One of “Glee’s” specialties was musical mash-ups, blending different songs and even genres in ways that were sometimes fabulous, others clunky. Producer Ryan Murphy and his collaborators tried something similar to that with “Scream Queens” – the new Fox anthology series that concluded Tuesday, a cross between “Glee” and Murphy’s FX splatter-fest “American Horror Story.” Like so much of his work, the result had its moments, but in terms of a beat, it was so ridiculously over the top you couldn’t dance to it.
Granted, comedy has always been a staple of the horror genre, especially in theaters, where the goal is often to get young audiences chuckling out of tension, right before the ax or chainsaw gets put to use. But as constituted, “Scream Queens” merely felt like “Glee” with less music and more blood sprays, a chance to see the mean girls not just say outlandish things but occasionally wind up skewered.
The big reveal in the finale (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched) really wasn’t particularly revealing, mostly because the narrative had been such a madcap mess in the preceding weeks that any suspense had dissipated long ago – not in terms of whodunit, but having any reason to care. As it turned out, the killer stayed in the “Glee” family, with Lea Michele’s Hester having carried out the scheme with her twin brother Boone (Nick Jonas) and Gigi (Nasim Pedrad), getting away with it by framing Chanel (Emma Roberts) and her numerical acolytes.
Or something like that. While the two-hour finish, written by Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan, featured some impressive displays of breathless dialogue by Roberts and Michele, the cartoonish nature of the characters made Hester’s long explanation of the crime – and its aftermath – wholly anticlimactic, concluding with more of a whimper than a bang. And leaving the Chanels happily ensconced in an asylum seemed like further evidence that the lunatics appeared to be running it.
According to Nielsen data, “Scream Queens” has tallied just over 5 million viewers on a seven-day basis (including a week’s worth of delayed viewing). Still, after all the buzz and excitement the show generated in advance, those numbers look as mediocre as the series.
As noted, Murphy’s real genius stems from an ability to promote his shows through concept and casting (witness the Lady Gaga-“Horror Story” pairing), the tradeoff being that those qualities have a bad habit of trumping execution. Of course, the beauty of “Scream Queens” is that by killing off much of the cast, the producers can enlist a new flurry of demo-friendly stars to try wooing viewers back should the series return. And that would be about the only means of renewing interest in another semester of a series that was, at least this time, nothing to shout about.