I won't be the first BMDer to recommend MTV's surprisingly great Scream TV series to you: it was our own Brian Collins who convinced me to give it a shot, advocating for it back in October, right after Season One first aired. But that season only arrived on Netflix last week, as these things usually happen, to garner interest before Season Two premieres on Monday, May 30. And, as these things usually happen, I am now wholly on the hook. No way am I waiting for Season Two to hit Netflix. MTV, you have my money.
So here's the (mostly spoiler-free) deal: this is a completely separate universe from Wes Craven's film franchise, and with Craven and Scream screenwriter Kevin Williamson involved in name only. Williamson gets a "story by" credit for the pilot, and Craven received executive producer credit for the first season, but really, this is an entirely new animal. It's that most dreaded of things, a reboot of a beloved franchise, and it's also a teen slasher television series on MTV. Your skepticism is noted.
But for lovers of the films who are able to surrender those prejudices, Scream: The TV Series is exactly what a reboot should be. This is a new town - Lakewood rather than Woodsboro - and it comes with its own bloody mythology. Instead of Cotton Weary, we have a physically disabled Brandon James, thought dead years ago until someone wearing his post-op mask begins terrorizing those connected to his story. We have new characters, though they still fit into very recognizable categories: the good girl, the bad girl, the nerdy horror know-it-all, the untrustworthy boyfriend and his annoying friend, the journalist (now a Sarah Koenig stand-in podcaster), the most name-worthy actress who dies in the opening scene. And Scream: The TV Series feels current in a way that Scream - even the more recent Scream 4 - doesn't, using text, emojis, Snapchat and social media instead of a rotary phone and some Jiffy-pop. If that sounds annoying, well, that's 2016 for you.
All of this is new, but not quite new. It's familiar, but updated. And Scream: The TV Series is Scream exactly where it should be: in spirit and self-referential tone. Of course, the references are now updated for the teens watching it, and for those of us in our 30s who are familiar with modern teen fare. I laughed out loud at a great Pretty Little Liars lair joke, and Scream is certainly taking a page out of PLL's book, as much as it is out of the films that share its name. Like Pretty Little Liars, the pilot opens with an instance of online bullying, an inciting event that leads to bullying of a more personal and physical kind.
"You can't do a slasher as a TV series," says Noah (John Karna in the Jamie Kennedy role), apropos of almost nothing. "Think about it. You know, girl and her friends arrive at the dance, the camp, the deserted town, whatever. Killer takes them out one by one. Ninety minutes later, the sun comes up as survivor girl's sitting in the back of the ambulance watching her friends' bodies being wheeled past. Slasher movies burn bright and fast."
It's true that expanding those ninety minutes into ten hour-long episodes does take some of the wind out of Scream's sails, but not much. The series would be benefited by more kills, but the kills we get are brutal, and the added screentime gives our characters time to grieve, to feel each death before they're distracted by the next one. Here, Scream succeeds where many slasher films fail, and in the one area that is most crucial: you'll like these kids. You won't want them to be killed or be revealed as the killer. As much as I love a good, gory murder, I found myself rooting for some of these characters, hoping they'd get away during the extended chase scenes that, deep down, I knew could only end one way.
Karna is perfect as the know-it-all, charming and vulnerable when he's not rattling off slasher predictions faster than the show can fill them. Willa Fitzgerald is our good girl, our Sidney, and Emma has something of Sidney's strength and warmth, a character we want to protect but aren't surprised to discover can take care of herself. And Arrow's Bex Taylor-Klaus rounds out the primary threesome in a snarky goth role new to the Scream universe but not to teen fiction strata in general - Audrey refers to herself as The Breakfast Club's "raccoon-eyed weird girl who only wears black." All of these kids are cool and interesting, tough in their own ways. Even the bad girl (Carlson Young), untrustworthy boyfriend (Connor Weil) and dumb jock friend (Tom Maden) are revealed to have surprising depth.
But, in the end, Noah was right. Scream's season two premiere airs Monday, and it's not an anthology, which means most of these kids necessarily survive to live another season. I'm glad, but how long can that go on? Slashers do burn bright and fast, and if we know most of our main characters are safe, we're losing some of that terrifying momentum that burns through the best slashers. Sure, Sidney will always be safe, but who saw Rose McGowan's Tatum dying that early (a reveal that Scream: The TV Series takes advantage of early on in the pilot)?
Scream's second season is a mystery in more ways than one. A month after the finale aired, Dimension Television announced that they were replacing Season One showrunners Jill Blotevogel and Jaime Paglia with Make It or Break It's Michael Gans and Richard Register, because Dimension's producers "were unhappy with the creative direction of the revival." As someone who was very happy with the creative direction of the revival, that doesn't give me much hope, but that doesn't mean I'm not completely sold for another season (or several) of this world. I love the Scream films - I even like the third and fourth entries - and with its first ten episodes, Scream: The TV Series proved itself a worthy scion.
The first season is available on Netflix. Ten short episodes, and a long weekend ahead before the second season premieres Monday night at 11/10c. You know what to do.