Starring Willa Fitzgerald, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Carlson Young, John Karna, Connor Weil, Amadeus Serafini, and Tom Maden
My rating: ★ star
TV series inspired by the film gets off to a disappointing start.
What a disappointment! With the rise of limited-run series, now is the perfect time to build a TV show inspired by the movie Scream. The omnipresence of cell phones and social media would give ample opportunities for the killer to stalk and terrorize his victims. Even current discussions of rape culture, with concepts not far removed from those of slasher movies, could fold in thematically with the series. The show had plenty of potential to be as intelligent and engrossing as the original film.
Even before the opening credits, the series proved unworthy of the name Scream. The opening sequence, which involved the murder of high school mean girl Nina (Bella Thorne) was hackneyed, sexist, and exploitative, none of which characterized the original film. Nina shows no endearing characteristics at all. She is so thoroughly horrid that her death seems more like a punishment for bad behavior than a senseless tragedy.
In the original film, the opening murder sequence involved the hapless Casey (Drew Barrymore) and her boyfriend, Steve (Kevin Patrick Walls). Hints given later in the film suggest that Casey was killed simply for breaking up with one of the killers in order to date Steve. In the killer’s mind, she deserves to die simply for rejecting him, which sadly mirrors the motive of the real life Isla Vista killer. The audience is positioned to recoil at Casey’s death, not celebrate it.
Yet, in the new TV series, I could easily imagine audience members cheering on the killer and believing that Nina got what she deserved. Unlike the fully clothed Casey, who fears the gaze of the killer, Nina, wearing a revealing string bikini, poses for the unseen killer believing him (or possibly her) to be her boyfriend. The whole sequence acts a vehicle for displaying actress Thorne’s nubility. While the exhibition of beautiful bodies is standard for MTV series, and Thorne’s male costars are equally required to flaunt their flesh, the combination of the flesh display and the violent murder is particularly demeaning, as Nina is doubly reduced to being just a body. Later in the episode, when one of Nina’s friends comments that it’s weird that Nina is no longer a living person but is “only a body,” another friend remarks that her “body” was her most worthwhile aspect.
Scream offers up numerous suspects. Like most slasher movies, the series introduces a backstory that may have relevance to the present with the tale of a hideously deformed killer, Bradley James, who terrorized the town twenty years earlier. Then, there’s the mysterious, handsome, and brooding new kid, Kieran (Amadeus Serafini). We’re also introduced to a teacher who’s a little too close to his students, Seth (Bobby Campo). (Why, in narratives, are teachers who have affairs with students always English teachers?) Then, there’s the bi-curious misfit whom Nina tormented, Audrey (Bex Taylor-Klaus), plus her friend, the geeky Noah (John Karna), who performs the same function as geeky Randy (Jamie Kennedy) did in the film—to go meta and explain the genre requirements. Noah goes meta and expounds on how the slasher genre could be adapted for television. Yet, Karna’s delivery lacks the earnestness of Kennedy’s. Noah comes off as smug rather than geekily obsessed with his subject.
Finally, there’s Nina’s circle of friends, or “friends,” which may be more appropriate as none of them seem to care for her very much. Brooke (Carlson Young), like Nina, is rich, shallow, and nasty. Riley (Brianne Tju) shows a quirky sense of humor and a curiosity about the world; she’s one of the few characters who has the potential to engage the audience. Jake (Tom Maden) is so obnoxious, creepy, and devoid of any redeeming qualities that I can’t imagine why anyone would be friends with him. Will (Connor Weil) is the most secretive of the group—to the chagrin of his girlfriend, Emma (Willa Fitzgerald), our main character.
The series depicts Emma as a thoughtful, good girl among the popular crowd. Yet, we can’t understand why an intelligent and kind girl like Emma would be friends with any of them, with the exception of Riley. None of the relationships in the series seem real or based in any kind connection whatsoever. The plot requires the group to be friends, so they are. The plot requires Emma and Will to be dating, so they are. Compared to the natural comradery that the film’s main character, Sidney (Neve Campbell), had with her best friend, Tatum (Rose McGowan), the friendships here are forced and clichéd.
One of the important points of the pilot involves Emma’s past friendship with Audrey. Many times before, we’ve seen the well-meaning popular girl have a former friendship with a social outcast, a friendship that dissolves when the two girls entered different social circles. This friendship is always presented as “truer” than the superficial friendships the popular girl has now.
Nothing in the script is new or interesting. Every beat in the episode has been done before and done better. Not only is the script stale, it’s utterly devoid of wit and cleverness, qualities that made the film so entertaining. Any suspense it manages to generate depends on the characters doing the opposite of what an intelligent person would do in the same situation. They go investigate mysterious lights and noises. They continue to interact on their phones with a clearly deranged person instead of using said phones to call 911. They deliberately place themselves in dangerous situations despite knowing that a murderer is on the loose. In short, they do everything that the media savvy teens in the movie Scream made fun of characters in horror movies for doing.
The performances also fall short. Fitzgerald and Taylor-Klaus are passable, but the rest are inadequate, especially in elevating a weak script. Serafini looks nice with his shirt off, but he doesn’t bring much charisma to the brooding, Byronic hero. Maden and Young exaggerate their characters negative traits to the point of being cartoonish. Weil, who gets the best opportunity from the script to explore multiple facets of his character, fails to do anything with that opportunity.
This series had an opportunity to be clever, thoughtful, and entertaining. It manages to do none of the three.