Scream Queens’ Jamie Lee Curtis is perfection. On the gory new campus comedy from Glee’s Ryan Murphy, the horror legend plays a deliciously arch, newly-promoted Dean of Students who haaates sororities. We saw the first episode, and wondered: can the rest of the show keep up with Curtis?
We’re cautiously optimistic. The show, described at a Comic-Con panel by star Emma Roberts as “Halloween meets Heathers”—with a heavy debt to Mean Girls, too—is going to be theee campiest, most candy-colored thing on TV once it hits airwaves in September. As its ad campaign has already told us, it’s about a snooty sorority run with the (perfectly manicured) iron fist of Chanel Oberlin (Roberts), who’s gotten to her position of power based on her looks, her family’s wealth, and a ruthless, sharklike, probably sociopathic drive to be the biggest bitch on campus.
She’s succeeding, living in a massive Kappa Kappa Tau suite with a closet bigger than five or eight average dorm rooms combined, with three minions she calls “Chanel Number Two,” “Chanel Number Three,” and, inevitably, “Chanel Number Five” (“Chanel Number Four” was relieved of her duties somewhere along the way). But trouble darkens Chanel’s door with the new school year. The new Dean has a vendetta against sororities and Chanel in particular, and Kappa is going to be forced to allow any girl who wants to join its hallowed ranks. This clears the way for misfits like Glee star Lea Michele, de-glammed so dramatically it’s clearly a set-up for a big transformation in a later episode, and earnest Grace (Skyler Samuels), who wants to join because her late mother was a member years before.
Some of Scream Queen’s jokes are genuinely funny, some are of the trying-too-hard-to-be-shocking variety. Some make references its teen target audience (Gone With the Wind, Psycho) might not catch. But there are a few set-ups—including an extremely clever takedown of people who can only communicate via text messages and social media—that deliver genuine guffaws. The characters, except for Grace, are basically caricatures so far, though they’ll likely get a little bit of depth (one hopes?) as the story progresses, and the presence of Curtis, along with comedy veterans like Saturday Night Live’s Nasim Pedrad as a Kappa alum, and the great Niecy Nash as a security guard, may help keep the humor more consistent.
Okay, but you’re wondering: Is Scream Queens scary? It’s structured exactly, knowingly, like a 1980s slasher film, with a Tragic Incident in the Past shown at the start, leading into A Mysterious String of Gruesome Murders in the present. And there’s plenty of blood. But this is no Halloween; it’s a broad comedy first and foremost, and though the devil-costume-clad killer is meant to be frightening (we think?), the most terrifying presence here is shrill, evil Chanel. Hands-down.