MTV debuts their serialized take on the classic horror franchise Scream. So how does the first episode of a slasher TV series look?
Let’s bitch it out…
I’m actually kind of shocked to admit that I thought that ‘Pilot’ was firmly OK. Going into the premiere, I had really low expectations because of the mixed to “ugh” advance reviews. The fact that MTV has been hit and miss with its drama series the last few years didn’t help (RIP Eye Candy, you disastrous piece of shit. See you on the ‘Worst Of’ list in December!)
And yet by the “This season on Scream promo” rolled, it occurred to me that I had actually kind of enjoyed most of the episode. At the end of the day the biggest question while watching a new series is whether you want to watch more and for me, the answer was “yeah sure”. Am I dying to know who the killer is? No. Do I care whether any of these teens live or die, as Noah (John Karna) infers we should in order for the series to be successful? Ha ha – no (admittedly we’ve only just begun). Is roughly half of the cast comprised of obvious red herrings who exist solely as knife fodder for the mid-run episodes? Obviously (how else are we going to pad ten episodes worth of content?).
On the whole, this pilot does what it needs to do: introduce the concept and sketch out the characters. If we judge it solely on those parameters, ‘Pilot’ gets the job done. It’s only once you start to dig into it that the shine starts to come off. For a horror series, too many scenes occur during the day and those set at dawn are obviously artificially created with filters. I was a little remiss that the show has a really generic look, there’s nothing particularly distinct or stylish about it, which is a little unfortunate (it would be easy to confuse it with Pretty Little Liars, which depending on your taste is either OK or a big red flag). I’m not suggesting we needed some Teen Wolf slow motion action sequences or anything, but at least that series evokes a mood and an atmosphere.
I foresee two big issues moving forward. Number one is the excruciating dialogue. Some of it is so wooden that I was worried about splinters. The opening murder scene features an atrocious zinger about skating on thin ice that actually made me pause because it sounded so manufactured (I couldn’t imagine anyone other than an actor ever saying something like that). The classroom discussion about Gothic horror that segue ways into horror/slasher series is also pretty bad, with none of the pop or zaniness of the nearly identical scene in Scream 2. In fact, of all of the dialogue, the least convincing was delivered by Noah, who is meant to be the series equivalent to Randy. Sure it’s artificial to make meta references, but the dialogue Karna is made to speak is too artificial and the actor has none of the weird hyper energy embodied by Jamie Kennedy in the film series.
Comparisons between the films and the series are destined to inevitably favour the film franchise, but the series has the capacity to do more because it can take its time and let things play out. One of the main reasons that the Scream series is so memorable is because of Kevin Williamson (and to a lesser extent Ehren Kruger)’s quotable dialogue (ex: basically everything that Tatum, Stu, Randy, Gail, Kirby and Jennifer Jolie say). Scream the TV series has none of that: the dialogue is either perfunctory or it is just flat-out awful. These characters need to sound more distinctive and less like lemmings.
The second problem is the characters (and by extension the actors). One advance review that I read complained because the reviewer had to look up the names of all of the males because none of them make an impression. Another review amusingly notes that the MTV website doesn’t even list the characters by name, it lists them by their red herring monikers like “The Fool”. Obviously the intent is to tease the mystery of who the killer is, but this kind of promotion doesn’t exactly encourage audience identification. Everyone ultimately comes off as little more than a subpar Scream archetype: Brooke (Carlson Young) is a safer, less compelling Tatum, Jake (Tom Maden) is a studlier, less intelligent Stu, Will (Conner Weil) is desperately channeling Billy Loomis, Emma (Willa Fitzgerald) is a bland Sidney clone, and Riley (Brianne Tju) is meant to be Kirby from Scream 4 but comes off more like the sorority girls in Scream 2. Even new guy Kieran (the fantastically named Amadeus Serafini) feels like a slightly more dangerous Derek from Scream 2. The only remotely interesting person is Audrey (Bex Taylor-Klaus) and that’s because she’s played by the show’s most talented actress and her bi-curious tendencies make her the most compelling character in a series defined by its white, middle class heteronormativity.
The adults unfortunately don’t fare much better: faculty member Seth (Bobby Campo) is the pervy adult having an affair with his underage student, which is both disappointing and obvious. It’s better than Kieran’s father, the Sheriff (Jason Wiles) though; he barely even registers. Only Emma’s mother, Maggie (Tracy Middendorf) resonates and that’s because Middendorf carries some acting heft, primarily because she has the most compelling backstory of any Scream character.
In fact the Brandon James urban legend is the best creative decision that the Scream ‘Pilot’ makes: not only is it the most prototypically slasher-esque component of the series, it provides a supernatural frame that distinguishes Scream from other “serial killer” shows like The Following. While I certainly hope that the series doesn’t confuse Ghost Face (or whatever we call the new mask) for a redo of Friday the 13th, a little urban ghost story narrative might be enough to make Scream something more than a generic dead teen series.
For now the series is watchable. I just need to see some stronger character work and, hopefully, a swift increase in dialogue quotability.
- As expected, the cast is filled with actors whose talent ranges from passable to shaky. What’s more exciting is that only 50% of them look like they are 30+ years old, which is decent for a TV series set in a high school.
- The less said about the cold open with Bella Thorne the better. I’ll readily admit that I don’t understand her appeal, but everything about this attempt to emulate the iconic Drew Barrymore opening of Scream is an abysmal failure. Nina is a caricature of a shrill bitch – she has no appeal or charisma. She’s the opposite of what made Casey worth rooting for. Add to this the scene is laughably dumb (the “heads up” line is horrible, pottery barn is dumb and how the hell does Nina speed texting like that exactly?!). Perhaps this opening sequence wouldn’t have been so bad had it not seemed like the whole thing was orchestrated to showcase a skinny girl in a bikini for as long as possible. Eat a cheeseburger.
- I found the killer’s voice disappointingly bland – there’s definitely not enough malice or wit in his brief conversation with Emma.
- Also: where’s the horror? Nothing in this pilot is even remotely scary, despite the inclusion of conventional slasher tropes like a late night swim and a dark car park.
- Killer alert: Will is too obvious a suspect, despite the fact that the boyfriend is usually guilty. Kieran is far more likely, though if the series plays by the film franchise’s rules, we’ll need a second villain. Early money’s on Jake, who is seen ominously moving dirty movie files on his computer (ohhhh scary).
- Dead Meat: According to the preview, we already know that Aubrey’s make-out partner is doomed. The other sure bet: Riley. Girl might as well wear a red shirt and leave to run a series of errands by herself.
- My secret hope is that the series is daring enough to act on its threat that no one is safe by killing off lead Emma. That would pave the way for Audrey to take over as final girl.
- Brooke (watching Will bounce his leg): “Calm down, you’re like a purse dog.”
- Audrey (surveying the pool make-out): “It’s like an STD cautionary tale.”
Your turn: what did you think of the pilot? Is it Scream enough for you? Do you like the killer’s new mask? Did the opening kill discourage you as much as it did me? Is the inclusion of the Brandon James urban legend an interesting twist? How’s your early suspect? Who’s guaranteed to bite it? Sound off below.
Scream airs Tuesdays at 10pm EST on MTV. Here’s the season preview in case you want to scour it for more clues: