FOX’s Scream Queens
Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
Directed by Ryan Murphy
Written by Ian Brennan (Cooties)/Brad Falchuk/Ryan Murphy
* For a review of the next episode, “Hell Week” – click here
Just to start, I loved Ian Brennan’s writing and acting in Cooties, as well as the fact I’m a huge fan of the Brad Falchuck-Ryan Murphy FX series American Horror Story (all my reviews so far are here). So I walked in biased, but still, I do think the best parts of these three writers show up in the Pilot episode for the new series Scream Queens.
The opening of the episode is one that sort of hammers you. Not even the immediate blood – which is proved to be something else than you might originally believe it is – but afterwards, once you see the girl in the bathtub, after having given birth in the tub, that’s when things rocked me. I paused and went “Whoa”. In a great, horrific way.
An immediate thing I loved about this Pilot is that the horror is so obviously there, yet it’s a good riot. Some viewers said it tried too hard. I don’t think so, personally. Right from the minute all the people at the party were rocking out to TLC’s “Waterfalls”, I thought to myself: I’m going to love this.
“Who told you you could have a baby here tonight?”
So the setup is, after the shocking death of this young mother in the bathtub, twenty years later the horror TRULY begins!
Straight away, after those two decades have passed, we meet Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts) – possibly the most irritating and heinous young woman we’ll ever come across. She’s the sorority queen, the one who tortures young pledges (is that what they’re called? I don’t know; that frat/sorority shit is so dumb – great fodder for comedy-horror). Her character comes across as heavy handed at first, but I think it’s going to serve the story well. We’re already seeing these unlikeable characters, not strange within the horror genre, and no doubt SOME of them – probably not Chanel as Emma Roberts seems to be the star here – will find death at the hands of a masked murderer.
Aside from Chanel, there are her unfortunate numbered others – Chanel #2, #3, and oddly #5 (respectively: Ariana Grande, Billie Lourd, Abigail Breslin); there was a #4, but she got meningitis and obviously couldn’t hack it, right? These Chanels are the ones who take the brunt of Chanel #1’s awfulness. There’s also Ms. Bean a.k.a White Mammie (Jan Hoag) who is there to seemingly please Chanel constantly and do anything she ever wants, no matter if it’s important or nonsense on a whim.
Aside from the “bitches”, there’s the new girl on campus Grace Gardner (Skyler Samuels) and her wonderfully energetic roommate Zayday Williams (Keke Palmer). Grace has a very loving father, Wes (Oliver Hudson) but her mother passed away. So with the sympathetic view of Grace from the beginning, it’s easy to see she’ll likely not die – at least not as early as any of the other mean spirited, awful young college girls.
I also like the other random characters such as Nasim Pedrad’s hilarious Gigi Caldwell, with the strangest fashion sense I’ve ever witnessed; she’s always a treat, whether on Saturday Night Live or elsewhere. Also, I think Lea Michele is flat out HILARIOUS as Hester. From the very first moment we see her character, the way she talks, the freeze frame: fucking funny as hell. She’s awesome.
Furthermore, I thought Diego Boneta as Pete is a good addition. I don’t think I’ve ever personally seen him in anything before, but he’s going to serve well as a decent male character, I think. We’ll see as the time goes on. The stuff with Pete and Grace was good, as well as just the dynamic between Pete and Chanel; the fact Pete is a bit of a reporter works in a fun way with everything else going on at the campus.
There is a pretty good setup of despicable characters mostly, which only extends once we start to meet some of the other students around the campus. Like Chad Radwell (Glen Powell) and his sidekick Boone (Nick Jonas), the DUDEBROS. Oh man. What’s awesome here, though, is the fact Murphy and Co. are setting up all these types to be bait, to be victims; Murphy particularly knows horror, so well, as does Falchuk and I’m starting to believe Brennan does, as well. So we’re getting this cast of killable characters introduced in comedic fashion. Instead of following typical horror formula all the way, as a television series Scream Queens has the ability to flesh out ALL the characters, including some of the more nasty and hateable ones. This is something I particularly find interesting because usually in horrors, especially a lot of 1980s films, these asshole-like characters often get killed off too quickly to ever be anything but annoying. I’m not saying you’ll grow to like these characters, not all of them, however, I do think even the frat douchebags and the sorority assholes will come to be more than simply one-dimensional meat for kill scenes.
Not only do we get Jamie Lee Curtis in this show, as the acidic and sly Dean Cathy Munsch, but we get Curtis doing some excellent work. Granted, it’s only the pilot. Still I see the kernels of an excellently developed character here. Just the way she lays in bed with that young guy, the banter, the joint smoking, plus Curtis looks AMAZING (and I think always has); I think that scene alone is wonderful. But it’s the back and forth between Dean Munsch and Chanel Oberlin (Roberts) which truly got me going. Because it was funny! Not only funny, Curtis plays well off Roberts in terms of their characters – the older woman who has seen it all, knows the tricks, probably pulled a ton of them herself VS. the younger, brattier, more foolishly confident and conniving sorority queen with, sadly, the world in her palm. There’ll be lots of good stuff between these two, you can count on that, and it will only get better as the episodes wear on. At least here’s to hoping.
Let’s talk cinematography and score. I personally LOVED the look and sound of the entire episode! There’s an ominous score at parts in the opening sequence. It’s once the synth, poppy score kicks in during the introduction to Chanel that the music takes hold. I’m a sucker for fun, electronic style music in a score. Works wonders here. Then we get the dark stuff again during moments of horror or tension.
In terms of cinematography, there are moments where I definitely get an American Horror Story vibe. Not frequently, though, honestly. I dig the way this has a similar feel in terms of darkness, but the look has this very neat and tidy thing going on which is different. There’s also this beautiful contrast between that pristine, pretty style and the horror which turns up over and over. It makes the horror – dare I say – much more fun.
Finally, I have to mention the GNARLY kills which I totally dig.
The deep frier death of Ms. Bean (Hoag) was so nasty and incredible. When she pulled her face out, the deep fried bits of her skin were so wild. Not only that, I absolutely cried – I mean tears for real running out of my eyes – when Zayday (Palmer) responds “Yes you do“. Watch it, you’ll know what I mean. Perfect delivery. This also goes to show how Keke Palmer is going to be another excellent part of the cast, in my opinion. Funny lady!
Ariana Grande’s kill scene was absolutely a riot. I thought it made fun of modern day youth culture – smartphones particularly – so well and it had me in stitches.
There’s definitely a Sinister homage with the sequence at the end, with the ride-on lawn mower. One of the first things I thought, as the camera catches the light on front of the mower in that perspective view, is one of the found footage tapes from Sinister; not a rip-off, but a nice homage to a pretty awesome modern horror movie. I also think the earlier scene with the burning skin was a very Cabin Fever-ish homage, but maybe not, though I really suspect it leans in that direction.
This was a fun episode. Not perfect, but definitely sets a wild, funny, and at times horrific tone we’re not always treated to on television. Looking forward to watching and reviewing the follow-up episode, “Hell Week”.
Stay tuned with me! More #ScreamQueens to come.