By Devon Shuman, For The Miami Student
In its representation of college life and the Greek system, Fox's "Scream Queens" is terrible: it's outlandish, it's over embellished and it plays on horrible and insulting stereotypes.
And that's what makes it so good.
In the world of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk's ("Glee," "American Horror Story") new show, everyone is fair game. From sorority girls and frat boys, to nerds and school administrators, nobody is safe. This is mostly because, off-screen, the creators find ways to poke fun at all of these character types, but it's also because, on-screen, someone is trying to murder them.
"Scream Queens" centers on the fictional sorority, Kappa Kappa Tau (which, one character points out, was apparently founded at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio). Headed by the rich, beautiful and socially ruthless Chanel (Emma Roberts), Kappa is easily the most popular sorority on campus.
That all begins to change, however, after a serial killer in a red devil costume begins to pick the girls off in classic one-by-one fashion. This, in turn, prompts the anti-Greek (and most importantly, anti-Kappa) Dean Cathy Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis), to announce that Kappa must accept anyone who wishes to become a pledge, leaving Chanel and her snooty sisters with a pledge class of nerds and outcasts.
As the bodies begin to pile up, the girls start to uncover a secret about a deadly occurrence in the Kappa House twenty years ago, a secret that might be linked to the current killings.
In a preview of the series at Comic-Con, Murphy teased the show as, "'Halloween' meets 'Heathers,'" referencing the blend of horror and teen drama. In reality though, "Scream Queens" is more akin to the late Wes Craven's "Scream" than it is to "Halloween."
It's not an homage to the slasher genre - it's a takedown of it.
Just like Craven's film, "Scream Queens" is a blatant satire of "Halloween" and "Friday the 13th" and any other movie in which a deranged killer stalks and slaughters dimwitted teenagers. It's filled with tongue-in-cheek references to those teens' cringingly poor decisions that inevitably lead to their deaths.
When the sisters go upstairs to find the serial killer after he attacked one of them, the guard complains, "Are y'all crazy? You just said the killer was upstairs and now that's where you're going? Why wouldn't you run outside?"
Murphy and Falchuk capture everything we've ever yelled at the screen while watching a cheap horror flick.
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This satirical tone is exactly what allows the series to function. Without it, we are left with a cast of characters who embody their stereotypes better than a Miami student wearing Vineyard Vines.
Chanel announces that they are having a white party at which, "Everyone is encouraged to wear and/or be white." Chad Radwell, Chanel's preppy and popular boyfriend, tells her, "I do love you. I'd just love you a lot more if other people loved you too."
In a normal show, these statements would be viewed as outrageous and poorly written. In a satirical setting, they're hilarious and an effective social commentary.
"Scream Queens" doesn't just criticize horror movies and Greek life - it criticizes everything.
While Chanel and her minions may be despicable, Dean Munsch is no better. She's a self-centered alcoholic whose attacks on Kappa seem less out of concern for the well-being of her students as much as for her own personal gain.
From the Tumblr feminist, to the creepy investigative newspaper editor, to the overprotective father, Murphy and Falchuk find a way to poke fun at almost all of the stereotypes within the show.
The only problem here is that we are left without any good and virtuous characters to root for. Even Grace, the kind and rational pledge, comes across as a flat and unsympathetic character. Not to worry, however. With the high body count in each episode, if you don't like a character, all you have to do is wait a little bit and they'll most likely end up slaughtered.
With its focus on satire, "Scream Queens" drops the ball on many logistical issues such as why a top tier sorority like KKT only has five active members, or why we rarely see any student in class or studying. But with the focus on humor and social commentary, these oversights can be forgiven.
In any other setting, the utter insanity of this show would be out of place and offensive. But, with "Scream Queens," Murphy and Falchuk have found a way to make it work.
With a cast of characters who could all plausibly be either the killer or the next one to go, it's not just a funny satire; it's an intriguing whodunit.
And it's one of the best new shows of the fall season.
4.5 out of 5 stars