Is the Scream Tv series good, and should you watch it?
Who was excited when it was announced the MTV would be making a Scream Tv series? No hands up? I don’t blame you. The first series dropped in 2015, followed by the second in 2016, and a third in 2019, the latest now made by VH1, given that the MTV show was fronted by disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein.
In many ways the Scream TV series had set itself what many would consider a series of impossible tasks, each both fundamental to its success, and each as unlikely as the last.
I mean, as the show itself alluded to in that good ol’ self reflexive Scream style, it’s difficult to make a slasher show into a television series. Not to mention we’re reimagining what remains still a very popular IP amongst slasher fans - myself included. How do you extend the series long enough to be good, whilst not destroying the basic premise of the Screamiverse? Well, here’s how they tried:
It’s all in the legacy… or is it?
So, is the Scream TV series related to the movies? I suppose the way in which the series paid homage to its “source material” could be seen as abstract rather than direct. You see, this series is entirely separate aside from some slight similarities, such as the character archetypes and several of the deaths. If you were hoping to tap into that OG Scream lore, then this series won’t give you that.
In separating out the series from the movies, executive producer Jamie Paglia said in an interview with MTV that one more significant element was due to change as a result: the iconic ghostface mask. If you haven’t seen the series now, a series of red flags may be waving for you. If you take out the mask and take out the setting of the original films, what have you got left? That’s the hole which needed to be filled.
With a new world, the shows writers created a new lore, a backstory to involve the characters in, and a whole new town to terrorise in Lakewood. It’s different, but still rich enough to carry the story as far as we need it to. I don’t necessarily think that it’s such a bad thing given the ambition of the series. By tearing up the direction of the previous films, the series freed itself of the albatross around its neck, granting it permission to form its own legacy, without even threatening to encroach on the hallowed ground left by the quadrilogy and other related media.
This may then beg the question “is it really a Scream series then?”
The question is resolved in the details. Scream was always more than Woodsboro. Scream (1996) was at its very core Travis Bickle talking into the mirror. It was film at its most reactionary, looking at what had become a somewhat fusty and formulaic series of Slasher films from the 80s through to the 90s, and saying to the well versed audience: “We know that you know the tropes, so we’re going to lay them out and push them centre stage”.
And the series at least attempts to carry on that legacy. We know the character types that we see. We have a good feeling who is going to die. We know the lines to look out for. We know the camera cues. Scream remains unapologetic in it’s pointed finger at a genre which could use some fresh breath blown into it’s wizened, bloodied lungs. So, is this a Screamiverse presentation? I would definitely throw my ghost faced mask into the ring in favour of saying yes.
How do you make a Slasher Tv series?
There are without a doubt Slasher tv series which both predated and succeeded the date of Scream, such as the aptly named Slasher, and the upcoming series of American Horror Story titled 1984. Scream though had the additional tasks I mentioned previously to accompany the challenge of making a slasher series. There’s a simple solution to the problem of how you make a slasher series at least hold together, and that is hybridity.
An all-out-slasherthon is not designed to last the course. The pay-off and main intrigue of the genre come from it’s speed, it’s simplicity, and in many ways it’s formula. A tv series needs more than that. It’s like how series such as The Walking Dead is more-or-less a soap opera with the occasional zombie, rather than the zombie bloodbath that we may expect in a film. And, as boring as it can be, it makes sense.
The commitment that you need to make in order to watch a film is about 2 hours. It’s a self contained gore fest, tied together with a box made of entrails. We sit down, watch it and move on. No harm done. If you’re planning on taking up 6 hours of someones life, split over 10 episodes, you’re going to need a hook - and one large enough to snag Godzilla with at that. One of the best ways is through the drama, character development and actually trying to make an audience care about the plight of the characters. This drama then becomes the framework to which horror can be added. It ain’t pretty for the seasoned horror fan, but it’s a numbers business, and I'm not entirely convinced that 6 hours worth of connected gore is going to be commissioned for series 2.
Scream also had at its disposal a “whodunit” series, with fingers constantly pointing as new secrets come to light, new clues revealed, and fresh corpses lay splayed open from the thorax. The identity of the killer(s) are fairly obvious if you listen closely and look at the clues, but it’s interesting to look back on in hindsight to account for where everyone is at any given moment.
I don’t mean to imply that Scream has everything to hold it together and to keep interest, but I think it’s fair to say that it has enough to justify the 10 episodes long series. It, as with any series, has it’s lulls and it’s peaks, but I think it does carry itself quite well in terms of being a slasher series.
But, was it actually any good?
In order to answer the important question of “Was the Scream series any good?” I'm going to break it down into several categories before coming to an overall verdict.
