Ariana Grande, Emma Roberts, Abigail Breslin and Billie Lourd in FOX’s “Scream Queens.”
In a twist on our normal angry anti-Ryan Murphy diatribe, this one is happening after the first episode of his new series rather than four years into it. That’s us, shaking things up and keeping y’all on your toes. You’ve gotta stay fresh in the opinionating game, you know?
But calm yourselves, Murphy fans. While we’re about to spew some negative opinions, we promise we’re not angry and we can admit that we’ll continue watching for the foreseeable future. Maybe. We can’t honestly claim that we weren’t entertained at various points. But that’s kind of the problem. We weren’t entertained through most of these first two hours of show. We laughed at a few of the gags and appreciated some of the staging, music and direction, but for the most part, we found a lot of this boring and dated.
Of course, part of the reason for that is because the show is stocked to the rafters with Ryan Murphy stock characters and memes, from deifying mean girls to fetishizing the differently abled, from casual racism and homophobia presented as comedy to casual violence presented as meaningful, it’s all there; the entire Murphy oeuvre summed up, from Popular, to Glee, to American Horror Story. Repackaged leftovers. Don’t even get us started on his weird habit of making Millennials huge fans of the pop music that Ryan Murphy liked when he was their age. “Sunglasses at Night?” That’s not even campy. It’s just lame.
And if feels like, in order to dress up all the massive ryanmurphyisms, they cast as many notable names and big personalities they could find – plus Nick Jonas – in order to make it seem fresh. We think it’s no coincidence that one of the sharpest and most commented-on scenes – the live-tweeted death of Chanel Number 2 – was the one in which Ariana Grande took center stage. Sure, the absurdity of a sorority girl tweeting all her responses to her murder is sharply funny on its own, but from the way people reacted to it, it seemed the real appeal of the scene was watching Ariana Grande get stabbed in the back.
Emma Roberts seems to have found her limit when it comes to playing Mean Girls. While there’s virtually no air separating Chanel from Madison in AHS: Coven, two straight hours of watching her spew anti-PC venom at anyone who’s not white enough, pretty enough or rich enough is a bit much to take. We don’t know… we hate to be oversensitive about these things, but after the last couple years in this country, is “ironic” racism still supposed to be considered funny? Were we supposed to laugh at “White Mammy?” Is it funny to watch two black women in uniforms eat fast food and crack wise about not doing their jobs? Is that some fresh new comedic take to anyone?
Jaime Lee Curtis is literally the only person in this overstuffed cast who seems to know what she’s doing. Her scenes with Emma Roberts – who is not a bad actress, as far as we’re concerned – demonstrated a vast gulf separating the two of them and their approaches. But to us, JLC’s participation only highlights one of the more glaring problems of this show: stylistically, it seems to owe nothing at all to the classic slasher flicks it’s supposed to be inspired by. Granted, a horror/comedy is going to feel different from a straight-up horror film, but aside from a bunch of mostly white girls acting very dumb in dangerous situations, we don’t really see much that connects this show to, say, the Halloween or Friday the 13th franchises. Even when they try and draw a comparison through satire, as when Niecy Nash’s character expressed her frustration with the girls running toward the killer instead of out of the house – it lands so heavily and obviously. Scream mined that material 15 years ago.
It’s too much of a cartoon – and not even a good one. No one acts in a recognizable human manner, which means no one in the audience has any reason to care when or if they die. Glee and AHS were both cartoons in their own way as well, but at least in the early days of each show, Murphy was able to tug at the heartstrings through great character bits or elevate the emotions through stirring dialogue or music. This is just a bunch of bitches being bitches, getting killed off one by one. Murphy loves treating female characters like dolls, and we’re just not feeling the dollhouse he set up this time.