December 9, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Scream Queens”


SCREAM QUEENS was 13 consecutive hours of shrill campiness, and it was only fans of shrill camp who turned out for it–and they were far lower in number than FOX and the Ryan Murphy brain-trust had hoped.  As the MTV reboot of Scream had previously demonstrated, slasher movies don’t lend themselves to being extended for a season’s worth of narrative in the first place, because all the show can do after a certain point is drag out the exposition and introduce one red herring after another.  In the case of Scream Queens, there wasn’t even any serious attempt at having the plot make sense, since illogic and and character stupidity were parts of the purported joke, which was to simultaneously ape and parody the genre.  That meant that after a while the violence had no stakes and thus no suspense; since characters were killed more or less at random and were uniformly idiots anyway, it didn’t matter who died.  Add to that the general unpleasantness that Murphy’s shows often court–particularly when its characters are young women, who if not virginal innocents tend to be horrid bitches.  Scream Queens provided an entire sorority full of those, with Murphy fave Emma Roberts as the most horrid of all, and that doesn’t even count the adults played, among others, by Jamie Lee Curtis and Nasim Pedrad.  (It made the American Horror Story: Coven season, which Scream Queens often echoed, seem like a masterpiece of subtlety.)

The two-hour finale, written by Murphy and his co-creators Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan, and directed by Bradley Buecker, was dull even by the show’s standards.  The first hour barely gave any credence to its own red herring, which was that the former head of the show’s central sorority might be the last remaining Red Devil killer (the others having already been murdered themselves).  The big reveal that the actual surviving killer was neck-braced Hester (Lea Michele) had little impact, because in another self-defeating “funny” plot development, it turned out that even though her blatantly fake identity would have been obvious to anyone who looked, the Dean (Curtis) enrolled her anyway because the school needed to fill its disability quota.

The second hour was mostly devoted to an exhaustive explanation of how and why Hester had killed everyone and then how she’d framed the various “Chanels” who ran the sorority (Roberts, Abigail Breslin, Billie Lourd) for her and the other killers’ crimes.  The final act gag that the Chanels enjoyed the asylum where they’d been sentenced as the sorority of their dreams was about as deep into social satire as Scream Queens got, and it was all capped by a meaningless final shock.

All of this might have been redeemed if Scream Queens had actually been funny, but it mostly repeated the same joke about how dumb and nasty each character was over and over.  Unlike Murphy’s American Horror Story, Scream Queens didn’t even have any style to speak of.  The sets were blandly lit, especially the sorority interiors, and the murder sequences were either over the top silly (the murder by lawnmower) or routine.  The actors were largely asked to give variations of the same broad performance, and although Roberts gave the bitchiness her all, it wasn’t a role that yielded 13 hours worth of dividends.

Ratings for this season were fairly awful, but Scream Queens was designed as an anthology, and since Murphy is an important part of the FOX (and 20th Century Fox Studios) talent portfolio, it’s not at all unlikely that the show will return in a rebooted form next season.  If it does, one can only hope that the next edition will have more to offer than this 13 weeks of viewer hazing.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."