'Scream Queens' S1E4: Haunted House

★ ★ ★

Happy Chanel-O-Ween everybody!

And that intro (a spoof of "Swiftmas") was one of the few good moments scattered across this tonally off-kilter, expository flop of an episode. While the first two episodes left some high stakes for the cast — giving the impression that anyone could get killed off at any time — it’s pretty evident now that Scream Queens is going to save the best for last while we suffer through the deaths of guest and recurring stars for the time being.

Mandy’s (Jennifer Aspen) death was the weakest of the series so far. (Shoutout to the Freakshow murder trailer though.) Played more on the scary side, the death wasn’t remotely as impactful as Coney’s (my favorite so far) and what little suspense it built up was wasted with her offscreen death. Having her plop down from the roof doesn’t make it better in the end either.

Even though Mandy’s introduction was pretty amusing ("I’ve been waiting for 20 years"), the rest of the scene was a mess. From the way-too-obscure Halloween costume (seriously, like what person born around 1995 would have an "ah-ha" moment about that?) that needed an explanation right away, to Diego Boneta’s still very awkward delivery, the majority of the Grace/Pete scenes lack the impact of Zayday’s. Like Scream’s Emma and Keiran, it seems that the only reason they’re around is for exposition. The fact remains that these two have yet to encounter the killer, but judging by Grace’s reaction to the Red Devil in the pilot, she might worth watching. Other than that, Zayday's in Grace's Final Girl role more often than Grace herself, and has a funner storyline, too.

While Zayday isn’t the Final Girl type, she might stick around like Brenda in Scary Movie, which would be absolutely fantastic. So far, the chemistry she has with Earl Grey and Denise outperforms Grace’s relationship with Pete every step of the way. Her scene with Earl Grey hit the Greek life topic in a very natural way (unlike the feminism sequence) and feel like they’re meant to be rather than forced together, like Grace and Pete. (The Emma/Keiran vibes are just getting stronger by the episode. Yikes.) But what makes Zayday stand out so much are her hilarious scenes with Denise because of how ridiculous their accusations feel, despite the fact that they’re dead on. Like Zayday getting a chainsaw from her grandmother, and Denise not getting into the KKT pledge class of 1988, and using jealousy of the new pledge class as motive for murder.

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Niecy Nash’s comedy background really helps her bring her character to life, even during monologues. Her performance also helps those around her match her level. This, however, doesn’t work as well in her scenes with Diego Boneta, where he attempts to imitate her exactly in an almost offensive fashion. While not the weakest member of the cast, he doesn’t exactly fit into Pete’s character as well as we might want him to. It also doesn’t help that Pete’s sole reason for being around is to be the guy who digs up information Grace should be digging up herself and he hasn’t had any interesting moments since the first two episodes.

In fact, several of the characters suffer from development issues. This becomes clear when Mandy points out how traumatized her KKT sisters were from their 1995 experience. But judging by how we met them in the pilot (letting their pledge bleed out in a tub so that they wouldn’t miss TLC’s "Waterfalls") you would have expected them to be far worse than the present-day KKT. Instead, their personalities switch to being mean girls who fell victim to their actions. If that’s the case, what makes them different from the Chanels? Heck, even the pledges aren’t that beat up about seeing someone die.

Chanel, for one, is the basic Regina George kind of mean girl, but with none of the subtlety and false kindness that made Regina so popular in the first place. If Chanel were to be more like Sarah Newlin in True Blood, then Chanel’s character might be more believable. But the biggest screw-up for her character is the feminism scene, which has no warning and no lead up. More like Glee on steroids, it was shoving a moral down our throats, and if this was meant to add some depth and heroism to the Chanels, it missed the mark — especially coming from the group that hates on women more than the men on campus. Even if it were to poke fun at first-world, college-level feminists, it still wouldn’t work. Chanel once showed a great level of depth and insecurity in the first episode when talking to Grace, but that insecurity has been shallow ever since.

The haunted house scenes were highlights of the episode (notwithstanding the exposition injected at the last moment). From Zayday’s talk with Denise, to Hester and Chad finding all of the bodies, it was a kind of humor that played out very well. While Scream Queens’s dialogue doesn’t always work in the "real world" setting (class, cafeteria) it does work whenever the Queens themselves are placed in the confines of a horror movie setting. When Scream Queens focuses more on its own plot rather than random scenes like the one at the cafeteria, it works really nicely, but as soon as it drifts into Glee territory, it chokes up and feels like it is trying too hard to serve its younger audience.

It’s good to see that Scream Queens has vastly improved the slasher formula for television, but like Scream and Harper’s Island (which also became really exposition-heavy by episode 4), Scream Queens is starting to find difficulties balancing its plot with its funny asides.

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