Opinion: Scream Queens is Exhausting, Tedious
There’s an art to hurling insults. If the character doing the insulting is meant to be perceived as the evildoer (like Once‘s Evil Queen), then her insults must be biting and amusing and rooted in truth. If the character is an anti-hero, the insults have to be somehow related to defense of the greater good or someone weaker than himself (such as Knights in Sour Armor Han Solo and Rick Blaine). Miss the mark on the insult bandwagon and you simply have a character that is hateful and a show you can’t wait to turn off.
Such is the case with Scream Queens, which premiered with two bloated hours that promised to skewer or honor or defile or do something with slasher horror flicks. Some of the most clever movies of the last ten years have deconstructed the horror genre, so there are abundant opportunities to mock and scare audiences. But Ryan Murphy was way off target, at least for this viewer.
OH. IT’S A RYAN MURPHY SHOW.
“Ah yes,” I can almost hear you thinking, “this is a Ryan Murphy show. Now I get it.” That’s right, and Murphy’s shows usually come with a fair amount of baggage. He loves to poke, prod and attack viewers. Sometimes this results in things that are frightfully original and viscerally entertaining (most of American Horror Story), a dynamic breath of fresh air (two seasons of Glee), or triumphs of camp (two seasons of Popular). But Murphy’s shows are designed to run on excess and chaos, which means that if a show is just five degrees off balance, the entire thing becomes a hot mess. Later seasons of Glee, almost all of Nip/Tuck and the regrettable and dull New Normal all place high in the Bomb category.
Back to the insult-queen. The person we are supposed to root for and against is Emma Roberts, who plays the bloody awful Queen Bee of her college sorority. I don’t know what’s going on with Roberts here, but her performance didn’t make me love her, or love to hate her, and that’s a big problem. In fact, all I wanted was for her to get murdered quickly and ushered off screen so that someone serviceable, funny and root-able could take over (why not Jane Levy from the unfortunately canceled Suburgatory?) Instead the first sixty minutes were devoted to her rapid-fire insult machine. Over it.
IT GETS BETTER. SORT OF.
The second hour (seriously Fox, did this need to be two hours?) was an improvement, which means that there’s hope yet for Scream Queens to be fun to watch. On the plus side,we have Lea Michele, blessedly being given something to do that is totally not like Rachel Berry. She gets to be a weird freak for once and I bet she doesn’t even mind wearing that neck/head/mouth brace.
Murphy finds great ways to use actresses who are awesome, like Niecey Nash and Jamie Lee Curtis. If there’s on reason to root for Murphy’s success, it’s so that people like Angela Bassett can be rescued from Hollywood purgatory and given something to play instead of someone’s grandma and mom. Nasim Pedrad finds so many ways to be funny but she’s hard to categorize… which of course puts her weird position in Hollywood (see: Fox’s Mulaney). Murphy & Co totally see why Pedrad is watchable, so her inclusion in the show helped break up the boring.
The problem of Scream Queens is that when the older actresses aren’t on screen, the plot and acting are excruciating and slow. The number of folks who want to be guest stars on a Ryan Murphy show is fairly high, resulting in people like Nick Jonas and Ariana Grande gracing our screens. It’s not that I have too much against Jonas or Grande as people or performers, it’s just that stunt casting is a risky proposition. Milking it for a few laughs (Grande) is fine, sticking a guy in a show in a pivotal role just because he wants to be an actor (Jonas) isn’t fine unless you LOVE the Jonas brothers.
WHERE THE BOYS AREN’T.
Murphy was able to find some dynamic male performers on Glee, like Darren Criss, Chris Colfer, Corey Monteith and Alex Newell. But none of the boys cast on Scream Queens stood out during the two hour premiere. And where is Evan Peters? Oliver Hudson had exactly one expression for the entire two hour fiasco. I couldn’t help but wonder what a scenery-chewer like Dylan McDermott would do with the dad-who-probably-has-a-secret role. It’s not that McDermott is an Oscar-winner, but sometimes the right amount of scenery chewing is hilarious in just the right way. Hudson was as bland as unbuttered toast. He better step it up if dad is going to survive another couple of episodes.
Apparently the show is a fairly big hit, with its overall rating soaring in delayed viewing. Its premiere on Monday night was lower than expected, but with the Muppets also bowing at 8 pm there was a lot of competition for viewer eyeballs. If we are grading on a curve then this show deserves a C+, with a teacher note that says “this draft is very rough but shows promise. Try again next week.”
Am I off the mark? How do you feel about the show? Let me know in the comments!