RogerBW's Blog

Scream Queens season 1 24 January 2016

2015, 13 episodes. Horror comedy by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan: a masked killer is murdering members of the Kappa Kappa Tau sorority house.

Horror comedy is a hard thing to get right. Not only is your basic sorority-killer horror story thoroughly formulaic, but the constant release of tension of a comedy pushes against the build-up of tension needed to produce suspense. The answer this show has to that problem is to give us a cast of thoroughly horrible people, so that we can enjoy watching their problems and plots, but also don't mind cheering as they get killed. The exemplar of this is Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts), "queen bee" of the house, who is in every way a vile human being… and yet one who's fascinating to watch, in part because of her awfulness. (And this show was made before the Trump presidential campaign started!)

Grace: You're an awful person.

Chanel: Maybe. But I'm rich and I'm pretty so it doesn't really matter.

Even though she's horrible and we wouldn't mind if she got inventively killed, we still care about her when she suffers reversals. And the same's true for most of the other inhabitants of Kappa Kappa Tau.

Grace Gardner (Skyler Samuels) is less successful, being the one of the "good girls" and more importantly the straight woman for the comedy. She does get some development in later episodes but she's never quite as interesting as the rest, and her role was the only disappointment for me. Zayday Williams (Keke Palmer) is much more effective in a relatively straight role.

It's not just the sorority girls: there are fine performances by Glen Powell as the ultimate frat boy, Nasim Pedrad as a sorority advisor, Niecy Nash as the world's worst security guard, and Oliver Hudson as Grace's father. The real star, though, is Jamie Lee Curtis as the sorority's enemy Dean Cathy Munsch, clearly having far too much fun as the most experienced actor in this cast, and having apparently turned noticeably more real in her fifties in much the way Joan Baez did. (And there's an homage to the shower scene in Psycho, originally played of course by Curtis's mother Janet Leigh, which Curtis insisted on getting absolutely faithful to the original.)

There are certainly plenty of other clear horror film homages here, and probably many more that I didn't recognise. I'm not all that much of a horror fan: the reason I stuck with this and enjoyed it is that everyone seems to be having a good time, particularly Curtis, and while it's hard to quantify that always gives me a good impression of a show. The scripts are razor-sharp, all written by at least one of the co-creators, which helps to keep things on track; there's none of the slump that so many shows suffer when the top people are concentrating on the important episodes and they bring in the B-team of writers for the others.

Indeed, Brad Falchuk commented:

We're very careful to have somebody go through the script all the time and try to understand who was attacked, when they were attacked, why they were attacked, and if it's possible that we are eliminating anyone as a suspect by doing this. The answer always has to be no, because we know how fans are. They make big charts about who the killer is, and then someone figures it out.

which is a level of attention to detail and pride in one's work that's sadly rare in modern television.

The show has been renewed for a second season. It's been suggested that it will gain a new setting and story, with some of the characters continuing from this season. Certainly this story is essentially complete, in spite of its twist ending.

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