The much-hyped about cross-genre TV series Scream Queens aired its two-hour premiere last night. And it was irreverent to the fullest.
An open mix of comedy and horror (it was created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan, who collectively imagined Glee and American Horror Story), it is also a mash-up tribute to the darkest and smartest teen movies of the last 25 years such as Heathers, Mean Girls, Jawbreaker, Clueless and Legally Blonde. And like Heathers in which three out of the four main woman leads were named Heather, for the Kappa Kappa Tau sorority sisters of Queens, the reigning wenches are named the Chanels.
Instantly from the opening scene, a 1995 flashback during a Kappa house party, the dialogue is snappy, rude and greatly uproarious. You quickly become notified that occasionally bursting with laughter during the show is both uncomfortable and a tad relief (for the script relishes in saying out loud many of the horribly thoughts we have in times of arrogance or defeat).
In 1995, a KKT (Tumblr half-jokingly stated that the sorority was one letter away from having the same acronym as the KKK. No you didn’t!) sister gave birth to a baby girl in an upstairs bathtub. But her dim-witted housemates were more concerned with jamming to TLC‘s “Waterfalls” (fair enough? Kidding, kidding) than helping her stop her excessive bleeding. They kept their agreement after song, but the new mom had already sadly died and the scene fast forwards to twenty years later at the same sorority at Wallace University.
Enter Chanel Oberlin, the newest HBIC of Kappa Kappa, played by an astutely wicked Emma Roberts. Roberts eats her script for breakfast and as the New York Observer pointed out, her insults and commentary are damn near “Shakespearian” whenever her screen time is queued up. (Gossip Girl‘s Blair Waldorf would’ve meet her match if they ever crossed paths).
Chanel is aware of the legend of the KKT sister that gave birth but hardly acknowledges the past in the present until scarily and oddly students and eager pledges for Kappa are slowly being killed off one by one by a villain called the Red Devil, another relic from twenty years ago. And speaking of the pledges and the supporting characters, here’s a breakdown. Playing Chanel’s “minions” are Abigail Breslin (you remember her from Little Miss Sunshine) as Chanel #5, Chanel # 2 is Ariana Grande, and Billie Lourd is Chanel #3. Lea Michele plays Hester, nicknamed “Neckbrace” for her required machinery and nerdiness. Then comes the just as obstinate, but voices of, rationality Grace Gardner, played by Skyler Samuels, and Zayday, owned by Keke Palmer. Of course, there ‘s also the presence of the OG scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis, who returns to the horror playing field as dean Cathy Munsch, 30+ years after she first appeared in the late ’70s scary movie classic (and saga) Halloween.
Against her bitchy wishes, Chanel grants the pledges the chance to get into Kappa in order to sway the legend of the Red Devil from killing her way (penance). But as the premiere progressed, she’s showed she was just as capable of doing irreparable damage all on her own…
I found myself already hooked to Queens within the first half hour, much of my interest fueled by where the show was going to take me. And I was able to monitor my Twitter feed under the hashtag of #ScreamQueens to read how other were also taking to the show. Most seemed to really like it, overjoyed by its clear influences of those past teen films. I quickly however saw some crystal dislike for the show’s penchant for jabs at sexual orientation, disabilities, and race. (Here’s a line regarding a disability. For the secondary character and Kappa pledge nicknamed “Deaf Taylor Swift“, Chanel insisted that “Like all deaf people, she has horrible halitosis.” Yeah, that was terrible. But DTS was played with wonderful comic timing by newcomer Whitney Meyer. And the lawn mowing scene that features her? COMEDIC GOLD).
The last category of “race” was especially used in an exhibit A manner of how Scream Queens wasn’t as cool or funny as it thought it was (to some). Some viewers felt that it was proof again that White, male Hollywood power players and scriptwriters in general far too loosely use minorities and those who are different for easy laughs. Like there’s the clip when the Chanels come down the grand staircase of the sorority house and Chanel refers to the Kappa housekeeper as “white mammy.” (Her real character’s name is Ms. Bean and her burn scene was gruesome!) That “mammy” line didn’t go very well with Black Twitter. Plus, others didn’t care for Palmer’s character being named “Zayday” and felt she was a trope (the buzzword of 2015) of the sassy sister girl.
I trust that someone who at the age of 22, and more level-headed and well-spoken than the average Young Hollywood star(let), that Palmer wouldn’t co-sign a script that she felt was just too far left, even for her. I fully took what some Twitter users were inferring, but I also saw it as a sign that a show like this, even if not heavily seeped in purposely insensitive material, wouldn’t be their cup of Kermit tea anyway. Scream Queens is for viewers that are either of the current social media generation or older viewers that find extremely awkward, sometimes underrated comedies groundbreaking (like Clerks). The New York Times even asked in a personal ArtsBeat review if one had to be a certain age to get these Queens. And TIME attacked the show and Murphy for trying to make light of college campus misbehavior in a time where assaults are reported on premises at higher rates than past years. Still, I sometimes find the political correctness of the mainstream media to be of faux-concerned. Like TIME‘s writer magically found a way to tie-in Viola Davis‘ recent Emmy win as a reason why Scream Queens lacked relevancy, a total stretch of an observation. (However, they were somewhat correct of the surface presentation of Niecey Nash‘s cop role on Queens).
Sardonic entertainment can be hard to digest, but past incidents or projects that attempted racial or controversial humor and failed (e.g. that Adam Sandler Netflix movie) certainly clouded a few perceptions of Scream Queens. Truthfully, I cringed just as much as any other Black girl watching the show when Chanel said to Zayday “Hello, hoodrat.” (Uh huh, bitch).
And I’m not one to defend racist humor on the regular (I couldn’t continue watching that film Baby Mama after a grandma character stated that all these celebrities were “adopting Black babies.”Exquese meh? A scriptwriter must have to have their mind go to very dark places to drop such touchy racial banter). But Scream Queens gets acerbic humor right in that it mocks normalized societal trends and misconceptions such as Chanel thinking it was okay to call Zayday that. Didn’t she sound like a moron? (Zayday promptly delivered a comeback, BTW. And earlier Grace had mentioned that she didn’t care for basic White girl drinks like Pumpkin Spice. Compensation?)
For example, while not at all related to categories of physical or sexual attributes, Grande’s, or Chanel #2’s scene with the Red Devil, was such a smart take on our obsession with live tweeting or Instagramming everything, whether sweet or tragic, you can’t say that Scream Queens is a complete fail in the satirical department.
So yes, I definitely had a good time watching Scream Queens for I laughed, I pursed my lips and still wanted more. And by way, you noticed I didn’t reveal too much about what happened in the storyline. It’s a show that can easily be ruined through spoilers. The TV trio that created, prior to its debut, confirmed that characters would die in every episode. (Gasp!)
Ratings will tell if it’s going to be a fall hit. But it certainly is one of the most spunky and astonishingly reckless shows on network television. It is an unforgettable experience watching it.