Universe and plot
The setting is Lakewood for series 1 and 2, and, as previously mentioned, is in no way linked to the events of the films. We join a town with deep scars from a boogeyman in a mask Brandon James, whose apparent murder spree had ended with him getting shot in the by a lake side, on a meeting with his perhaps unrequited- perhaps not - love Daisy. It’s several years later, and the killings have started again. The only survivor of the original killing spree’s daughter and her friends become the new target of a new - or perhaps old- menace come to exact revenge on the town of Lakewood.
Scream takes no shame in being modern. It uses technology which we are comfortable with today, social media, alexa, podcasts, and lots and lots of hacking. It’s interesting to see how the tropes developed in Scream films; the killer on the end of the phone - the omnipotence of a character who is unquestionably human - are brought into the digital age. Throughout the series, we’re treated to a number of things which are exactly what you’d expect from millennial Scream. I, for one, think that the premise translates really well into the digital age and, in combination with the tongue-in-cheek approach which Scream has, it makes for some really fun and genuinely enjoyable scenes.
The plot unfolds and is carried by successive murders, each providing details and possible answers as to who our masked killer may be. But there is one driving force which gets on my nerves; the main character’s mother. She is plot progression on legs. Exposition with peroxide blonde locks. The “oh dear, I should have probably mentioned that earlier then you all wouldn’t all be dead” kind of character. I get that it’s sometimes necessary to create a “gatekeeper”whose knowledge slowly drips through, lest me know it all at once and be able to answer the questions we have right at the start, but I find this works better with an antagonist, rather than a “good guy”. You see, the bad guy has a perceived benefit from withholding information, whereas the good guy is merely causing more damage. I get that it’s meant to be something that the character is deeply ashamed of, but it’s obvious to everyone early on that she is the key to solving the mystery. She changes what would be a 2 hour film otherwise into the 6 hour ride that we’ve clambered onboard for. But it’s hard to be too critical - afterall, it’s Scream. Maybe it’s being meta about the whole character type.
Speaking of characters, I have to say I did rather enjoy the characters we got to see in the first two series of Scream. They’re interesting enough to carry us along with them on their personal journeys, whilst not too interesting to completely tear up what we really want from a genre series such as this. I won’t wade too much into them to avoid spoilers, but here’s a quick run-down of the main cast:
Emma - Willa Fitzgerald: Our main character. Her dad was the sole survivor of the Brandon James murders several years prior. Now living alone with her mother, Emma and her friends become the new target for another killer in Lakewood.
Audrey - Bex Taylor-Klaus : A friend of Emma’s, Audrey is the focus of a viral internet video which films her kissing her girlfriend. She’s a bit of a misfit, and has developed a thick skin to the world around her.
Noah - John Karma: The movie buff / true crime enthusiast of this iteration of Scream. Noah’s theories often progress the plot, or help to point to more clues left by the killer.
Kieran - Amadeus Serafini: The new kid on campus. Kieran is the son of the sheriff, and soon finds himself thrust in amongst the action in Lakewood.
Brooke- Carlson Young: Daughter of the mayor, Brooke often finds herself in trouble along with the rest of her friends, and in her own dramas.
Whilst there are obviously more characters involved, these 5 build the core of characters we get to know over the two series. From what I remember, I don’t think there’s a time when anyone of them, and several other characters, aren’t in the spotlight as the potential killer. And whilst some links are tenuous and disappear quickly, others are much less easy to wash away.
The ghostface of the TV series isn’t in fact called ghostface at all, rather being called “the killer”, and with the mask referred to as “the Brandon James mask”. Whilst i’ve seen many are resistant to the new mask design, I for one really like it. It’s a little like Corey Taylor’s new Slipknot mask, which is perhaps unsurprising since they are both intended to be - to some extent -surgical.
The mask appears vaguely translucent, with a deformed left hand side to the face, mirroring the deformity of its original owner. It’s held on with robust straps, just to make extra sure that the killer isn’t accidentally revealed.
The killer wears a black anorak which flows very loosely from the body, and serves the added bonus of keeping them prepared incase of a sudden downpour. That’s the kind of forward thinking you expect from a criminal mastermind.
All in all, I enjoy this version of ghostface. I enjoy that the series maintains the strange omnipotence we’ve seen in previous ghostfaces, but also how that evolves into technology. I’m not sold on the actual identity of the killer and their story, but i’ll leave that all for a spoiler filled review later!
So, should you watch the Scream series?
If, when cut, you bleed horror, then I would say probably not. This is never going to sate the appetites of diehard horror fans, no matter how many kills there are, and how interesting they may be. For a more casual watcher, I would say “sure, why not?” It does pretty much everything it does on the tin. It’s self reflexive in that Scream way. It’s a little cheesy. It’s filled with teenage angst. But it also isn’t afraid to be that. Take it as it is, and hey, you may even enjoy bits of it.