In Classic Ryan Murphy Fashion, Scream Queens Loses Sight of Itself


The broad plot of Scream Queens is fairly simple: A college campus is terrorized by a masked serial killer and a sorority—the killer’s primary target—tries to find out who’s murdering people while (poorly) avoiding getting killed themselves. That’s the story, sure, but is that really what Scream Queens is about?

I’d argue that it’s not. Ryan Murphy shows have never taken their plots particularly seriously and Scream Queens is proving to be no different. Guessing who the serial killer(s) is (are) is pointless. In all likelihood, the results will be underwhelming and disappointing (true for most whodunits, to be fair) and besides, it doesn’t really matter who’s hiding under the red devil mask. Like with any masked killer in a horror movie, the Red Devil’s purpose isn’t to provide revelations about his or her own character, it’s about pushing the people that it’s terrorizing to their most revealing limits.

Think about Sydney in Scream or Laurie in Halloween. Through the course of their films, both characters go from meek, average high school girls to ass-kicking heroines. The problem with Scream Queens, no matter how hard it’s working at paying homage to classic horror tropes—last night’s episode “Pumpkin Patch” included hit-you-over-the-head references to Silence of the Lambs and The Shining—is that the style and quirk of the show has overwhelmed not just the plot, but also the character development.

It’s this kind of misstep that Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck, the series’ creators, have become known for. Glee had a perfect half a season before it cannibalized itself. American Horror Story—miraculously—managed to make it to its third season before going off the rails (though some would argue that it happened sooner). While you have to admire Murphy for his ambition and vision, he just can’t help throwing in everything and the kitchen sink.

This style certainly lends itself to some fun and wildly entertaining scenes—I can think of few television moments more fun than when Jessica Lange hallucinates a bright and bubbly musical number during the darkest slump of American Horror Story: Asylum. But it also makes it hard to care about the story. While the snappy, mean dialogue, sharp references, and frothy costumes were enough to keep me entertained for the first couple episodes of Scream Queens, the sheen is starting to wear off and reveal that the plot—what’s there of it anyway—is a shallow mess.

That doesn’t mean that the show is worthless or that I’m ready to give up on it. Sometimes, style is enough to keep people curious, but if that’s the way Scream Queens is going to play it, the jokes have to stay fresh, the visuals have to stay popping, and the actors have to keep giving near perfect performances. The last two episodes—“Haunted House” and “Pumpkin Patch”—have begun showing cracks in all three of these realms and, similarly to the fates of our doomed sorority sisters, it doesn’t bode well.

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Image via Fox.

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