'Scream Queens' Is the Most Anarchic Show on TV
Why this Ryan Murphy show defies all television rules and is all the better for it.
It might sound strange to call Scream Queens — an unabashedly glossy show about a bunch of sorority girls — the most anarchic show on TV. Surely Game of Thrones, with its constant political upheavals; or The Walking Dead, with its actual zombie apocalypse; or The 100, with its survivalist Build Your Own Society premise all beat out a show that has featured a Jonas brother and that guy from Twilight.
Though Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and The 100 all have more anarchy woven into their worlds, as television shows they still have some semblance of structure in their writing and characterization. Scream Queens constantly rolls its eyes at its own premise, defies logic and order, and often doesn’t even bother to pretend to make sense. On another show this would be a deal-breaker — it certainly isn’t a sustainable model for an entertaining TV series — but somehow Scream Queens has nailed pure anarchy distilled into forty-five minutes a week. Let’s unpack how it’s made the chaos work.
Scream Queens’s first season revolved around a sorority house on a college campus beset by a serial killer, but the show frequently took side-trips to Jamie Lee Curtis satirizing her career, random Taylor Swift takedowns, and a Jonas Brother (a Joni?) being shockingly entertaining. Halfway through the first season, it even lost track of its own plot.
Season 2 doubled-down on its paper-thin premise. Ryan Murphy wanted the show to take place in a hospital, but he also wanted to use the same characters. The show speeds through a series of half-assed explanations as to why these characters have all become doctors and nurses, but none really stick. It doesn’t need to make sense; Ryan Murphy knows his fans will follow him into Season 2. The former college dean and sorority girls all just work in a weird hospital with questionable ethics and shady funding now, alright? Also, John Stamos is now in it and has an evil hand.
The show is the equivalent of the stream-of-consciousness games you used to play with your dolls as a kid, making up their stories as you went. “This doll is an astronaut but also a dog walker, and lives in Antartica but also Malibu …” It’s downright impressive that this is a mainstream television show.
Like its premise, Scream Queens characters are constantly in flux. The show axes them so frequently it makes Game of Thrones’s mortality rate look conservative, and it frequently throws them into sudden homoerotic scenes because why the hell not?
Season 2 in particular has stunt casted fairly well-known TV actors like Colton Haynes and Cecily Strong, only to kill them off almost immediately. Meanwhile, our few lasting characters like the Chanels and Jamie Lee Curtis’s Dean Munsch experience zero growth because Scream Queens laughs in the face of things like character arcs.
Both seasons ostensibly revolve around solving a mystery about who is dressing up in a weird suit and murdering everyone, but the show keeps getting in its own way. Season 1 got sidetracked every few episodes; Season 2 threw in a marriage plot that felt nonsensical, even by Scream Queens’s standards. New episodes also spend oddly long periods on departures like this examination of the term “ghosting.”
Don’t be fooled by its bubble-gum pink exterior. Scream Queens is an act of anarchy and an agent of chaos; the Joker of the television landscape. It answers to nobody and plays by no rules, and while that occasionally makes for a bumpy path, it’s why it’s one of the most fun shows on TV right now.