Review: Scream the TV Series, An Old-School Slasher on a TV Teen Melodrama

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Drew Barrymore, hung from a tree with guts pouring out, was not a popular prediction. The grotesque portrait wasn’t the last thing anyone expected, but as audiences filled theaters in 1996, the Janet Leigh-style fake-out proved to still pack a putrid punch. Here, in an upper crust suburban California home with far too many windows and just a few too many doors, director Wes Craven pursued Barrymore with violent, if fluid verve as a killer taunted via the phone. Almost twenty years on, the 13-minute magnificent opening to Scream is iconic, the start of what’s still the best contemporary slasher, as well as an ongoing wave of imitative hopefuls.

Watching Scream now, two things are apparent: the first, this sequence is still great, as well as a hard match for anyone following up in a namesake sequel or series (though Scream 2’s brutal cinema spectacle comes close). The second, the time is perhaps more right for MTV’s Scream the TV Series than it was for Scream 4 in 2011. After all, Barrymore’s lip liner and mom jeans could style a 2015 stalk-and-slash just as easily.

As multiple cinematic properties make the jump to television, there’s also a whole new generation to menace, not simply some kids and the rest of the regular Scream ensemble. Television has also caught up with the gore of slasher yore; varsity Steve’s guts now a regular feature on AMC. Meanwhile, social media has evolved tremendously since just the last Craven-helmed film; something like menacing Snapchat surveillance feels less lunk-headed than a lot of tech lip service in other modern horror. That’s part of what the opening of Scream the TV Series gets right: Invasive Facetime, Snapchat and again, a house with far too many windows, working in tandem to create a vulnerable space for star Bella Thorne. Though, to be fair, who the fuck has Pottery Barn saved in their phone?

Thorne, a very game young actor is playing a role explicitly in line with Barrymore’s Casey Becker, and again, Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane. Thorne has immense cache with younger audiences, which makes one wish the series had been as intent on upending expectations with her entitled pop princess as the 1996 film on which it’s based. The once surprise is now the main attraction. The unexpectedness then is in the viciousness of it all. “Come watch Bella bite it,” Scream blithely says before dispensing of her and a boyfriend. Though not intensely gory, there’s a harshness to this Bikini Babe being stabbed and discarded so openly. It actually, like the rest of the episode, harks to the classic slashers. It’s a shame the atmosphere doesn’t exactly support it. Bella’s face is never as ghastly white as Barrymore’s final appearance.

The Kill

As more films move toward television adaptation, so has television grown more filmic. Interestingly, that’s not Scream the TV Series’ focus. As Scream verbally references and comments on slasher cinema, so does its television adaptation nod toward its own medium. Unfortunately for its visual aesthetic, this means the pilot of Scream the TV Series is only occasionally frightening. Caught between a commentary on how exactly a slasher is supposed to stretch into a season and following a loose replay of Scream 1996, Scream the TV Series’ real potential lies in upcoming episodes, when it can push further away from its own title; something it’s already done with a revamped Ghostface.

Set in a new fantastically wealthy suburban town (Lakewood), Scream the TV Series introduces a lake, a set of kids with interpersonal conflict and a killer. That killer—a porcelain, haunting take on Ghostface—harbors dark mythology of a 20 year-old massacre more in line with old-school slashers than the adulterous murder mystery of Scream. That’s pretty cool, as well as fitting for the television format. Scream the TV Series is using these kids, their parents and their home’s history in similar manner to other small town teen melodramas (Gilmore Girls, One Tree Hill, etc.): Everyone knows each other, the romantic struggle is real, snappy dialogue. Now there’s also a masked murderer, making the carnage more physical than heartbreak or shit-talking.

The series’ connection to the films then needs to be in its self-aware dialogue, delivered by Lakewood’s millennial Randy Meeks, Noah Foster (John Karma). Karma, like his co-stars Willa Fitzgerald, Bex Taylor-Klaus and Carlson Young, is winning in the role, despite the failings of some of the winking verbiage. The pilot episode (credited to Jay Beattie, Jill E. Blotevogel, Dan Dworkin and Jamie Paglia) strives to sharply comment on genre trappings, but by doing so in voice-over or dialogue, often instead just narrates exactly what we’re already seeing.

Does Scream the TV Series ever amount to truly unexpected then? Yes. If the blend of CW or ABC Family teen nonsense and slasher appeals to you (and oh, does it to me), then much of Scream the TV Series is itself good fun. In the episode’s final moments however, director Jamie Travis and writers begin to build a real deal whodunit, one which finally subverts expectation by pointing blame toward the most obvious of suspects.

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Weekend: Sep. 19, 2019, Sep. 22, 2019

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