I don’t know why I keep letting myself get hurt by Ryan Murphy.
It’s probably because so many of the shows he writes, creates, and is involved in either get rave reviews before I’ve ever watched them (Nip/Tuck, American Horror Story) or have appealing, unusual plot summaries that instantly grab me, and keep me suckered to the story and the characters, as much out of hatred as enjoyment, in a way that I feel the compulsive need to see the series to completion.
Scream Queens was one of the shows that had a promising description (although some critiques complained it was too much of an amalgamation of Murphy’s already existing shows), and even the potential to subvert a genre that has generally been unfriendly to female characters since it’s inception. I was hoping that, much like Glee (or, at least, the first half of the first season), Scream Queens would be funny, irreverent, self-aware, self-deprecating, and tongue-in-cheek, with complex characters and dramatically charged situations.
Instead, Scream Queens is much more like later seasons of Glee; already lapsing into cliched tropes, lacking any real self-awareness or tactics beyond tactics beyond the same shallow presentation of women, gay men, race, and body issues that Glee had, sans the significant cultural relevance that Glee had some six years ago.
But no matter how bad Glee got, for some inane reason, I felt compelled to watch it, even five and a half years after it became more of a chore (or should I say choir?) to view (hate watching has fast become a phenomenon because of shows like Glee). So when Fox announced that Ryan Murphy would be heading a show that combined the seemingly vapid teen drama of Glee with the orchestrated horror of classic 80’s slasher films, I was excited. In some sick way, I was hoping Scream Queens would create the same kind of compelling characters, even if the plot was lackluster.
Unfortunately, it’s not just the plot of Scream Queens that has ended up being a disappointment. It’s everything. The characters are deplorable; even when a character has a redeeming moment (including a surprising, but satisfying feminist tirade coming from the queen mean girl in the fourth episode), the characters are just as quickly made unlikeable again, and their golden moment is practically erased from continuity (in one episode, a character declares that the sorority sisters should stop starving themselves and eat a pizza; in the immediately subsequent episode, the very same character is seen insinuating that women must starve themselves to even be considered attractive).
Moreover, each character has a “dark secret” that brings them under the audience’s suspicion; but when your entire cast has (contrived) motive to commit heinous murders, and you continue to emphasize this perspective, the audience ends up fatigued in the constant whiplash of “who is the killer.” The ultimate answer seems to be, “everyone is.” And that does not create a compelling story.
What it really comes down to, is that the audience doesn’t have anyone to root for. Even the most obvious “protagonist” could barely be called a “hero” at all. Her motivations are entirely self-driven, and her passe “mysterious past” sets her up to be the character with the trope of snapping before the end of the series.
And the story isn’t designed to sustain beyond a single season. Murphy is already on record stating that Scream Queens will (continue to) follow in the footsteps of American Horror Story by being an anthologized series. However, unlike AHS, Queens will follow the same characters to different horrible locations and situations (or “those who survive,” Murphy said in an interview with EW).
The plot of Scream Queens is predictable at best, and constantly loops over itself to repeat story revelations, and then completely ignore and change them. Unlike Scream, which the show purports to be inspired by, there is no subversion of expectations. There is no critique or tropes. The “scary” aspect of the show is less on the psychology of horror, and more on the gratuity of gore and violence that they can get past prime time network censors.
Because of this, the horror moments end up reading too tongue-in-cheek, and the makeup doesn’t translate as anything better than middle school haunted house. The cinematography plays on classic fright scenes from films like The Shining and Psycho, but they lack the actual tact of those films, opting to show everything, instead of simply hinting at the horror that is happening. Everything screams “overdone,” from the color of the blood to the costuming proper to the plot and characterizations.
The most positive thing I can say about Scream Queens is that it really is a female-driven show. It’s great to see so many female characters in an action drive television show, but it’s frustrating to that every single one of woman is painted as either a horrible person or unsocialized, psychotic mess. There are very few female friendships presented that don’t ultimately amount to a friendship of convenience; the women use each other, abuse each other, and fight each other for dominance and the affection of men.
Overall, Scream Queens strikes me as one of the most disappointing shows of the 2015 fall season. Will I keep watching? Maybe. But if I do, I will probably hate myself for it.
Scream Queens airs Tuesday nights on FOX.