’s seen menacing the sorority, smoking pot, blackmailing students to sleep with her and hitting on parents. It’s clear that she’s disillusioned by college life and making less money than the football coaches. Her smug smirk when bodies hit the floor make it seem like she’s more interested in punishing the sorority than saving the girls themselves.
Another interesting character casting choice on the show is the guest stars, Ariana Grande and Nick Jonas. While Grande is killed off in the first episode, the inclusion of Jonas and Grande is a fairly obvious ploy to bring in viewers with simple name recognition. Following Murphy’s mocking of Slasher-tropes, he continues with the tradition of killing off major actors to shock the audience.
The overall plot of the 2-hour premiere takes the viewer on a ride that is at times enjoyable and others grotesque. The unnatural all-white house decor and bleach-filter of the show highlights the white-centric aspects of stereotypical sorority life. While the storyline and structure are similar to American Horror Story, Scream Queens has the wonderful addition of idiotic characters who lack all common sense. One really fantastic scene from the premiere is Grande’s death scene. As she quite literally dances with the devil, they text each other face-to-face until her goes for the kill. Then, right before she is stabbed to death, she sends out a long tweet pleading for help. The poking of fun at Millennials is hysterical and definitely hits home in the best bittersweet way.
Murphy considers horror-comedy to be the best new genre, and the show excels with the majority of the jokes. There’s plenty of gore, from spray tanning gone wrong to faces melting in a fryer to a girl’s head being mowed off. Overall, the star-studded cast makes the show alluring and you spend the two hours wondering if the show is intelligent, witty, or just stupid.
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Disclaimer: I do not own these images.