After the two-hour roller coaster ride that was the series premiere of Scream Queens, I think it's safe to say that Ryan Murphy has done it again.
Scream Queens Season 1 Episode 1 and Scream Queens Season 1 Episode 2 were both chock-full of everything that Ryan Murphy does best: fantastically witty/bitchy dialogue, memorable and absurd characters, and a boatload of gore.
It was so clear to me in watching the premiere that the showrunners and cast are having a ball with this concept. And how could they not? In the first two hours at least, the series comes across as an enjoyable mash-up of Heathers, Scream, and a kind of creepy Halloween episode of Glee.
It's impossible to talk about this premiere without mentioning Ryan Murphy's other series. Upon hearing the premise of Scream Queens, it struck me as a sort of obvious middle child to Glee and American Horror Story – retaining the goofiness and Murphy-specific dialogue of the former, and the eerie vibes and gruesome sights of the latter.
Upon viewing, however, Scream Queens emerged as so much more than that. Murphy and his cohort have crafted an enigmatic, fully realized universe that I would argue rises above and beyond Glee (which was often too sentimental for my tastes) and American Horror Story (which has a tendency to start strong and then go off the rails and veer into campy nonsense that takes itself far too seriously).
What fresh hell is this?Chanel
Glee began as a satire, but relatively quickly became the thing it was actually out to satirize. Scream Queens, on the other hand, gives no indication of falling prey to this issue. Satire is 100% definitely Ryan Murphy's best genre, and this premiere was a great testament to that. I really hope that the showrunners can sustain this nicely balanced tone.
Where to begin? How about with the obvious standout of this installment, Emma Roberts?
The character of Chanel Oberlin is flawlessly written. She is an abominable, unrelentingly unbearable person, and Emma Roberts plays the role to perfection. Roberts has carved out a little niche for herself playing catty, mean, slightly (or completely) evil young women and she does it so very well.
Chanel's introductory montage/voiceover monologue was excellent. From her casual dismissal of dearly departed Chanel #4 (she got meningitis and died, and Chanel spares no sympathy about it), to her deeply screwed up and insulting treatment of Ms. B (who she calls "White Mammy"), everything about it worked to characterize her immediately.
If Dean Munsch gets her way, Kappa is going to be filled with fatties and ethnics. The fatties will bring their big ol' appetites and you know what those ethnics will bring with them? Weird spices from their home countries. That is a nuclear combination, Ms. B. The weird ethnic spices will send the fatties racing to the bathroom to blow liquid fire out of their huge, swollen bowels. Think of the splash back. Think of the undersides of all of the toilets that YOU'RE going to have to sanitize, Ms. B. I don't want that. I don't want that for you.Chanel
Roberts is also a pro at delivering Ryan Murphy's very distinct brand of quick, snappy, Mean Girl dialogue. She is so believable as Chanel that I often had the uncomfortable feeling that I wasn't watching somebody acting at all. Her tone of utter disdain should have (and win) its own category in the Teen Choice Awards or something.
Grace: You're an awful person.
Chanel: Maybe. But I'm rich and I'm pretty so it doesn't really matter.
The four Chanels (very quickly three... RIP Ariana Grande, aka Chanel #2) also had great interplay. It was unsurprising to me that Ariana Grande was weeded out early on (and not just because she's a successful singer with world tours to go on and whatnot).
Chanel #2 didn't say much of anything and was largely absent from the first half of the premiere prior to her death; Chanels #3 and #5 were the obvious standouts in the group interactions and were given the most focus.
Chanel #2 had the dubious privilege of being the Red Devil's very first on-screen murder victim. Her death scene was really silly and clearly meant to be a very pointed social commentary.
I won't deny that I laughed out loud at #2's text-interactions with the serial killer as he was about to murder her ("I'm going to kill you now." "Wait, whaaaaattt???") and the fact that her dying act was to tweet out that she was being murdered (rather than, y'know, scream for help or call the police) really established nicely and succinctly exact what kind of show/universe/atmosphere this was going to be. In all, it was a great first kill.
Though #2 was the first serial killer murder victim, the first actual on-screen murder was the (apparent) death of Ms. Bean. That scene was hilarious! The repeated exaggerated close-ups of all of the girls screaming in horror was priceless, and the exchange of dialogue between Grace, Zayday and Chanel immediately following the death was perfectly done. The heads-on-the-lawn death of Tiffany, the deaf, Taylor Swift-loving pledge, was similarly funny, if oddly timed.
Chanel: She's dead.
Grace: Well of course she's dead, you just burned her face off!
Chanel: Shut up, you don't die from getting your face burned off.
Zayday: Yes you do!
Chanel: She probably had a heart attack.
I'm a little concerned that Murphy & Company are burning through their best deaths too quickly, because I'm not sure how they can top the three that were shown onscreen during the premiere.
Jamie Lee Curtis also seemed perfectly suited to her role, and appeared to be really enjoying it. I love how personally she takes the fact that Chanel and her sorority are terrible. Curtis and Roberts have fantastic sparring chemistry in their back-and-forths (of which there are many).
