Scream Queens “Pilot” Review (Season 1, Episode 1)

ScreamQueens_Pilot101-Collage_0024_f_hires2_hires1

You’ve got to hand it to Ryan Murphy: the guy knows his audiences- both of them. To wit, there’s something for every horror fan in “Scream Queens,” and yet Murphy and co-producers and co-creators Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan have managed to pull off the oft-difficult balancing act of pleasing both die-hard horror fans and newbies to the genre, by delivering the gory goods, yet still making it accessible to the masses.

I don’t think it’d be overstating matters to say that “Scream Queens” is even more accessible than the crew’s other big horror gig, “American Horror Story.” True, it’s not nearly as dark and gory as that one, save maybe “Coven,” the third season, which this show most resembles in tone and execution. That was my favorite season of the show to date, and if you loved that, you should love this, too. Granted, there’s no witches about- that we know of- although there’s a nod to them in the tongue-in-cheek “Blood Oath” sequence.

Actually, everything about this is pretty tongue-in-cheek, which may be why it works like gangbusters for me and probably will for most, even those who don’t normally go for this sort of thing. Granted, it may not be as dark as “AHS,” but it’s still got a fair bit of gore and gross-out stuff going on, to be sure, so those who are faint at heart might want to skip it, nonetheless, but overall, this is sort of like “AHS”-lite, but in a good way- the best of ways, in fact.

For one thing, it’s hilarious. The writing is top-notch, as per usual with this team, who also worked on the likes of “Glee” and “Nip/Tuck.” It’s basically “Glee”-style writing applied to a slasher movie set-up, or as Murphy called it: “Mean Girls”-meets-“Friday the 13th.” Oh, I’ve heard the quibbling: how are you gonna call a show “Scream Queens” and not have, say, Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens or Julie Strain, et al. on it? Because, with respect where respect is due, and I do love all those ladies, they’re a bit long in the tooth to be playing sorority sisters.

MV5BMTkwMTUyMTk1M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzAwNTY4NjE@._V1__SX1217_SY510_

However, I wouldn’t put it past the creators to cast them in guest-starring bits, as they clearly know their stuff. Besides, they’ve got the most legendary one of them all on board, IMHO, the excellent Jamie Lee Curtis, in her best role in many a moon. Curtis tears into her role as the Big Dean on Campus with a ferocity she hasn’t shown in ages. She day drinks, smokes weed, blackmails and beds down students who are more than half her age younger, and is as quick with a snappy comeback as any of the younger cast members. Trust me, she is killing it on this show.

It may well be the best thing she’s ever done, and I say that after having only seen two episodes of the show, and believe you me, I am a die-hard fan of hers from way back. Indeed, “Halloween” is my all-time favorite horror movie and one of my favorite movies, period, and I just adore her classic-era slasher films to death. But you see, there’s a funny thing that happens when a solid actor is given material they can really sink their teeth into- they almost always rise to the occasion, and that’s exactly what we have here. If Lange is the “AHS” Most Valuable Player, then Curtis is that for “Scream Queens.”

Oh, but it doesn’t end there, either. Clearly, Murphy learned the hard way from the last season of “AHS” that Emma Roberts is at her best when she’s at her worst, as was the case with the aforementioned third season, “Coven,” because Roberts is in full-on bitch mode here and it is working for her, big time. In “Freak Show,” she seemed forlorn and lost, almost bored with her character, probably because she was boring. Not so here. Roberts steals every scene she’s in, and is at her fiercest when facing off with a worthy opponent, a la Curtis. Between the two of them, they have enough quotable lines to stockpile an army of gifs from here to eternity. Trust me, you are going to be hearing these verbal bitch slaps for many a moon to come.

ScreamQueens_Pilot101-MISC_0314r_hires1

What the hell, here’s a few:

Chanel (Roberts), to Dean Munsch (Curtis): “Do you think you like to munch box because your last name is Munsch, or is that just a coincidence?”

Chanel, to the sorority’s pledges: “Good evening idiot hookers.”

Chanel, to antsy pledge: “Ok, Pissy Spacek.”

Chanel, on one of the pledges: She smells like hot dog water and probably sprained her neck giving blumpkins down at the local bowling alley.” (Bonus points for getting “blumpkin” past the censors- God bless you , Ryan Murphy!)

Chanel, to a suck-up: “Did I ask you to pull down my panties and blow a compliment up my butt?”

She also referred to the pledges as “gashes” at one point (!) and one in particular as a “dugong,” which I actually had to look up: it’s a “medium-sized marine mammal.” (More bonus points for creating your own slang, Murphy, like “Heathers” and “Buffy” before you!) Let’s face it- this thing is infinitely better written than pretty much any slasher movie outside of “Scream” you could possibly name, and the show is all the better for it.

Now, I’ll allow that’s it’s not very scary, but even horror fans have to give it up for all the horror references abounding here- Murphy makes John Landis look like he’s sleeping on the in-joke job, for reals. (Landis fans will know what I mean.) I’m not kidding. There’s nods to “Psycho” and “Halloween” (of course, what with Curtis’ involvement and her mom being Janet Leigh), “House on Sorority Row,” “Rush Week,” “Motel Hell,” “The Dorm That Dripped Blood” (in this case, it dripped “Sluts must die”), and that’s just in the first couple of episodes. I halfway expect someone to start up an all-girl band, a la “Slumber Party Massacre II,” just because why not? If someone kills someone with a guitar with a drill bit, I am asking this show to marry me.

FFewScreamQueens_Pilot101-MsBeansKitchen_0308_f_hires1

Now I’ll grant that those who don’t appreciate a little comedy in their horror might not like it- and there’s actually quite of a lot of it here, if I’m being honest, but if you can’t laugh out loud at some of the jokes flying fast and furious here, something’s wrong with your funny bone. This thing is just eminently quotable, believe you me, and those quotes above are only the half of it.

Try this one on for size and tell me Murphy and Co. aren’t horror fans that know their stuff: “I love all that death stuff. I got my first boner watching ‘Faces of Death’.” I mean, come on, people- they did a freaking “FOD” joke! Directly after one about choking a girl out, followed by a necrophilia joke! On Prime Time television! If that ain’t progress, I don’t know what is.

Okay, so that about covers my overall opinion of the show at first blush. In my second review, which can be found here, we’ll get into the plot, characters, and mystery at the heart of the show. Click now to keep the screams coming!