“Call 911!”
“Calling Pottery Barn.” - a phone call in the 21st century, TV Scream

In a world riddled with remakes, reboots, and adaptations, the announcement of Scream being made into a television show was met with the obligatory questions of why and how (especially with lack of involvement from either Kevin Williamson or Wes Craven, or even Ehren Kruger) and the the obvious position of “no.” The original Scream and the franchise as a whole (even with Scream 3 as the weakest link) were a satirical love letter to the slasher subset of horror, showing both reverence and a self-aware humor for it all. It was a franchise that accepted the genre conventions, but it also managed to bend them with each installment.

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In the lead up to Scream the series, the more that came out about the project—like the fact that the show wouldn’t (and couldn’t) use the original Ghostface mask or that there would possibly be supernatural elements to the killer—the more it sounded like a trainwreck. It’s not that optimism couldn’t be garnered for the project though, especially as MTV had managed to subvert film to television adaptation expectations with early Teen Wolf. But promos for the series still didn’t do much make it look good, except for in the case of the one that had no footage from the series itself:

The graphic imagery and tone of this promo allowed for some good will in the case of Scream the series, but sadly, the lack of actual connection between the two makes for quite the predicament: That one promo is better than any part of Scream the series’ pilot, and it might easily be better than the show as a whole. No one is asking for a television series’ pilot to be great or even that good, but that’s a fact Scream the series appears to accept wholeheartedly.

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It all takes place in Lakewood, the type of sleepy town that rich people just tend to migrate toward. There’s the teenage girl protagonist in the form of Emma (Willa Fitzgerald), a girl who the audience is supposed to believe is a good person, despite every point to the contrary. She of course used to be best friends with Audrey (Bex Taylor-Klaus)—the target of cyberbullying and teenage homophobia—before her own ugly duckling transformed into a swan, so she feels pretty bad about that. Her best friends and boyfriend (Connor Weil) are high school popular kids/bullies, which is why they can barely come up with any sympathy when their queen bee, Nina (Bella Thorne), is the first one to get the Ghostface Filler treatment.

If you just know the plot of the original Scream, just take that and strip it to its most basic, generic parts until you get this.

Let’s just get this out of the way now: I have no problem supporting (or at least giving the benefit of the doubt to) a remake or film to television adaptation that chooses to go its own way and make itself something fresh, separating itself from the original. So while it may seem wrong to compare the series this extremely to the Scream franchise—especially this early on—it’s clear from the start that it is banking on that name value alone for its success, without even a fraction of the charm or intelligence. Plus, with just the pilot under its belt, the show doesn’t have much to compare within itself except for the existence of the Scream franchise and any other slasher project it might just rip off under the guise of homage.

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In fact, the act of casting Bella Thorne as the Drew Barrymore of the piece (in an action sure to surprise the younger set familiar with Thorne but not Scream) feels like a personal attack on Drew Barrymore and everyone involved with the first Scream film, right down to the interns. If there’s just one moment of the episode that is supposed to make the audience feel scared or understand that this is a horror piece, it is not this take on the “iconic” scene. Especially when it’s not the first scene of the series but instead prefaced with an onscreen assault of technology and cyber-bullying, as well as the presence of Bex Taylor-Klaus, a young actress who has shone bright in everything she’s been in and deserves so much more than the fate that is MTV’s Scream.

With every instance of the series attempting to be edgy and witty in its dialogue, it ends up with lines (in the same scene, no less) like “We work together. Often over dead bodies.” or “You’re a coroner! You’re not dead.” The latter is from from Emma (to her mother, who’s also part of this killer nonsense), who really is a blank slate of a popular girl who feels bad that all of her friends are sociopaths but does nothing to avoid any of them. In fact, she herself might have a personality disorder, as she earnestly asks: “Are you supposed to like your friends in high school?” To compare this to a different example of Kevin Williamson’s work, in Dawson’s Creek, no matter all the complaints of no teenager talking like those characters, there’s a difference between talking like a pop psychology-obsessed middle-aged person and talking like a robot that discovered the existence of teenage culture. This series is the latter, and it makes the former feel like the most organic thing to ever hit television.

