Scream, the series, addresses the elephant in the room early on. The Wes Craven 1997 classic that it's very loosely based on arguably defined meta-fiction, with characters who were not only aware of other horror movies and their tropes, but addressed them head-on in response to the slasher plot they were embroiled in. So of course, a TV adaptation that no one asked for is quick to call out what everyone's been thinking since its announcement: the futile and near improbable idea of a slasher story parceled out across a collection of episodes (this season will consist of 10). The goal for the pilot then—the only episode made available to critics—is to present a solution to that quandary that reels in both fans of the franchise and Cool Teens™ who actually take scripted shows on MTV seriously. So, does it? Yes and no.
It's corny, no doubt. Every character and conflict presented so far is an archetype to the fullest, right down to the history teacher who's hilariously blatantly sleeping with a high school student. By the end of the first episode, everyone across the mostly high school cast, sizable enough for maximum body droppage, is a distinct personality (except those who must remain ciphers, because this is a murder mystery after all), which would be a good thing if any of those personalities brought something new to the table. So far, they don't. (The franchise's last big-screen gasp, Scream 4, had much more fun with contemporary meta gags and a much livelier New Class cast. Too bad Emma Roberts is busy letting off higher-pitched screams elsewhere on TV.) But, if the series leans fully into the melodrama? We could be in for a very fun time.
As a huge fan of Scream (primarily the first two, same as every other sane human), I'll admit I expected this show to be absolute trash. It might very well reveal itself to be so. But the first episode left me surprisingly reminiscent of the last great slasher series to hit the small-screen: the vastly underrated, soon to be Netflix-vacated, Harper's Island. All of the hallmarks are there: randy Caucasians in a coastal town, one marred by a history of violent murders and one girl who may be the linchpin between the bloody history and the killings in the present. Here that'd be Willa Fitzgerald's Emma, the ostensible heroine and Final Girl™ who toes the line between popular clique and enlightened teen, stock jock bf and brooding dark loner, etc. She's also friends with Audrey, the bi-curious girl whose outing by resident Rich Bish seemingly jumpstarts this whole thing. (Bella Thorne = Drew Barrymore 2K15?). And her mother happens to be the motivator for the last batch of murders decades ago.
That's right—to establish its own identity separate of Wes Craven and Neve Campbell, MTV's Scream is following its own mythology. This isn't Woodsboro, the deputy isn't a dimwit and so far there isn't even an intrepid reporter on the case. There is, however, Noah, a Randy-stand-in who very helpfully explains that the only way to stretch a slasher out is to make us care about all the swirling characters and melodrama in and around it. So this series is basically Degrassi, only, someone's guaranteed to drop each week? Basically, if you like teen dramas there may be something worthwhile here. But if you don't, well, Harper's Island is on Netflix for a few more days.
Frazier Tharpe is a staff writer for Complex. Scre4m is vastly underrated (hiii, Emma Roberts). Follow him @The_SummerMan.