Collins’ Crypt: The Finite Pleasures Of MTV’s SCREAM
I haven't had much use for MTV since 1995 or so, but I must say: I am charmed by their curious commitment to slasher material. I tuned in for all three of the (surprisingly fun) My Super Psycho Sweet 16 films, and then even tried watching the first episode of their Scream series live. The excess of commercials made me skip doing that for the rest of the season (seriously, for one episode I timed one ad break and it was actually 30 seconds longer than the chunk of show that preceded it), but I never fell more than an episode or two behind, which isn't something I can say for most hour-long shows. Hell, I had a full season of Walking Dead on my DVR at one point, but I was caught up in time to watch the season finale the night of air (despite this non-timely article's arrival seeming to prove otherwise).
Honestly, I didn't think I'd make it through the whole season based on my early assumptions about the show. Not only was I a bit miffed that it took place in an alternate universe from the movies, but neither Wes Craven nor Kevin Williamson had any involvement, so I figured it was just some lazy remake/cash-in that would prove to be of no interest to me, who considers the first two films to be among the top 20 slasher films of all time and thus would be harder to please than the average person in MTV's demographic. But that turned out not to be the case; if anything the lack of a connection was actually a benefit, as they were finally allowed to start from scratch again, and be free of any unfair comparisons to their big screen counterparts. Setting the series in Woodsboro (or an adjacent town very familiar with the story) would just have us tuning in every week hoping Neve Campbell would show up, but there was no such distraction - they made it their own.
Well, mostly their own. While it was different enough to not even qualify as a remake, the writers did borrow a few things from the first film, most notably including a tragic incident in the past involving the heroine's mother. Mama Final Girl isn't dead here as she was in the movies, but new heroine Emma Duval (Willa Fitzgerald) is certain that the reason her friends keep ending up getting chased and/or killed has something to do with her mom - the key difference is that she's still around to ask her about it. Ms. Duval is played by Tracy Middendorf, one of the very few recognizable regulars on the show (and with a Wes Craven connection! She was in New Nightmare), and through several scenes with her we learn that the murderer may in fact be Brandon James, a disturbed young man who pined after her during her own high school years and murdered some of her friends (I can't help but wonder if an early concept had the show revolving around Sidney Prescott's daughter and pals, with this being a leftover/reworked element). Of course, if it was that simple it wouldn't make for a very interesting whodunit slasher mystery, but the new killer wears the same mask Brandon did and sends the same sort of calling cards, so its importance is never forgotten and ultimately (slash unsurprisingly) very much connected.
If you haven't watched the show yet I'm about to spoil the killer's identity, so stop if you don't want it revealed. I'll just say that the show is surprisingly solid and you can be on your way.
Now, the biggest complaint I had about the show is that it was a bit too drawn out; it ran for ten episodes when eight would have sufficed (even that might have been padded some, but a forgivable amount). But this gave us more time to flesh out this little world, making it all the more amusing to me when the killer revealed herself and gave her motive... and we realize that what we've been watching all along is a remake not of Scream 1, but Scream 3, aka the weakest movie in the series. Like all four "mastermind" Scream killers*, Scream 3's villain blamed Sidney for every misfortune in their life, and in that particular case he revealed himself to be Sidney's half-sibling as well. They changed the sex of the villain here, but Piper (the host of the Serial-esque podcast that was covering this new series of murders) has almost the exact same speech as Roman gave in that waste of a movie, which I thought was kind of wonderful. They did Scream 3, but they did it right this time! With no Silent Bob cameos!
Piper also worked alone for the killer stuff, another Scream 3 tie as that was the only one of the four movies to pin all the murders on just one character instead of a pair. A dumb twist for the last scene reveals she was being assisted in some way by Audrey, one of the series regulars who initially got involved when the killer claims her girlfriend as one of his first victims, but it doesn't appear as though she was actually carrying out any of the murders herself. Then again, that's what Season 2 will likely explain, which leads me to my other, more important complaint - they really should have taken a cue from American Horror Story and made the show an anthology. I actually thought that WAS their plan for a while, in fact right up until the final episode, when the new Ghostface was noticeably not killing anyone in the main cast at the big party that more or less served as the climax. It's a very similar scenario to the party in the first Scream, right down to all of the randoms leaving suddenly to isolate our core cast, but the only casualty is some kid we've only seen in one other episode. If they had no reason to keep these people around, a lot more blood would be shed, so that plus the Audrey twist made me cool on the show a bit and get less excited about further seasons.
