‘Scream: The TV Series’ (Season 1): Dead in the Water, or Brandon James and the Scare

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At this point, we’re about halfway into the first season of “Scream: The TV Series,” with just four episodes remaining. As you’ve probably already heard, the show was successful enough to have warranted a second season, and reviews have ranged from surprisingly positive (mostly online) to mixed (professional reviewers), which is probably to be expected for a show in its first season, least of all one treading somewhat new territory- for TV, at least. So, how has the show done for itself?

Well, at first, it seemed like the show might actually pull off the heady goal of killing someone off every week, while at the same time allowing us to get to know each of the main characters with each passing episode. As predicted, the show did indeed kill off one of the more likable mid-level characters, Riley (Brianne Tju), in an admittedly pretty spectacular fashion.

It also filled out the intriguing back-story of Emma’s mother, Maggie (Tracy Middendorf), aka “Daisy,” who befriended the titular Brandon James back in the day- the day being way back in the 90’s, shudder. (When did I get old? This might actually be the scariest revelation of them all! Make it stop!) It seems that James was a misunderstood teen with facial deformities that inherently made him an outcast, but that didn’t stop him from passing notes and making art for next-door neighbor Daisy.

As one might expect, this did not go over well with either Daisy’s parents or her social circle. One fateful day, Daisy’s boyfriend, aka the then-future father of main character Emma (Willa Fitzgerald), and some of his buddies beat James down, much to her dismay. Feeling guilty over it, Daisy arranged a meet in an isolated locale, only to discover her own father had her followed and, much to her horror, watch as the cops shot down Brandon right in front of her, and he fell into the nearby lake.

Shortly thereafter, killings ensued, with the blame landing squarely at the feet of either brother Troy or Brandon himself, who was thought to have survived the shooting and gone on a rampage in revenge. Eventually, Daisy’s husband also left the picture as well, and has yet to be seen on the show as of yet. So far, so slasher.

Alas, after that initial series of episodes, in which the plot and the action alike kept coming fast and furious, the show has found itself in a bit of a rut as the exposition has taken over the thrills. As the show’s Randy type, Noah (John Karna) predicted, the main focus over the last few weeks has been less on chills than character development, which might be okay, save for the fact that most of the characters simply aren’t that interesting.

I really like and relate to Noah, of course, having been a film/horror geek myself back in high school- oh, who am I kidding, I still am. I also like Audrey (Bex Taylor-Klaus ) a lot, partially because I like the actress playing her from her previous work (“The Killing,” “Arrow”), but also because she’s a bit edgier than most of the cast, and thus, seems to have an actual functioning personality, with all the requisite ups-and-downs that one might expect from a teenager.

In the most recent episode, she was framed as the most likely suspect, and we got to see her lose her cool a bit, as well as regret some of her past actions and make amends with pal Emma for her past sleights, when she did Audrey a solid by getting a hold of some incriminating video before the cops could. Audrey ran the gamut of emotions within the episode, from scared (because of being the prime suspect, not of the killer) to full of rage (in the video, she was shown threatening to get revenge on Nina for the incriminating video she shot of her and Rachel making out) to apologetic and relieved when both Emma and Noah came through for her and the charges against her were dropped. That’s a lot for any young actor to handle, and Klaus did a bang-up job, I thought, overall.

Alas, the same cannot be said for the rest of the cast. So far, at least, most of the rest, including wet blanket Emma, remain decidedly one-note- as much as any typical slasher movie character ever was, true, but with one major difference- you only spend an hour and a half, two hours tops with slasher movie characters. Here, you’re spending a whopping ten hours (albeit less, sans commercials), which is a pretty major difference.

You’d think with that much time on our hands, they’d develop said characters, as suggested by Noah in the pilot, but thus far, all I’ve come away with from the process is that I don’t care for most of them and wish they could get on with the killing already. It seemed as if I might get my wish in last night’s episode, as the killer stabbed Will (Connor Weil), one of the more douche-y characters on the show, but it looks from the previews that the killer plans to hold him hostage for now, to use as bait for the other main characters in some way.

I mean, I get that the show has ten episodes to fill, so maybe killing a person per episode might be a bit much, but early on, the show seemed like it had the ingenuity to pull it off. As aforementioned, those early episodes were pretty good, with the one where Riley was killed being a stand-out. It was genuinely exciting and clever, and I especially liked the touch of the killer letting Emma “decide” who would be killed, with her picking Riley over the more vulnerable Brooke because she was at that point in a police station, and thus, seemingly untouchable. Normally, the “bad girl” would be a goner by now, but the killer boldly didn’t let that stop them, managing to lure Riley outside and kill her anyway, on the roof of the police station, no less! Good stuff, and certainly unpredictable.

Alas, things have since gone swiftly downhill, with the killer remaining mostly inactive, aside from the occasional pesky phone call. Granted, part of that was to place the blame on Tyler, but it’s obvious the cops know its someone else now, so what’s the hold up? I don’t doubt that the bodies will begin to drop sooner than later, with only four episodes remaining, but there has been a whole lot of filler and no killer for the last several episodes, and it’s gotten a bit monotonous, if I’m being honest.

If the characters were likable, a la the inimitable “Buffy” crew, that would be fine and I wouldn’t mind spending time with them. Or even, more recently, the ones on MTV’s own “Teen Wolf” series- although even that show has started to take itself too seriously in the last season or so, admittedly. “Scream: The Series” has also started to take itself too seriously, and it only being the first season, that’s a big problem.

Gone are the more playful episodes, where the pop culture stuff flew hot and heavy and the show wasn’t above tweaking its own critics, as it did when it lobbed out shout-outs to fellow similar horror/psychological TV thrillers like “Hannibal,” “Bates Motel,” “American Horror Story” and “The Walking Dead.” My favorite bit was when the show finally acknowledged its most obvious antecedent, “Pretty Little Liars” and lobbed a few volleys in their direction. (“How would ‘A’ get her hands on four Victorian dolls that look just like the main characters?” posited Noah. “Evil American Doll store?” shot back Audrey.)

The problem is, as much as a show like “PLL” treads water, we don’t mind it as much because we like those characters. Here, not so much. Plus, that show isn’t afraid to pile on clue after clue onto its near-ridiculous-at-this-point mythos. On “Scream,” we basically haven’t gotten any forward momentum on the back-story since the beginning. Sure, on last night’s episode, Daisy told her side of the story, but it really didn’t add much to the proceedings that we already didn’t know. Where are the clues? The hints, as to the killer’s identity? It’s almost as if the show forgot it was supposed to be building a mystery.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the show. I’m actually glad it was renewed, as the idea, at least, has promise. Maybe if the show can go into season two after having worked out the kinks and figured out how to maintain that early forward momentum of the show in the first few episodes, we’d have something in earnest. Until then, I’m sorry to say that, there’s not much to shout about on this particular “Scream.”