A major problem with Scream isn’t that it’s a slasher film on television, as the meta audience surrogate Noah (John Karna) tries to tell us. Ryan Murphy’s Scream Queens is coming soon, and we all live in a post-Harper’s Island world. While the slasher show isn’t as common and as other horror programs—partially for television’s fear of killing your darlings, especially in order to get to multiple seasons—it’s not an anomaly or an impossibility. So Scream the series isn’t any special, despite what it clearly wants to be, and its nondescript cast of characters only makes that more apparent. Plus, the elephant in the room is that what Scream the series is trying to do as a whole is something Scream 4 already did in much better fashion, right down to finding a way to integrate 21st century technology and genre conventions into the story without being an embarrassing distraction. If Scream the series can make one character even a fraction as interesting as Hayden Panettiere’s Kirby, then maybe it’s not completely a lost cause.

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On its own, with just this episode under its belt, it’s still not a good show, even taking into account MTV’s standards for its scripted original series. If it’s not bad enough there’s a killer supposedly seeking vengeance for the bullying (and possibly softcore child pornography), the show takes greater turn for the worse by inserting a new slasher concept to it all, with an urban legend backstory that’s a combination of I Know What You Did Last Summer, Friday The 13th and maybe a few others.

Even before that point in the episode, there doesn’t appear to be an original bone in the series’ body. It’s all so obvious and straightforward—which is kind of the last thing you want in this situation. Of course the perfect boyfriend who “doesn’t deserve” his perfect girlfriend slept with someone else. Of course the sexually-charged Brooke (Carlson Young) and the young (English, because its always English) teacher (Bobby Campo) are having an affair. Anyone who has ever seen any teen drama in the history of television should pick up on it almost before a word is uttered; it’s all that blatantly obvious. And tired—they’re such tired plots, which doesn’t appear to be something Scream the series is actually making a commentary on, no matter what Noah says throughout the episode. He also says that we should care about these characters—in which another one offensively compares this all to Friday Night Lights, causing that series to roll around in its grave—but there’s nothing redeeming or interesting about any of them, besides Audrey, almost by accident.

Every thing about the pilot screams (I’m almost sorry) that everyone involved wants audiences to say they’re okay with this show. They want people to say there’s merit in it and that it’s good. Certain people are obviously going to love the show because of the “hot” cast, but that’s not the same. Scream wants to be told it’s good enough, but that’s not going to happen right away (if at all), because the biggest sin of this episode is that it’s just not fun. Taking away the fun from Scream basically eliminates the point of Scream. Even Scream 3, which is not much of a fun movie because of just how much of a cartoon it is, has the fun of Parker Posey in the subplot affectionately known as Being Gale Weathers. Here, there’s not even fun in the mind-numbing dialogue or character actions.

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It’s not even like MTV hasn’t done horror well in the past. Whether it’s the straightforward approach, with Teen Wolf (see season two or the second half of season three), or as a horror comedy, with the underrated Death Valley, there is precedent. Scream should probably be the happy medium between those two, and instead, it’s the Pottery Barn of horror shows. I look forward to seeing if it proves me wrong. At least a scare would be nice.

Stray observations

  • Yes, Scream is getting regular coverage (for now). Moving forward, the series will have more opportunities to sink or swim on its own, and I can at least say I’m looking forward to that.
  • Ghostface Filler finally speaks at the end of the episode, with a monologue that I could definitely imagine The Carver from Nip/Tuck giving. “I’m the one that’s gonna lift the mask.”
  • The trope of the date rapist (or at least potential date rapist) that’s part of the gang in a teen drama is one that can gladly go away. All of the popular kids clearly have some sort of psychological problems, but the fact that any of them hang out with Jake (Tom Maden), the resident creep, is just another case of them being bad people.
  • We’ve got suspects (or at least red herrings), but is it safe to assume the older brother of Brandon James is the sheriff (Jason Wiles), and his male model son (Amadeus Serafini) is his accomplice in these killings? The answer is apparently not the point of the series, but latching on to these characters isn’t doing the trick yet.

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