Glee‘s winning formula was its unique mix of intensely cynical snark and naive, heartfelt sincerity. Ryan Murphy’s new teen comedy, the horror homage Scream Queens is heavy on that snark, but has none of the charm that carried Glee‘s eclectic bunch of characters for so many years. The most charming character in Scream Queens‘ two-hour pilot, in fact, is Glee alum Lea Michele in a smallish role as a neckbrace-wearing nerd, one of several “misfits” who joins a college sorority when Dean Munch (Jamie Lee Curtis’ answer to Sue Sylvester) opens it to everyone. Emma Roberts’ Kappa Queen is understandably upset that her beloved house will no longer be exclusive to the rich and obnoxious, but matters turn from bad to worse when a serial killer shows up and begins to strike off characters. Roberts is poorly cast in an uncomplimentary role: she has no redeeming qualities, but isn’t witty enough to be entertaining. She’s just nasty.
Luckily, the show has another, legitimately sympathetic lead up its sleeve: Skyler Samuels. She’s surprisingly strong. Her introductory Arriving-At-College with her father scene is the pilot’s strongest, as they discuss seeing Twilight together in 2008 and other Stuff That Millennials Will Relate To. Her relationship with her father continues as an integral part of the show (sort of like Kurt and Burt’s on Glee), and let’s hope it stays that way.
The fact is: for a horror-comedy, Scream Queens just isn’t very funny or very scary. It’s amusing in chunks, it’s satire is smart and the cast and location have a certain sexy appeal, but the script is crueller than it is clever and the Red Devil murderer isn’t particularly sinister in appearance or action. Worth a watch, but maybe only one.