About halfway through the pilot of MTV’s Scream, adapted from the Wes Craven franchise of the same name, Noah (John Karna), a nerdy teen, goes meta and describes the challenges of adapting a slasher film for television. It’s meant to be playful, but the entire discussion, in which Dario Argento and Horace Walpole are name-dropped, lands with a thud, bereft of the little details or sense of genuine fandom that added flavor to similar diatribes delivered by Jamie Kennedy‘s character in the first two Scream films. It would be one thing if the Scream series was attempting to subvert or comment on current horror trends – rampant self-seriousness, hectic and uncaring camerawork, lazy auditory scares, etc. – but as the pilot brazenly admits, that’s not what this show is about.
Instead, as Noah once again opines, Scream is meant to be Friday Night Lights with a body count, which it very simply is not. Let’s forget for a moment that every single cast member, including most of the adults, looks like they’re working in between model shoots, and that the acting largely follows suit. The bigger issue at hand is that where Friday Night Lights, at its best, dug into modern media culture to find a vast array of tastes and opinions that were spread across a plethora of characters, Scream seems to be working off of a quickly jotted-down list of trends on Twitter over the last year or so. At one point, Noah quickly mentions a prospective internship with Elon Musk, but there’s no sense that Noah is interested in new energies or advanced automobile design. Similarly, all the talk about Twitter, iPhones, and the amount of “hits” a video on YouTube gets all sounds like a tinny attempt to connect with modern high schoolers, an increasingly desperate ploy to appeal to them rather than express anything personal or even particularly stylish.
To be fair, YouTube at least figures into the plot heavily, as the pilot opens with a video of a bi-curious teen, Audrey (Bex Taylor-Klaus of The Killing Season 3), making out with a girl getting posted to the site without her permission. Worry not, as one of the main perpetrators of the cruel cyber-bully prank, Nina (Bella Thorne of The DUFF), is the victim of the opening kill, which might have been the best scene of the pilot if not for the fact that half the impulse for the scene was clearly to show off Thorne’s physique in a bikini. From there, the series settles on a variety of students at a West Coast high school, including Audrey, Noah, and Emma (Willa Fitzgerald), Audrey’s erstwhile best friend and seeming “final girl,” flanked by Will (Connor Weil), her secretive boyfriend, and Kieran (Amadeus Serafini), a dark and dreamy new student who catches Emma’s eye.
The inclusion of overtly vapid and vain characters like Brooke (Carlson Young) and Jake (Tom Maden), besties to Emma and Will respectively, would seemingly put the Scream series in the same orbit as, say, Alexandre Aja‘s Piranha 3D, a gory bit of satirical retribution on the worst, most narcissistic elements of the Millennial generation and the one that will proceed it. Clearly, however, Scream wants to be taken seriously, which is the quickest way to reduce any series to little more than a laughing stock. Scream does really want to be Friday Night Lights, but the writing, perhaps inadvertently, boils the characters down to archetypes, which, again, would suggest the purposefully thin machinations of something like Piranha 3D. For all its faults, Friday Night Lights had convincing characters and touched on universal, occasionally harsh tribulations that the modern teen often must face. If there’s any point to Scream outside of its uniformly pretty cast, it’s based solely on the hardships faced by rich, white adolescents who aren’t sure if they should be assholes or not.
The result of this is that Scream has all the depth and insight of an anti-bullying PSA, backed not only by Audrey’s experiences but also a larger story arc that suggests that the killer is related somehow to Brandon James, an Elephant Man-esque young man who, decades earlier, murdered five teens for bullying him; the woman he loved, Maggie, predictably turns out to be Emma’s mother (Tracy Middendorf). It’s a nice and important enough sentiment, but it’s hard to really believe anyone involved in Scream really cared about how teenagers are treated, as they finally depict them as little more than eye candy and kill-bait for a presumably frothing audience.
★★ Fair — Only for the dedicated