Like Friday Night Lights Where the High Schoolers Get Killed

By  · Published on July 1st, 2015

Scream (the TV series) doesn’t feel like Scream (the movie). It has different characters, a different setting, and an attitude that’s more sleek than purposefully silly. Not to mention a different format, a different mask and the necessary cell phone plan upgrades that come with portraying teenagers living in 2015 instead of 1996.

The only things tying one to the other besides the title are a willingness to shed blood and the existence of a horror movie geek to metasplain what’s going on. That new Randy is Noah Foster (played with gangly likability by John Karna) who takes the expositional opportunity near the end of the first episode to tell the audience that they shouldn’t care much about who is killing teenagers or why they’re killing teenagers in the sleepy hamlet of Lakewood (conveniently located on a lake near the woods). We have to care about the cheating boyfriend, the conflicted popular girl, the inappropriate student/teacher relationship, whether the basketball team beats their rivals.

“Like Friday Night Lights?” his companion asks. Yes, exactly like that. Clear eyes, empty hearts.

It’s about setting expectations for an audience, but it’s also about recognizing the real goal of the show – which is the goal of any better-than-terrible slasher movie. If we care about the characters, their deaths will matter to us. It also hints that the show may not be striving for a twist with a revelation of the killer(s) – a near impossibility considering the pedigree – and instead will make the killer’s presence resonate in other ways.

There’s a lot of things to applaud about the new Scream, and that closing speech is one of them. It’s a bit blatant, but it also bookends beautifully an opening kill scene where a bitchy Regina George clone gets stabbed in the back before falling into her swimming pool. She’s fodder for the Old Gods, so the only available emotional response besides apathy is glee – something echoed by her “friends,” some of whom actually focus on the bright side of her demise. By the time Noah tells us what the series will be and how it will strive to achieve a genuine connection, it’s a wink toward the audience’s unfeeling nature in the opening murder. Noah (and the series writers) are essentially telling us not to worry, the kills will get harder and harder to handle.

That’s an interesting promise to make in a new era of ensemble shows where no main character is safe from the chopping block. Granted, almost every slasher project makes the same promise before offering us the same list of survivors as always, so it leaves an even wider opening for Scream to make a mark by following through.

That’s partially why the two fake-outs of the first episode are disappointing. After Noah also brings up the impossibility of doing a slasher TV series (because TV shows have to stretch everything out), and the teens throw a big, secluded party (really mourning there, guys), it’s sad to see two classic set ups end without any throats cut. It may seem unfair to fault the show for not axing three characters in the first episode, but they hint so hard in that direction that the decision to stretch things out per the TV formula is slightly lacking. Like they want to eat their Death By Chocolate and have it too.

But the bulk of the show is a fun take on high school drama, specifically the dramatics of the spoiled and school-famous. There’s a friendship dissolved by popularity: Emma (Willa Fitzgerald) got cool while Audrey (Bex Taylor-Klaus) didn’t, and now a video of Audrey making out with another girl has gone viral. There’s also the Queen Bee Brooke (Carlson Young), a handsome new kid with a dark mind named Seth (Bobby Campo), two interchangable dude bros, and a twenty-year old series of murders that was thought to be committed by a deformed boy obsessed with a local beauty who’s still in town.

The dangerous tightrope that Scream runs along is the threat of appearing the same as everything else, but per the rules of being meta, it’s had to adopt the same wealthy, popular kid obsession that all teen shows feature. If you’re annoyed by the privileged whinery relaunched by Gossip Girl, there’s some solace to find in Scream. It promises to make us care about the characters.

And even if it doesn’t achieve that, it’s going to kill them anyway.

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.