Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 21, 2016)
Originally aired on Fox, Scream Queens gives us a new horror-oriented TV series. This four-DVD set gives us all 13 of Season One’s episodes – the plot synopses come from the DVDs’ menus.
Pilot/Hell Week: “The girls of Kappa House are dying for new pledges. When anti-Kappa Dean Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis) decrees that sorority pledging must be open to all students, a devil-clad killer begins wreaking havoc across the campus. As Chanel (Emma Roberts) hazes the pledges, the murders continue.”
The series launches with a double-length episode, one that sets a particular tone right off the bat: Scream meets Mean Girls meets Heathers. While the show clearly wears these influences on its sleeve, that doesn’t make it bad.
Instead, “Pilot/Hell Week” delivers a pretty entertaining experience. I’m not sure how well the snarky tone will work over 13 shows, but I’m interested to see what develops.
Chainsaw: “Chanel finds a new project in Hester (Lea Michele), and Chanel #3 (Billie Lourd) confesses a secret. Grace (Skyler Samuels) and Zayday (Keke Palmer) uncover a connection between two students.”
Best part of “Chainsaw”? The introduction of Coney, the new college mascot. Worst part of “Chainsaw”? The murder of Coney – we needed more of his antics. Even with the demise of Coney, “Chainsaw” moves along the narrative and throws out good entertainment along the way.
Haunted House: “As Halloween approaches, Chanel creates a devious plan after Zayday makes a shocking announcement. Meanwhile, Grace and Pete (Diego Boneta) pay a visit to a mysterious woman with ties to Kappa’s past.”
As much as she borders on stereotype, Niecy Nash’s Denise Hemphill offers such a goofy pleasure that I can’t dislike her – especially when we get a flashback to Nash as “80s Denise”. The development of the narrative via a haunted house adds cleverness to this solid show.
Pumpkin Patch: “Dean Munsch makes an announcement affecting Chanel's presidential campaign. Grace and Pete lead a search party for a missing friend.”
This far into Season One and I’ve started to wonder if there’s any logic behind the overall narrative or if the series’ producers make it up as they go along. “Patch” throws out so many curveballs and borderline random moments that this question becomes prominent in my mind.
That said, I’m pretty sure there’s a method to the apparent madness, as I have to believe all this will go somewhere. Given the entertainment and goofiness along the way, I can live with the erratic nature of the plot development.
Seven Minutes in Hell: “Chanel makes a surprising decision, which leaves Zayday in a position of power. The girls of Kappa host a slumber party, but not everyone will survive the night.”
After episodes that spread pretty thin, “Hell” remains unusually focused, as it keeps virtually all of the action in Kappa House. That’s a good choice, one that tightens up matters well. I also can’t help but like an episode that gives Glen Powell’s belligerently moronic Chad a more prominent than normal role.
Beware of Young Girls: “A shocking event leads Dean Munsch to come face-to-face with her ex-husband’s mistress. The Kappas use a Ouija board to communicate with Chanel #2 (Ariana Grande) from beyond the grave.”
With the introduction of Munsch’s ex (Philip Casnoff) and his Rosemary’s Baby-coifed mistress (Tavi Gevinson), “Beware” takes the season down some new and interesting paths. Various competing schemes and theories allow the narrative to heat up in this fun episode.
Mommie Dearest: “Grace enlists Chanel’s help to learn more about KKT’s past. Dean Munsch goes ‘psycho’ when she becomes the latest target of the Red Devils.”
That synopsis should state Munsch goes Psycho, a movie allusion that becomes more biting when one knows Curtis’s mom did the original shower scene. Of course, “Dearest” twists the result and takes the sequence beyond basic homage. Add more plot complications and the return of Denise Hemphill and “Dearest” zings.
Ghost Stories: “Denise does little to calm the Kappas’ fears when she spins a terrifying ghost story. Meanwhile, Hester’s shocking announcement pushes Chanel to the edge.”
As S1 progresses, it gets more and more nuts, and “Stories” exemplifies that. The titular spooky tales offer delightfully nutty flashbacks, and the return of Gay Dead Boone (Nick Jonas) creates a bizarre thread. Everything gels in this terrific episode.
Thanksgiving: “Chad takes Chanel to his family home for Thanksgiving, where an uninvited guest throws the holiday into chaos. The Red Devil carves up a deadly main course as another victim falls.”
After the wild shenanigans of “Stories”, S1 calms down somewhat for the more plot-driven “Thanksgiving”. Of course, it still comes with comedic moments, but much of it revolves around a long Agatha Christie-style discussion of potential killers. Though not as fun as “Stories”, “Thanksgiving” still works, especially when we get to know Chad’s awful family.
Black Friday: “After a horror-filled Thanksgiving, the Chanels decide to celebrate Black Friday, but the Red Devil has plans to stop their shopping spree. When the Kappas conclude that Dean Munsch is the killer, they set a plan in motion to stop her.”
On the surface, Scream Queens should flop because we never really care about any of the characters. The “nice” roles – especially Grace and Zayday - are forgettable, and the others are too one-dimensional and often cruel to be likable.
Despite that theoretical drawback, I don’t care, because the series offers so much “Heathers on Speed” fun. “Friday” works fairly well, though it fares best when it largely ignores the overall plot – Chanel’s seemingly illogical love of Black Friday offers fine amusement.
Dorkus/The Final Girl(s): “The Red Devil attack at Kappa House leads to the Devil being unmasked – and yet things are not as they seem. In the aftermath of the Red Devil killings, nobody’s life will be the same.”
Season One comes to a close with another big old double episode, one that essentially ties up all the loose ends. With so much insanity to wrap up, it seems inevitable that the year ends on a slightly disappointing note, but “Dorkus/”Final” still manages to be reasonably satisfying.
Going into Scream Queens, I worried that its style of cynical black comedy would get tiresome quickly. Happily, that never proved to be the case, as the series remained funny and compelling. Even when it became completely absurd, it still entertained.