There’s a serial killer on the Wallace University campus and he/she/it is targeting the sisters of Kappa Kappa Tau – as is the school’s Dean Munsch, though in a completely different way.
Scream Queens (FOX, Tuesday 8/7) is almost as funny and as horrific as it thinks it is, but it’s still hugely entertaining as it riffs on horror movies with gleeful abandon and far more blood than we expect on a network show in the middle of primetime. It’s also very, very smart.
Scream Queens opens with a Kappa Kappa Tau sister with a newborn baby, bleeding in a bathtub while downstairs a party is going full throttle. Four of her sisters head downstairs because Waterfalls is playing (it’s so their jam) and when they return, she’s dead. Cut to the present and the current Kappa Kappa Tau.
Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts) is the president of the sorority and to say she’s a bitch is demeaning to bitches everywhere – she is flawless evil in heels. She rules KKT with an iron fist in a cashmere glove along with her minions – Katherine aka Chanel #2 (Ariana Grande), Chanel #3 (Billy Lourd) and Sarah Tourse aka Chanel #5 (Abigail Breslin).
Dean Munsch, however, takes a dim view of the sorority and – because she can’t legally ban KKT – declares open season on them in a far more Machiavellian manner: she forces them to accept anyone who wants to become a pledge – with the cooperation of the sorority’s lawyer, Gigi Caldwell (Nasim Pedrad). Enter Hester Ulrich (Lea Michelle) AKA Neck Brace, African-American Zayday Williams (Keke Palmer) and her roommate, good girl Grace Gardner (Skyler Samuels), Tiffany Something, Predatory Lez… and Jennifer, the Candle Blogger (Breezy Eslin).
Then there’s Chad (Glen Powell), Chanel’s equally snobby boyfriend and his best friend, Boone (Nick Jonas) and barista/school paper editor Pete Diller (Diego Boneta) and, once the blood starts to fly, security guard Denise Hemphill (Niecy Nash). Also, Grace’s overly protective dad, Wes (Oliver Hudson) and KKT housekeeper, Mrs. Bean (Jan Hoag).
In the two-hour premiere, we learn a bit about everyone and (almost) witness four deaths (the actual killing happens offscreen, but the blood leaves a lasting impression). There’s also one killer misdirection that plays out with a nifty final sequence.
The best thing about Scream Queens is that it doesn’t go for huge laughs all the time. There are a few gutbusters over the first two hours, but mostly the humor is slyly satirical of the horror genre tropes – frequently using the humor to set up the deadlier moments in unusual ways.
The writing is sharp but never quite goes completely over the top – though it does push boundaries for primetime commercial TV at times (or constantly – this is Ryan Murphy we’re talking about…).
The cast is large but by the time the premiere concludes, it is not unwieldy. The best performances come from Skyler Samuels as good girl Grace who wants to turn Kappa Kappa Tau into a model of open-minded sisterhood and Emma Roberts, Abigail Breslin and Billy Lourd Chanel’s 1, 3 and 5 – the queen bee and her top lackeys, who’ve kept KKT in a state of not-so-benevolent dictatorship during their time there (keeping up a tradition referred to in the opening teaser).
Murphy and Co. are quick to set up antagonists – Chanel and Dean Munsch for a start – and alliances (Grace and barista/slash investigative college journalist Pete, for example) before introducing ways in which they might be subverted (the murderer wears a red devil costume and Pete is the school mascot – who is a red devil…).
Ironies abound (one KKT pledge, for example, is a deaf girl who loves Taylor Swift and loves to sing her songs, off key and at the top of her lungs), but there’s plenty of old-fashioned comedy (the professional security guard who falls asleep on shift) as well as the traditional horror tropes the show is spoofing (the red devil disappears into the bushes when Grace tries to catch him – leaving no trace; the hidden room in the KKT House basement).
If the series maintains the level of intelligence and wit of the premiere, it could well be one of the most entertaining network shows of the season.
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