Scream Queens, Fox’s new horror-comedy college serial killer show, did not look remotely appealing when I first saw its ads, in spite of its promising premise. Sure, Jamie Lee Curtis, the original Scream Queen, is in it, but so are several teenybopper singers-turned-actors (It’s brought to us by Ryan Murphy, the guy behind Glee and American Horror Story). But after watching a few episodes, I’ve come to accept this not as the best fall show — that’s The Leftovers — but the most fun fall show. Here’s why you should join me on the dark side.
1. If you think the cast looks insufferable, they aren’t supposed to be likable and most of them get killed
We all do it; avoid certain shows and movies if they star famous people we dislike. For example, I have a strong arbitrary dislike for Zac Efron. Maybe it’s his empty eyes, or maybe it’s simply a pop culture grudge that’s the flip side of a pop culture crush: you can rationalize it all you want, but at the end of the day, you feel how you feel and there’s no rhyme or reason to it. I normally avoid his films, but one day I was with friends and they put on Neighbors and I actually kind of liked him in it, precisely because he wasn’t playing a character we’re supposed to like. By virtue of his un-likability, he became far more tolerable.
Scream Queens stars a lot of the kinds of people who provoke arbitrary dislike: there is a Jonas brother in it but he’s quite tolerable, even bordering on enjoyable, because his character is a gay frat boy who thinks Michael Bay is the best director of all time and wants to rush a sorority and he might or might not be a murderer. And if you don’t like Emma Roberts, that’s not a problem because you’re not supposed to like her character, Chanel: she’s Dee from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia mixed with Regina George, finished with a sprinkling of Draco Malfoy. Like It’s Always Sunny, there is not one likable character on this show. And that’s a good thing. It works.
2. Because Jamie Lee Curtis.
Jamie Lee Curtis, the original iconic Scream Queen from Halloween has unfortunately not had much onscreen fun in recent years aside from a string of yogurt commercials that SNL made fun of. She’s clearly having a blast here, and it translates to the audience. From having affairs with students while scorning their “mommy issues” to being gleefully unconcerned that a murderer is on the loose on her college campus, her dean is a worthy successor to any great fictional college dean, including Animal House’s Dean Wormer.
3. Because its parodies are spectacular. No matter how you feel about Taylor Swift, there’s no way you can’t smile when watching this parody of her mind-bogglingly insane gift-giving video. Here’s the original:
And here’s Scream Queen’s version of it:
4. Because the casting is on-point. Jamie Lee Curtis as the dean of the college. Emma Roberts as the bitchy sorority queen. Charisma Carpenter — Cordelia from Buffy and Angel — as one of her minion’s moms. SNL’s Nasim Pedrad as former sorority girl who can’t move on from her 90’s glory days. Chad Michael Murray — the golden it boy from the early 2000’s — playing Brad Radwell, brother of the popular womanizing necrophiliac frat president Chad Radwell.
5. Because even if you don’t trust Ryan Murphy, this show is finally the right tone for his shtick.
As a writer and showrunner, Ryan Murphy is polarizing. He tends towards gross-out and erotic horror that often includes graphic rape, and his portrayals of LGBTQ and disabled characters have garnered lots of criticism. Like his other shows, Scream Queens is wildly un PC and that won’t work for everyone. But unlike his other shows, Scream Queens isn’t trying to be anything but funny and campy: it’s not trying to be earnest like Glee or scary and artistic like American Horror Story.
Take the scene above. It is not trying to send any messages —either moral or artistic— besides “let’s watch some cartoonish frat boys smash things and face off against a murder while one gets his arms chopped off.” It’s straightforward in its efforts to be nothing but ridiculous, which is exactly the tone Murphy’s writing needs to land.
Scream Queens is not the kind of show to analyze and theorize about and make intense predictions about; it’s not a show whose characters invoke such adoration that viewers will lose their shit when they die, but it is the most fun show this fall. It’s the kind of show you watch with friends and make drinking games around (drink every time Chad Radwell mentions his lust for dead bodies, anyone?), which is just as valuable as critical darlings in its own way. So if you’ve been avoiding it because you don’t like Ryan Murphy’s other shows, or you don’t want to watch a Jonas Brother, or you think shows about Greek life are lame — it’s time to re-think your life choices and come to the dark side.