Lea Michele is similarly having a fun time with the character of morbid, awkward Hester. I loved her repeated creepy little suggestions regarding how to treat #2's body to ensure she wouldn't haunt them, and her offhand request to call the Chanels "mom." All of the Chanels' reactions to Hester were priceless; the entire scene where they hide #2's body in the meat locker was great.
Hester: Can I call you 'mom'?
Hester: Please? I feel so loved and protected by all of you.
Chanel: Wait, you wanna call all of us 'mom'? That's insane.
Chanel #5: And super confusing.
Chanel #3: Actually, it's a new pop culture term where young women, desperately in need of role models, call other girls they look up to 'mom.' Lorde's fans call her mom.
I was prepared to be unimpressed with Grace and lo and behold: I was unimpressed with Grace. She seems to be such an obvious character type. Yes, she's nailing that adorable, quirky, stubborn do-gooder thing... but that's about it.
There is nothing about Grace that stands out to me just yet. But I can see how maybe that's just her point: to be the "straight man" amidst all of the absurd caricatures around her. I'm not sure how much of Grace falling completely flat has to do with how she's written and how much has to do with Skyler Samuels' rather uninspiring portrayal of her. It's even worse when you hold that character and actress up against Chanel and Emma Roberts.
On the other hand, I am absolutely loving Keke Palmer as Zayday, Grace's best pal/right-hand man. The delivery of her one-liners was consistently fantastic. (Keke Palmer is a really funny lady, so this isn't surprising.)
Zayday is clearly a good person like Grace (or presented to be, thus far), but she's far more enigmatic and interesting than her roommate. Can Zayday just be the de facto protagonist, please?
If someone is targeting you, they're going to find you wherever you are, y'know? At least if you're here, you can keep an eye out on each other. We can make it fun, huh? Like a Friends episode! But someone's, y'know, trying to murder all the friends.Gigi
I want more of Nasim Pedrad's Gigi Caldwell and Niecy Nash's Denise Hemphill. I'll trade both Pete (he of the too-obvious-to-be-legit creepiness) and Grace for Gigi and Denise.
As an aside, I could not possibly care less about Pete and Grace's incipient romance. It was such an obvious move that I'm hoping Pete actually is the villain, because that would at least make the romantic connection somewhat interesting.
Chad is delightfully terrible, and is therefore my much-preferred male lead. (Sorry, Pete.) His immense ego and necrophiliac comments were consistently weird, random and funny. His relationship with Boone, who he accepted unconditionally despite Boone's kind of aggressive hitting on him, was strangely heart-warming.
Too bad Boone wound up being up to something very nefarious! What do we think is going on with Boone's faked death, and his familiarity with the Red Devil? I've been thinking this over, and it seems really unlikely that the murderer has been so easily solved (even if it is just one half of a murderer-pair). This has to be some kind of fake out – but how?
- I love the '80s/'90s music vibes. It suits the tone of the show very well.
- Similarly loving the exaggerated close-ups. The camerawork overall is pretty fantastic.
- Do we think that Chanel was behind the acid-spray tan attack on Melanie Dorkess? Does it matter? Can we talk about Melanie's utterly brutal cut-downs of Chanel? Talk about the student becoming the master – it's as if when Melanie fell, Chanel absorbed her evil bitchy power or something.
- "You told me to scrub all the floors with this Barbie toothbrush." Oh, Ms. Bean, what a gem. We hardly knew you. Gone too soon.
- The dead 1995 Kappa girl's baby is definitely going to figure into this season – I'd be shocked if he/she doesn't. Best guess for who the baby is? Remember, they would have to be 20-ish. Pete is too obvious, so my guess is the baby is random Jennifer, the candle-blogging pledge.
- Much of the dialogue was spot-on, but there were a few weird, distinctly unfunny moments that were clearly trying to be funny. The "white mammy" joke at Ms. Bean's expense was one particularly "meh" joke, as was Chanel mocking Dean Munsch's name.
- Did Chanel #2 successfully tweet that she was being murdered? If so, why isn't anyone looking for her?
- Wes Gardner being "Team Edward" (of the Twilight saga) took him down several pegs in my hot-dad rating of him. Now he's like a 6.
- "Sexy gopher whore heads" (did I hear that right?) was a great little reference to the 1980s movie Heathers (specifically the scene where protagonist Veronica imagines herself neck-deep in her lawn while the Heathers play lawn croquet).
Suspect of the week: I'm sure this will shift drastically week to week, as the cast gets whittled down, but for now my money is on Dean Munsch. Between her assurances to Grace's dad that Grace definitely wouldn't be a target of any theoretical serial killer and her creepy staring-down of Gigi and Wes as they drove away, paired with her intense hatred of Chanel – it all makes her the most likely suspect at this point.
What did you all think of this Scream Queens Season 1 premiere? Who do you think is the Red Devil? What's up with Boone's faked death, and why is he palling around with the Red Devil? Sound off in the comments below!
Scream Queens Season 1 Episode 3, "Chainsaw," airs Tuesday, September 29 at 9/8c on FOX.
Caralynn Lippo is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.