I’ll start this review by saying I’m a huge Scream fan. I grew up with the franchise, watching the first Scream when I was 11 years old. I watched it so many times that I wore out the videocassette rental from Blockbuster video. The store even called my mom to check on the VHS and when it would be returned. I love Sidney Prescott, Dewey Riley, Gale Weathers. I even love Ghostface and his/ her many incarnations. The franchise is a totem of the horror genre.
Unfortunately, the TV series does not live up to the films.
The review that follows is one from a Scream fan and, above all, a horror fan who wants to be dazzled and amazed and terrified when she sits down to watch horror, whether it’s in the theater or on her own couch.
The TV series begins with a kill (of course) of a precocious high school student (a known actress, Bella Thorne, in this case). She’s murdered in a gruesome way, as we have come to expect of the slasher genre. The student, Nina, comes home after a bad date and she changes into a bathing suit. She’s frightened, pursued and killed, ultimately dying in the swimming pool. Earlier that night, Nina had uploaded a video of two girls making out in a car – these two girls are not out of the closet and are, therefore, outed by the video. The next day at school, we learn the people in Nina’s social circle (and those outside of it) affected by the video and her murder.
Nina’s circle of friends include: Emma (our lead, the nice, smart, pretty girl), Audrey (one of the girls in the video, a social outcast), Noah (crime nerd, Audrey’s best friend), Will (Emma’s jock, philandering boyfriend), Kieran (Emma’s crush, mysterious new guy), Riley (film nerd, popular girl – also the ONLY diverse member of the cast), Brooke (Emma’s promiscuous friend) and Maggie (Emma’s Medical Examiner mother).
Most of the horror tropes for character are covered. Jock, slutty best friend, good girl best friend, nice girl lead, and film nerd “Randy” type; the pieces are there.
Continuing with the plot, Nina’s murder sends the small town of Lakewood into a frenzy as they try to determine who killed Nina. The main lead in the murder is Brandon James, a deformed man who had committed murders 20 years earlier and has garnered urban legend status in the small town. As the pilot continues, we learn Brandon was once obsessed with Maggie, Emma’s mother, who was also claimed as the reason he had murdered so many people. In other words, Maggie did not reciprocate his romantic feelings, so he went on a killing spree.
The town is haunted by a murderous past and so is Emma. Her absentee father is believed to be the only person who survived Brandon’s murderous rage. Now, 20 years later, Emma and her group of friends believe the murders will start again. And according to Noah, Brandon is the one behind the murder and he’s just getting started.
As the episodes progress (I’ve seen the first 3) we learn everyone has secrets and all characters lead some kind of double life. Brooke is dating her teacher, Will’s involved in some kind of online exploitative business, Audrey has a rage problem, etc.…
But, with all this information, the characters are hardly memorable. Case in point, I’ve had to consult Google for a character list because I simply can’t remember their names. In addition, the Brandon James mystery, a man who murdered 20 years prior because a woman rejected him doesn’t seem to add up. Isn’t this 2015?
And when I say that it’s 2015, I mean, aren’t we, as a horror audience, entitled to something new? With all the great horror out there now and so much new media, the slasher mystery in the Scream TV series doesn’t feel new. There were murders years earlier and they seem to be repeating themselves on these kids who follow the same tropes they did 20 years prior in the first Scream film.
Herein lies my main criticism of the Scream TV series: it’s not modern.
Now, when I heard of a slasher television series, I thought “what an interesting idea! How are the writers going to pull that off? Since slasher films are just that, films.” Sadly, the TV series hasn’t paid off in the ingenuity of the ambition. To make a slasher television series is ballsy. It’s never been done before, therefore, it’s uncharted territory! How does a writer structurally approach telling a story in a way it’s never been told?
In class, Noah states, “you can’t make a slasher TV show.” And I would have to agree with him based on what I’ve seen. The characters are flat; the cast isn’t diverse in the slightest (and SPOILER: the only diverse character is killed in episode 3). Even the problems facing the characters aren’t modern. Emma is choosing between 2 guys; Brooke is promiscuous – it just seems like well-tread territory, which is a shame for such a new premise. Literally, the premise of doing a slasher TV series is completely new because it’s never been done before. Shouldn’t the characters and plot follow suit?
Another issue with the modernity (or lack thereof) in the show is the technology. The technology is modern. Everyone has a smart phone. Kids are uploading videos and they are going viral. Emma is sending DMs to the killer. Granted, that is modern. But, the modernity of the technology seems to bog down the clichéd characters, plot and dialogue. They showcase the kills with technology, but the story/ plot doesn’t live up to the presence of technology. If the characters aren’t modern (no diversity, stock characters) and the story isn’t new, then the presence of technology doesn’t help the TV show’s case. It really just makes the show feel overwrought.
Another example of the technology and modernity really not doing anything in the face of the poor writing and flat characters: a podcast creator, named Piper (think Sarah Koenig from Serial) comes into town to cover the murders for her podcast, but her character comes off as silly and amateur with lines like “I’m here for the REAL story.” If Piper is supposed to be reminiscent of Gale Weathers, please, please, let’s get Courtney Cox – maybe she will elevate the wooden character.
Lastly, something great about the Scream movies was the self-referential nature of it. The characters were almost aware of the fact they were in a horror movie, or rather, aware of horror movie tropes and culture. Thus, the characters were smart. Girls weren’t running up the stairs to run from the killer (unless they had to) or putting on bathing suits when they are afraid someone shady might be lurking. The characters were smart and the self-referential nature of the story organically grew from character. Meaning, the characters refer to horror movies because that character WOULD do that, i.e. Randy or Billy Loomis from the original franchise.
In the Scream TV series, it’s the other way around. The show is self-referential just to be self-referential, instead of it coming from the characters organically. One example is Noah’s aforementioned line “You can’t make a slasher TV show.”
More examples: “Creepy monologue alert.” “I don’t watch horror movies.” I could go on, but I won’t. It hurts my Scream fan heart too much.
A few other notable issues: the girls are sexualized in revealing clothing, like Nina being killed in a bikini, which feels outdated. Yes, the slasher horror genre historically melds sex with violence for a uniquely Freudian viewing experience. However, the presence of underage female sexuality in this case feels shoehorned in to attract teens, perhaps, or to promote that old adage “sex sells.” The needless sexualization comes off as anything but modern in this day and age. On a personal note, I feel like Wes Craven would have never let that happen in the original Scream. In fact, Scream 2 pokes fun at the presence of sexuality in the slasher genre with its ‘movie-within-a-movie’ in Stab (think Heather Graham’s cameo in Stab).
The dialogue is very on the nose and seems to push the “look how modern this show is” issue:
“I don’t think I’ve used the word iPod in months.”
“They think we’re still on Facebook. They’re dinosaurs.”
A closing note on diversity: the entire cast is white. There is only one diverse character and (SPOILER) she gets killed in episode 3. If this show wants to be modern, why not put a diverse cast on the screen? Let the show reflect the world we live in. Let the lead girl be ethnic. I’m a Latina woman who loves horror – I would love to see an ethnic character be the lead of a horror franchise or series.
Unfortunately, the Scream TV series doesn’t live up to the legacy of the original franchise. I say, save some time and pop on Scream…any of the films, really, will be enjoyable and more modern than this TV reincarnation of an indelible part of modern horror history.