Scream Queens: A Chanel-O-Ween Classic
It’s mid-October, putting us directly in the middle of Spooky Season. In a year full of too many unforgivable spooks, murder and blood and gore and glam all feel weirdly welcome now more than ever. And with plenty of spooky movies and shows coming out right now - from the Halloween remake to the Sabrina the Teenage Witch remake to the new seasons of Riverdale and American Horror Story - I think it’s also maybe not a bad idea to revisit some classics. Namely, the instant TV screamer classic Scream Queens that premiered in 2015. Created by comedy horror ingenue Ryan Murphy and starring some of his favorite muses (Emma Roberts, Lea Michele, Billie Lourd) and plenty of cameo stars (Ariana Grande, Nick Jonas), Scream Queens (first season only) as a contained murder mystery, with all its satirical and bloody whimsy, is really a great piece of television.
The show follows Chanel Oberlin, her crew of Chanel no. # followers, and the other sorority members as they attempt to evade and uncover a mysterious serial killer bent on exacting revenge against her sorority, Kappa Kappa Tau. With Chanel (Emma Roberts) on one side of this story as the evil-but-easily-best-character KKT president, Grace Gardner (Skyler Samuels) is on the other end as a goody-two-shoes-frosh-turned-investigator. Between the two of them, we meet not just the rest of the sorority members trapped in their huge KKT house, but also members of the brother fraternity (the Dickie Dollar Scholars), American Treasure Jamie Lee Curtis as the Dean of Students, Grace’s weird father, and the KKT national chapter president/lawyer Gigi Caldwell (Nasim Pedrad), and more. All of the characters are ruthless and extreme caricatures, and acted to the level of just under #extra that everyone is able to bounce off each others’ energy to project an extremely wild story. Fair warning though, the pilot episode is an extra long one that sets up maybe one scene too much of exposition.
As with most of all Ryan Murphy shows, Scream Queens does not kid around with its production values. There’s a certain plastic-y feel that permeates all of Murphy’s shows (especially in his teen-centric ones like Glee and this one) but it works extremely in his favor here. The ostrich feather-ridden wardrobe is perfection, the 80s/90s soundtrack is superb, the casting is extremely well done, and the flamboyant choreography of its murder scenes really kicks the show into high gear. It’s because of all these extra embellishments that take Scream Queens away from an average teen show into potential cult classic. It’s at least a Halloween classic already in my heart.
The story though, with all the flamboyant fashions and lingo and characters, is really what pulls through in a show like this. In each episode, a character is killed off until the end when we finally discover who the Red Devil killer is. And by “finally”, I mean fina-fucking-lly because this show will have you clutching your pearls and gripping your seats because it’s impossible to guess who the person behind the mask is. If American Vandal started out with a joke premise that had its audience fully enthralled with the mystery at its core, Scream Queens works in almost exactly the same way. This show is so dramatic and extravagantly extra, and with standout performances from Emma Roberts, Niecy Nash, and Jamie Lee Curtis, it’s hard not to love this show, even with all its problematics.
As much as I love Scream Queens (and desperately wished for season two to not suck as much as it did), a major point of uncomfy-ness for me lies in its line between satire and… not satire. And what I mean by that is that while the show is very clearly meant to be a satire of disgusting wealth, whiteness, and greek life (as well as a tribute to slasher films), there are moments in the show that feel just a little too tongue-in-cheek to just be joking. All minor quibbles though, because as the show progresses, you do quickly understand just how much of an exaggeration all these kinds of scenes are supposed to be. By the end, all that truly matters is: Who is the Red Devil Killer?