“You can’t do a slasher movie as a TV series,” one of the teen characters, helpfully well versed in the conventions of the genre, explains near the outset of “Scream,” Dimension and MTV’s attempt to put that theory to the test. Arriving a few months before Fox’s confusingly similar “Scream Queens,” the series does exhibit a playful sense of self-mockery, without really answering that aforementioned conundrum — except, perhaps, that MTV’s expectations will be considerably lower than Fox’s or, for that matter, CBS’ when it tried to mine the same skewered-teenagers niche with “Harper’s Island.”
The eight-minute opening sequence is classic slasher fare, with a beautiful bikini-clad teen being stalked and stabbed, thinking for a time that it’s her boyfriend who is sending her those cheeky texts. Once the foul deed happens, though, “Scream,” perhaps out of necessity, shifts to a more conventional teen-drama mode, introducing an assortment of characters, most of whom, one suspects, should be prepared to get shish-kebabbed before it’s all over.
At the center of it all is Emma (Willa Fitzgerald), whose loyalties are tested when her friend Audrey (Bex Taylor-Klaus) is outed as a lesbian by the mean kids, one of whom has just been dispatched with great prejudice, as noted, in her backyard. Not surprisingly, the town has its own dark history involving a serial killer, leaving Emma’s mom (Tracy Middendorf) and the local sheriff (Jason Wiles) as the two adults who don’t sound entirely like Charlie Brown’s parents, left to try to sort out what’s happening.
Not that the murder comes as much of a mystery to Noah (John Karna), the nerdy movie buff who is seemingly there in part to keep reminding us what we’re watching. He joins a roster of what are generally more high-school types than fleshed-out characters, from the mysterious (but brooding and hot) new kid (Amadeus Serafini) to the haughty popular ones, whose herd is likely the first to get thinned.
Written by Jay Beattie, Dan Dworkin and exec producer Jill Blotevogel (the last a “Harper’s Island” alum), “Scream” leverages the initial murder to build suspense without much actually happening during the remainder of the hour, using a lot of dissonant strings instead of opened veins to set the mood. Yet the real trick will be teasing out the suspense as the number of viable suspects gradually dwindles, as well as making the audience see these characters as more than just chum.
Conceptually, “Scream” surely looks like a winner: The built-in name recognition is an asset, and the demographics fall squarely within MTV’s wheelhouse. Heck, even the not-really-teenagers look enough like high-school students to avoid the “Grease” effect.
That said, there really is a difference between TV and movies in dealing with such fare, a line that the “American Horror Story” franchise has commercially straddled but, if history’s any guide, one that remains perilous nevertheless.
“Slasher movies burn bright and fast,” Noah tells his pals. “TV needs to stretch things out.” If this works, and he survives it, maybe they should let him produce the next season.