In this regular series, a Wicked Horror writer presents an unpopular opinion about a particular genre offering and asks the oft-repeated question, “Is it just me?” In this installment, Joey Keogh argues that the zany, candy-coloured Scream Queens is the best TV show Ryan Murphy has ever made.
Ryan Murphy is an odd fellow. The man who, along with frequent collaborator Brad Falchuk, gave us both Glee and American Horror Story is undeniably talented (or, at least, brimming with ideas). But, when it comes to maintaining a cohesive, captivating story, he tends to go large rather than think hard. It’s something he was able to reel in for the first season of AHS, a chilly, spooky and intermittently intelligent study of a family in the midst of both a haunting and a myriad of normal, everyday issues.
Likewise Popular, his sadly short-lived teen crisis shocker, and even Glee which, in the beginning at least, was a perfectly serviceable time-passer with a few decent renditions of classic hits thrown in for good measure. What all of these endeavours have in common (yes, even the ghastly Nip/Tuck) is a loosening of control as the seasons wore on, leading to ever more try-hard plot points and “shocking” incidents, over the top performances and a heavy reliance on style over substance.
With his freaky horror show, Murphy has garnered a cult following that will remain hooked in spite of how off the rails the show goes (read: very). But nobody is going to accuse AHS of actually being good, no matter how wildly entertaining or unintentionally hilarious it might be. Where that madcap Murphy spirit is really put to good use is in arguably his least popular offering, the consistently hilarious and often genuinely unnerving horror-comedy series Scream Queens.
Murphy, a master of assembling wonderful ensemble casts, here puts AHS alumnus Emma Roberts in the lead role as queen bitch Chanel Oberlin. Opposite, as her on/off boyfriend is the scene-stealing Glen Powell as Chad Radwell, whose endlessly rude and offensive quips provide many of season one’s funniest moments (he’s taken a backseat in two, thanks to his star ascending in a major way following his appearance in Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!!).
The two are ably supported by the likes of Abigail Breslin, Niecy Nash, Billie Lourd, Keke Palmer and, in a scenery-chewing role guaranteed to make even the most casual fan squeal, the ultimate Scream Queen herself, Jamie Lee Curtis. Occasional pretty boy casting aside (Nick Jonas in the first season, Taylor Lautner in the second), with Scream Queens, Murphy finally seems best placed to utilise his admittedly strange skill-set to maximum effect. And his cast is so loaded with standouts, it’s difficult to pick a favourite.
Although he drew scorn for suggesting he created horror-comedy (snort), with Scream Queens, Murphy offers a pretty solid example of what makes that sub-genre so great in the first place. The laughs come thick and fast and the scares are well-crafted, considered and usually on point. The killer’s identity is kept tantalisingly secret until the end of the first season, but, as with the best slasher whodunnits–such as Scream, or even the similarly-themed but darker TV series Slasher–it’s less about the destination than the journey.
The kills are gory, shocking and usually unexpected–although hardcore horror fans will have fun spotting all the clues along the way. At the time of writing, Murphy has yet to knock too many heads off his core cast but season two promises to up the body count, as all great sequels do. Most importantly, the red stuff flows in gallons throughout and there’s a sense that anybody could be next. All the while, the petty, twenty-something drama chugs along to keep us invested in the characters, normal life tugging at their sleeves as they run for their lives, screaming down various hallways.
Speaking of which, Scream Queens is aptly titled because not only is it populated by kick-ass ladies, but there is a lot of screaming going on here. Pretty great screaming, too (Roberts claims the cast often shout themselves hoarse over the course of shooting). It’s easy to imagine someone like Emma Roberts or Abigail Breslin (both horror movie alums in their own right) becoming the next Jamie Lee in years to come, too. But even if nobody ascends past this one foray into horror-comedy, it’s still a great calling card considering how up for it they clearly all are.
Let’s face it, nobody is having this much fun on the AHS set. And, with material this loopy to contend with, it’s wonderful to see stalwarts like Palmer taking to it with such aplomb. Series two has another ace up its sleeve in the form of eighties heartthrob John Stamos, who winningly plays a surgeon with a hand transplant that may or may not be possessed. Still, this is the ladies’ show through and through and nowhere is that more obvious than in the casting of Curtis, who is simultaneously a genre nod in her own right.
Sure, maybe she’s just having a ball playing against type but Curtis’s decision to take part in this mental little show speaks volumes (the legendary Kirstie Alley following her lead into season two even more so). Watching Scream Queens is almost as much fun as being part of it. Almost. But mostly it’s wonderful to see Ryan Murphy finally harness his considerable talents for casting, writing believable teen drama, and executing both horror and comedy elements into a show that actually works. It’s not as dark as AHS or as biting as Popular, but Scream Queens is a bizarrely entertaining mixture of both. Or maybe it’s just me?