Scream Queens: “Pumpkin Patch” Season 1 Episode 5 Review

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People are dying left and right, but not the people who need to.

Here’s the thing about Scream Queens: We’re five episodes in and no one important has actually been murdered yet. This might not seem like a problem—there are, after all, eight episodes left in the season—but the show’s lack of serious momentum could prove detrimental to it’s satirical demeanor.

I know this might seem counter-intuitive to my previous reviews in which I’ve stated that this is a show where the plot doesn’t matter, but hear me out. Scream Queens‘ absurd level of camp works because its characters are in such a high-steaks situation. It’s funny because it’s such an overblown reaction to something that should be genuinely frightening.

The best cinematic example of this is in the horror-spoof Scary Movie 3, arguable the best of the Scary Movie franchise. Why? Because it had some truly dark source material to work with. The film came out in a post-Scream era when horror movies had gotten very, very serious. There was no need to spoof something that was already a satire. Instead, the film expertly highlighted the folly within the frightening.

Scream Queens needs to be on the same trajectory if it wants to succeed. Yes, it’s acerbic wit remains ever intact, but it means nothing if there is no real drama for the absurdity to stem from. This week’s episode featured homages to both The Shining and Silence of the Lambs, but without some built-in suspense, both sequences lacked urgency.

We knew Zayday was going to escape from The Red Devil’s layer because Murphy & Co. seem to care more about her fight for president against Chanel than who the next victim will be. Still, wouldn’t the presidential bid be more interesting, and have room for more off-color commentary, if some more of the Kappas were offed?

Consider this for a moment: the writers clearly love the rift that has been created between Chanel and Chanel No. 5. Things got so heated this week, that Abigail Breslin’s dutiful sorority sister was forced to light candles in the pumpkin patch in the dead of night—a prime place for the Red Devil to strike.

This narrative seemed poised to deliver the first really important death of the season with someone who had been in the centralized action thus far. Yet, the only person who gets the ax is Dodger, one of the two brothers that Chanel No. 5 had a threesome with. This is a character that literally no one cares about, and his death adds absolutely nothing to the story, especially since Chanel No. 5 chooses his brother over him quickly before he meets his end.

Had No. 5 herself become the Red Devil’s next victim, think of how much more poignant her difficulties with Chanel would be. Think of the potential for future rifts in the house now that a very important sister would have fallen. Alas, no such luck. It seems the show is intent on having Emma Roberts ream out Ms. Breslin for as long as possible, which could eventually become very boring.

The same goes for Chanel’s Orange is the New Black moment in jail. It lasts all of five seconds, and yes there are some chuckle-worthy lines that Ms. Roberts delivers exceptionally well, but after all is said and done, what was the point? From the moment she stepped foot in the jail, I had a sinking feeling that she would be out before the episode ended.

I shouldn’t be able to guess these things on a show where a new person dies every week. I’m not saying that the plot needs to have a rigorous structure, I’m merely suggesting that the series’ over-the-top aesthetic would be better suited to a story that put the focus, and the peril, on more of its central characters.

The one place the show worked well this week is with Gigi. Revealing that she’s in cahoots with the Red Devil wasn’t the most shocking way things could’ve ended, but it felt important because of her previous scenes wooing Wes and building a bond with Grace. Her character had mostly flitted around before this, waxing philosophical on the nature of salad dates and failing to seem like “one of the girls” in Kappa. This gives her some real drive, and I’m excited to see what comes next.

Scream Queens has a lot going for it in terms of its pulp entertainment. It clearly doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the cast seems to be having a blast. Yet, it’s premise rests on the idea that these people are acting zany in the face of danger. But if there’s no danger, then their behavior doesn’t really seem as shocking, or funny. It’s just weird. In short, it’s Scary Movie 4. Things need to get back on track next week, or I’ll actually start to get the chills. There’s nothing more terrifying than a satire that loses its edge. Grade: B-

 

Some Other Notes:

  • Any guesses as to who the “he” is that Gigi wants taken care of? My vote is for either Wes or Chad.
  • Speaking of Chad, Denise and Dean Munsch’s scene in which they banter about both having slept with him is quite delightful. I especially like the thought of Denise and Chad getting so into their role play that they have to do extensive character research.
  • “Oh my god, I’m burping uncontrollably like Robert Durst!”
  • Hester aka Chanel No. 6 displays a new level of intensity this week, and Lea Michele delivers it fiercely.
  • “That is such a Mary Todd Lincoln thing to say.”
  • Okay, seriously you guys, where is Nick Jonas, and why hasn’t he come back yet?

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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