See, by starting from scratch every year, they could avoid the same thing that has plagued the features - doing a slasher story where no one we care about can get slashed. Sure, the show had a couple of surprise deaths (Will's was great), but if they keep coming back to these people they'll hit a wall, where Fitzgerald, Middendorf, etc are locked in for x amount of seasons and thus forever safe, with new victims being easier to spot because they're listed as guest stars instead of the main, rarely revolving cast members. The movies' unwillingness to off Sidney, Gale or Dewey proved to be disastrous in the long run (I guarantee Scream 4 would have been a bit more successful if they had killed one of that trio, juicing up the suspense factor in the process), and I fear the same thing will happen here. After all, the biggest hurdle the show had to face beyond being on MTV is the fact that it's a slasher story that at one point went three episodes without killing anyone (episodes 4-6), but at least had the fact that we were still getting to know these people to make up for it. Now we know who's apparently unkillable (seriously, how did Brooke survive being trapped in a tiny freezer?), and it makes the show feel "safe".
And the thing is, there's actually a benefit to a slasher TV show over a movie - we can actually get to know these people and care if they die. A movie has 90 minutes, and slasher "rules" dictate someone's gotta die every 10-15 minutes on the average. That means more than a few deaths of people we barely know, but by the second episode of a TV show we're already as long as a movie, and I think a body count of one person per episode is sufficient (as long as there are some chases mixed in between - akin to the one in the first Scream where Sidney thinks it's Randy on the phone, or of course the fantastic sound booth bit with Gale in Scream 2). By the end of episode 4 we've already spent almost three hours (minus ads) with someone - certainly enough time to be upset to see them knifed. Giving each death a bit of weight would actually be kind of novel in the slasher world, and be a fine workaround for one of the sub-genre's biggest criticisms. I mean, it's almost kind of embarrassing that a 10-hour "slasher movie" still had to stoop to more or less introducing a character in its final act just to give the killer some action. I know that kid was in one other episode, and thus technically not a total random, but come on - it would be like bringing that one truck driver (the one who dropped Annie off) back in Friday the 13th just to kill him off while leaving Marcie, Brenda, Steve and Bill alive for another go around. In other words, it was pretty lame.
Plus, now the padding (if they plan to keep the same amount of episodes) will be even worse. We know who these kids are, what they're about, etc - there will be no need to re-establish any of that stuff in the next season, and they'll also have to work overtime to make any twists involving them work (and so help me Christ if there's another awful blackmail plot with Brooke's father...). For example, if John Karna's character Noah (the Randy equivalent, who hilariously got the job of explaining why a slasher scenario couldn't work as a TV show) turns killer, it would render his season 1 actions to be incomprehensible, unless they bend over backwards to justify them, rather than just move forward. They've already established Audrey to be involved somehow, I doubt they can strain credulity any further - and that just means the identity of the new killer will be limited to whoever the new characters are (or Audrey herself, which, again, is dumb). By starting over, they could not only avoid that giant handicap for their mystery, but also buy themselves some justified padding time by developing an entirely new set of characters. Even if they have the balls to pull a Friday the 13th Part 2 and kill Emma off right away, they're still chained to this "mythology," which is the very thing that has sunk more than just the Scream series - Halloween comes to mind, as does I Know What You Did Last Summer.
(Speaking of the latter, they actually pulled off a reference to I Still Know What You Did Last Summer with the "Branson = Brandon's Son" red herring. Holy shit, that killed me.)
Otherwise, I'm as surprised as you are that the show was as enjoyable as it was, which is why I'm a bit bummed that I can't say I'm fully looking forward to season 2. I'll watch, I'm sure, but if you had asked me around episode 7 or 8 what my anticipation for the next season was, it would have been a lot higher than it is now. Then again, they surprised me once, so the optimist in me hopes they can do it again. Season 2 hasn't been dated yet, but when they announce its return I'll be sure to set my DVR and find out... but it will probably be a few days after it airs.
*Stu, Mickey, and whoever the non-Jill killer in Scream 4 was were all clearly taking orders from Billy, Mrs. Loomis, and Jill, respectively.