5 Questions and 500 Words: “Scream Queens”

Welcome to another installment of “5 Questions and 500 Words,” my approach to reviewing the crazy amount of shows that will be unspooling/returning over the course of the next few weeks. Given the glut of shows, and the glut of reviews that will be published for these shows, I’m keeping things short and sweet. This is for your convenience and my sanity.

“Scream Queens” premieres Tuesday, September 22, at 8:00 pm on FOX

You’re just gonna trash this because you hate Ryan Murphy, right?

I definitely don’t hate Ryan Murphy. I hate Ryan Murphy’s approach to television. Huge difference. But even with that said, this isn’t the worst thing he’s ever been involved with, which I guess amounts to some sort of praise. They won’t slap that last sentence onto any billboards, but that’s OK.

What makes this better than the rest?

I actually loved “Glee” for the first two season, and that was due to the show’s balance of the bombast and gravitas: Yes, it had whiplash tonal switches, but often those were baked into the intentional divide between the hopes of its characters and the crushing reality of their lives. Here, “reality” is gone from minute one, but the show never pretends like it’s supposed to be there. As a pure execution of its goals, “Scream Queens” succeeds. I just happen to not like the goals.

What are the goals, then?

So near as I can tell, “Scream Queens” is about knowing you’re watching a show called “Scream Queens,” and not unlike “Empire” or “Scandal” is probably going to be best enjoyed as a second-screen app to Twitter. But whereas those other two shows are pulpy soap operas with scene-schewing stars, “Scream Queens” provides bitchy camp, which is amusing but also distancing. It’s not a show that seeks to make its characters anything but joke-spewing fodder for its serial killer storyline.

But…that sounds like fun. Why do you not like this?

For the same reason I don’t like “The Walking Dead”: I watch television for characters in whose journeys I’m invested, not as a series of creative and gory deaths. If you watch “TWD” for that, you might actually appreciate this show. While I generally despise “American Horror Story,” at least that show attempts to deal with issues like identity, sexuality, and state of “otherness”. “Scream Queens” is about people that wondered what it would be like if “Mean Girls” and “Halloween” had sloppy sex and produced a baby that never learned any manners. That’s fun for a 2-hour film, but I can’t see how it works over the long haul.

But you won’t stick around to find out, will you?

I honestly have no idea. The serial killer storyline piqued my interest enough to see if Murphy and his “Glee”-cocreators Brad Falchuck and Ian Brennan have something up their sleeve. In addition, Emma Roberts brings enough shading to her sorority president to make me think there’s a half-chance she’ll be three-dimensional before season’s end. And God help, Lea Michele is REALLY REALLY funny in her small role here, and along with Glen Powell as the Stereotypically Jock Dude seem truly locked into the potential of this series’ tone. It’s definitely not something I’ll carve out time for, but I can imagine catching up with it by the time the next episode ends. It’s Empty Calorie TV, which is fine. But even at his worst, Murphy usually wants to be about more than that.