When Ryan Murphy’s Glee landed on our TV screens back in 2009 it captured the imagination of a generation – and not just because the cast kept bursting into song.
Glee was frank, funny and fearless in its depiction of teenage stereotypes, unafraid to tear down the high school movies of the 90s and 00s and poke fun at its own stars. And then, almost overnight, the show seemed to lose its nerve, with each season proving less clever and more missable than the one before.
Murphy, the man who also gave us OTT plastic surgery drama Nip/Tuck, moved on relatively unperturbed, continuing his streak of TV success with the rather more adult focussed American Horror Story.
Now he’s decided to take the biting pop culture commentary of Glee’s debut episodes, throw it together with the gory glory of American Horror Story, and produce a little comedy/horror anthology series that brings the beloved witty US teenage drama back from the dead.
At first glance you’d be forgiven for dismissing Scream Queens as just a Glee-meets-American-Horror-Story-meets-Mean-Girls/Heathers-parody mash-up, with former Nickelodeon teen star Emma Roberts doing a dodgy Rachel McAdams-eque Regina George. Even yours truly fell into that trap.
And yet, just five minutes into the first episode you’re hit with enough 90s nostalgia and “I really shouldn’t laugh but I can’t help myself” moments to know that you’ve made a fatal error.
The premise of Scream Queens is a simple one: a red devil masked killer terrorises a University sorority house, which just so happens to be ruled with an iron first by Queen Bee Chanel (Emma Roberts) and her numerically named minions. Little Miss Sunshine herself, Abigail Breslin, is Chanel No. 5, while current pop princess Ariana Grande floats about as Chanel No. 2.
She’s not the only familiar face among the cast: ex Jonas Brother Nick is on flying form as Boone, the buff, seemingly brainless yet brilliant sidekick to Chanel’s on-again-off-again boyfriend, and Glee’s leading lady (whom many would deem Murphy’s very own Barbra Streisand) Lea Michele is back in action as the seemingly harmless Hester Ulrich.
While the ensemble’s snappy dialogue and delightful teen slasher movie satire make the show a frightfully funny late night delight – and Emma Roberts shines as the alpha female – it’s Jamie Lee Curtis’ Dean Cathy Munsch who gives Scream Queens its edge. Starring roles in horror classics from Halloween to The Fog earned the actress her Scream Queen title, so it’s only fitting that when the creators decided to make a rib-tickling horror anthology, she was a dead cert for a role.
And rightly so. Curtis’ bitter and ballsy Munsch – who’s on mission to close Kappa Kappa Tau and bring down the sorority system – is to Scream Queens what Jane Lynch’s Sue Sylvester was to Glee: a criminally brilliant cynical soul who delivers zingers with the kind of deadpan class – and sass – that only comes from experience.
Scream Queens is so much more than the Scary Movie style horror spoof you might expect from the trailer: it’s fast paced, full of pop culture references that are perfectly placed, criminally clever and frightfully funny.
Who cares whodunnit if a red-devil-masked murderer is picking screaming sorority girls off one by one? When Mean Girls meets Midsomer Murders the results are absolutely killer.
Scream Queens airs on E4 on Monday nights at 10pm