‘You can’t do a slasher movie as a TV series,’ states film buff Noah in the opening episode of Scream, and no doubt many viewers are thinking the same thing. When the series was announced three years ago, it was met with a wall of criticism. Did it really need to be made? What can it add to a film series that is critically and commercially renowned, horror-comedies that successfully manage to toe the line between horror and parody, offering an incredible viewing experience? We are now a couple of episodes in, and although the series definitely has its faults, Scream is shaping up to be a worthwhile experience of its own.
Twenty years ago in the town of Lakewood, a deformed man named Brandon James went on a killing spree. Now, in the present day, a viral video serves as the catalyst for another series of murders. A group of teens, with two friends trying to reconnect at the heart of it, must figure out what is going on, confront the town’s chequered past and, above all, survive.
A reason that Noah (played by John Karna) suggests such an adaption would not work is because we need to care about the characters, and Scream presents us with a mixed bag. He and viral star Audrey (Bex Taylor-Klaus) share a deadpan, snarky chemistry that makes them the ones to watch. Bitchy Brooke (Carlson Young) is also good fun, her air of callousness betraying the vulnerability inside – she probably possesses the most personality of any of the teens, which makes it a shame that she has to waste so much time on a terrible teacher-student romance that was probably written in the contract to have the show made by MTV (as is all the love stuff that isn’t realised properly).
Not all the supporting characters are interesting, unfortunately. There are a bunch of male students – Kieran, Will, Jake – who haven’t really done that much or made any particular impressions other than soul-sucking blandness. I had to Google their names just to be able to tell you about them. The aforementioned teacher is a wet sponge, and the sheriff only really stands around, looking stern and making basic observations like an extra making the most of his one line in the backdrop of CSI.
Worst of all is main character Emma (Willa Fitzgerald). As the lead, it’s her job to carry the show, and the simple fact of the matter is that she barely just. She is a passive observer, skulking around always with a frown on her face like she’s perpetually smelling something awful. There’s something to her, which is nice, but it’s a shame it has to be an unending glumness.
Emma suffers because, by necessity, she invites comparisons to Sidney Prescott, the hero of the Scream film series. The show deliberately evokes this connection – the opening sequence of episode one is designed as a parallel to the opening of the first film. A famous face, in this case Bella Thorne, is stalked and murdered at home. This is fun, a nice and thrilling piece of television, but drawing these connections forces the viewer’s attention to the fact the televisual scene is not as good as a the filmic version that has come before.
The meta dialogues, property of Noah (this version’s Randy), follow the same pattern of being poorer than the film version, and you often get the impression they have been shoehorned in. If you pay attention, you can see that the conversations don’t usually lead to the monologue that follows, which detracts somewhat. And the main criticism is the killer, who is at the moment a shadow of the movie villain. His mask is different (explained in-universe as the mask of Brandon James), his kills have been briefer and he hasn’t really played with his victims.
However, episode three has marked a turning point. Whereas the first two episodes gave us deaths of characters we barely knew in the opening minutes, followed by forty minutes of teen dilemmas, the third has changed the tempo. The killer has started to play with Emma, his game reminiscent of the films, and the death that occurs is someone we recognise and someone we’ve grown to care about. Clearly, we needed some time for the series to set up its world and establish its characters, but now that it’s done, we’re finally getting the Scream we want.
So where do we stand? Scream S1E1/2/3 has given us a combination of action and tedium, of interesting characters and cardboard cut-outs of people, of thrilling horror and dull teen problems. Scream is a mixed bag, with some terrible dialogue and acting concealing what has the potential to be something truly brilliant. The audience is told that you can’t adapt a slasher film for the TV – at the moment, we’re seeing an average job that I think will evolve into something special.