Scream Queens: A decent mystery undermined by weak satire
HALLOWEEN IS just around the cobwebbed corner. We’re all bracing ourselves to tell costumed fourteen-year-olds to get the fuck off our lawn and for the love of god get the shaving foam away from the car. The newest October-time tradition is something else we can blame America for. On a cold, dark night, as the wind screams around the air vents, we can snuggle up next to the warm glow of the laptop screen and listen as Ryan Murphy tells us a spooky story. It will definitely involve decapitation and – even more horrifying – Murphy’s awkward attempt at social commentary. Wooooooooo-ooooo. You have been warned.
I never meant to become a “dedicated follower” of Murphy, it just kind of happened. I watched Glee until I was far past the acceptable age (thirteen). I even stoically sat through the final season where Murphy inevitably thought “fuck it” and, needing to fill episode space, took us on a zany head trip involving puppet hallucinations and characters setting automaton versions of themselves on each other. As I felt the show breathing its last, wheezing breaths I realised I was in danger of becoming a productive, fully-functioning member of society, so I swung straight onto American Horror Story. I binge-watched it until I felt the blood clotting in my legs. I was hooked.
Murphy’s horror comedy, Scream Queens (written with Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan) follows on from AHS‘s success. Grace, a Wallace University freshman joins the Kappa Kappa Tau sorority. She finds a less fluffy version of sisterhood than she was hoping for – queen bee Chanel (Emma Roberts) and her army of clones. Included is Ariana Grande, testing the theory that more young’uns will watch a programme if it’s got a trendy pop star in it.
As Chanel is the nastiest nasty you could hope to find in charge of girl power on campus, breeding a culture of elitism, body-shaming and rigorous hazing in the society, Dean Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis) decides to force her to let anyone who wants to join, join. I forget to mention – there’s a costumed serial killer on the loose, known as the “Red Devil”. And Kappa House is haunted by a terrible secret. Just those two little things. Probably not related at all.
Entering the house alongside Grace are assorted sorority rejects. There’s Zayday who hopes to become the house’s first black president, an androgynous lesbian with boundary issues, an autistic candle vlogger, Lea Michele in a neck brace and a deaf Taylor Swift fan. It seems like a modern dream – but it’s about as PC as any programme whose only openly gay character is nicknamed “Predatory Lez” can be. The programme’s apparent diversity exists not to make Scream Queens more inclusive, but to offend as many people as possible. In true, horror style… “You’re next!” I’m no Puritan. I love offensive humour. But Scream Queens takes the concept and runs with it, and runs and runs and runs and…
To pick out one of many, Chanel introduces Kappa’s maid as “white mammy”. The reason? “she’s essentially a house slave.” I tried writing out as many of the programme’s cringe-worthy, racial jokes I could remember, but this review would have turned into a book. It feels like Murphy and co. have taken every single offensive joke they’ve been too embarrassed to make in real life and instead made a vile character say it and slapped the “satire” sticker on it.
The problem is, it’s not good satire. What’s baffling about the programme’s brand of humour is that it aims to point out the prejudice in certain social groups – in this case, sororities – whilst having a superior complex itself. In the end, it seems that the only character free from ridicule is Grace. Pretty, slim, studious and modest. As much as Glee was about accepting everyone for their differences, Scream Queens succeeds in marginalising everyone.
Attempt at hip, social commentary falls flat on its face. Zayday’s otherwise interesting and intelligent character is otherwise undermined by the fact she’s a walking race joke. I’m not sure if the writers have actually spoken to many black people but, like everyone else, most don’t tend to refer to their race in every sentence. It renders her one-dimensional, whose only purpose seems to be, for the writers to make a point.
Murphy certainly has been smarter than this. The scathing comments of Glee‘s Sue Sylvester wipe the floor with Dean Munsch’s in the battle of the tyrannical middle-age woman in charge of educational institutions And, though we’re delivered a race joke in every scene until we cringe to death, Scream Queens is not entirely unfunny. Emma Roberts plays the venomous Chanel with relish, and her “boyfriend”, Chad Radwell (Glen Powell), is a delightfully idiotic, transparently superficial and snotty (“We’re just trying to have a nice day, hitting golf balls at hippies”), necrophiliac. Because it wouldn’t be a satirical slasher if some posh twat wasn’t turned on by dead bodies. Of course, it’s all tongue-in-cheek.
I’ll be honest, I don’t hate Scream Queens. It’s actually quite enjoyable, if you leave your brain at the door. As a slasher, it’s not scary by any stretch of the imagination – but it looks like the effects team had fun with the ketchup. As characters are being picked off, one by one, by the Red Devil, one by one, it’s genuinely hard to tell how the series will end, and who will survive. My opinion on who the killer is changes several times an episode and that, I must say, is to the programme’s credit. And when it comes to reeling in the viewers it’s the ability to spin a good “whodunnit?” – not political correctness – that wins over the masses in the end.