Friday, July 10, 2015

Scream: The TV Series - Yay or Nay?

by Melissa Parkin

A girl alone at home receiving sinister phone messages from a masked killer watching her from the shadows.

We all know the iconic opening to Wes Craven’s 1996 classic Scream, and that’s exactly what we get yet again in its television adapted pilot episode.

Nina Patterson (Bella Thorne) enjoys the spoils of cyber bullying after posting a private video of a fellow female classmate making out with another girl. As local social media blows up over the scandalous footage, Nina rewards herself by stripping down to her undies and taking a late night dip in her Jacuzzi, despite knowing that someone is watching her from inside her house.

Beautiful she may be; smart she is not.

Nina begins receiving flirtatious text messages from who she assumes is her ex-boyfriend. The messages however become increasingly sinister. Eventually, a severed head splashes into the Jacuzzi beside her. Needing nothing short of a metaphorical shovel to the face, Nina finally understands the level of danger she’s in, but it’s too late. The notorious Ghostface (sporting an updated mask) emerges from the shadows and stabs Nina in the back before finally slitting her throat, and dumping her body in the pool.

It frightens and then the show suddenly slams on the brakes. This “horror story” becomes a generic teen soap opera. Hitting every check-mark for every high school stereotype, we have the Mary-Sue-turned-popular girl, Emma, her dumb jock boyfriend, his even dumber jock teammate, the sexy harlot who’s sleeping with her teacher, the new-to-town resident bad boy, the film nerd, and the wrongfully-persecuted bisexual outsider.

Kevin Williamson’s masterfully crafted screenplay for the original Scream blended horror with dark humor and social commentary to perfection. It gave audiences insight, laughs, scares, and a reprieve from the genre’s overuse of clich├ęs. This teleplay tries to capture that same essence from its predecessor, but what’s played here for nostalgia ultimately comes off as a low-grade knockoff. First impressions are everything, and that’s the sole purpose of a pilot episode. It’s meant to make the audience tune in again. Scream: The TV Series doesn’t do that.

There’s next to no redeemable, let alone likable, characters at first glance. Emma (Willa Fitzgerald), our protagonist, comes across as sweet, but we soon learn that peer pressure has turned her into one of the “mean girls.” Then there’s Emma’s boyfriend, Will, whose only defining characteristic is that he pulled a Ross and slept with Bella Thorne’s character while he and Emma were “on a break.” We can’t forget the Queen Bee-otch herself, Brooke, who enjoys spreading rumors apparently as much as she does spreading her legs…for her English teacher. And who can forget the recently deceased, mean-spirited Nina Peterson? If the audience is rooting for most of your cast to bite the dust right from the get-go, that’s not a good sign.

Despite the soapy teen drama and limited horror, there has to be some kind of plot, right?

Yes, there is.

The basic plot of Scream: The TV Series:

One by one, attractive youths are savagely murdered by an unknown assailant. Some suspect it is Lakewood’s serial-killer-turned-local-legend, Brandon James, who was shot by police in Wrenlake where he presumably drowned some twenty years ago. Ostensibly, his death severed his romantic ties to the protagonist’s mother.

Wait just a second…

There’s a problem here. This story sounds eerily familiar…

Some horror fans may remember a little 2009 CBS mini-series called Harper’s Island, where one by one, attractive youths are savagely murdered by an unknown assailant. Some suspect it to be the works of John Wakefield, the legendary serial killer who was presumably shot dead in the water some years ago after having a romantic relationship with the protagonist’s mother!

Sure, you could shrug off the striking similarities as coincidence, but you shouldn’t be too quick to do so. With some simple research, you’ll find that Jill Blotevogel, one of the writers for Scream: The TV Series, was also an executive producer and writer for…you guessed it, Harper’s Island. Inspiration exists; I encourage it, even from existing material. I cannot cosign lifting the entire story arc from old work, and repackaging it under the name of a famous franchise.

But don’t change the channel just yet. “Hello, Emma,” the second episode in the "Scream" series is an improvement from the pilot. Sure, it’s still a teen soap opera, but some much needed character development finally unfolds. One downside, it fluffs the story-line, hindering the overall pacing. The original Scream kept the mood strangely light with its snappy dialogue, but there was always tension building under the surface. Here, the scenes are either played as everyday contemporary or showcased as downright scary. Never both. As the sinister elements of the plot become more prominent, that hang-up will hopefully resolve itself. Fingers crossed.

For those interested in the horror genre but unenthused by Scream, then Harper’s Island comes highly recommended. Despite the uncannily similar plots between the two series, the immensely underrated horror/murder mystery, Harper’s Island, is more compelling and worthy of viewers’ attention. With its ridiculously extravagant deaths, fair share of humor, and a fantastic cast that includes Covert Affairs’ Christopher Gorham, Sleepy Hollow’s Matt Barr, and Supernatural’s Jim Beaver, this mini-series is all-out campy, “grab some popcorn” fun. As far as Scream: The TV Series goes, watch at your own risk…of being bored. Seriously, the pilot really could serve as a substitute for Ambien. There is hope for the series, but only for a faithful enough viewer to suffer through the slow beginning.

Scream: The TV Series rating: C-
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