[This is a review of Scream Queens season 1, episode 3. There will be SPOILERS.]
Whether you adored or vehemently despised Scream Queens' playfully-bloody two-hour premiere (and let's face it, you were probably completely on one side or the other), you'd have to admit that the series did one thing extremely well right away: It presented perfectly clear expectations for what kind of show it was going to be. And with the very precise tone it struck in those two hours, the series ensured it would scare away some viewers, but that it would also snare those who gobbled up its twisted humor and Mean Girls-meets-Scream sensibility. Fortunately for those in the latter camp, the new FOX series did not disappoint this week, offering up another delightful helping of laughs, mystery, and a side of lite-horror in 'Chainsaw'.
Now, we say "lite-horror" because even when Scream Queens literally goes for the jugular, it does so with a wink, which makes it all the more fun. So, when Wallace University's new soft-serve ice cream-shaped school mascot, "Coney", is decapitated by the school's former, now chainsaw-wielding Red Devil mascot, we can appreciate that the gruesomeness and horrific nature of the act is softened by simply how ridiculous the whole scenario looks.
Of course, the episode's second kill is even more gleefully campy; as a fraternity brother has an arm lopped off, but somehow manages to continue fighting the Red Devil, until losing the other arm. The whole scene -- which begins set to The Backstreet Boys hit "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" -- is cartoonish, and it is certainly meant to be, yet it still conveys that the threat on the characters of the Wallace University community is very real at the same time -- especially since the killers' (we now know there are more than one) identities are still unknown.
But as we mentioned earlier, Scream Queens' third episode only serves up a side of horror and gore, because the focus is really on the central who-dunnit mystery -- even more so than in the two-part premiere -- with an ample supply of comedy mixed in. And that mystery became surprisingly more intriguing this week, as several characters were revealed to have motive for the recent series of on-campus killings.
First, there's Chad (Glen Powell), who is suspected to be holding a lifelong grudge against the Kappa Kappa Tau sorority for his mother's death 20 years earlier (if, in fact, he's the baby from that tub); then there's Zayday (Keke Palmer), who thinks she can run the sorority better than Chanel (Emma Roberts), and who happens to have a chainsaw under her bed "for protection"; and of course, Chanel, who would do anything to increase her popularity to win Chad's affection, which could even include killing off Kappa's much uglier and uncool pledges. Even Dean Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis) is considered a suspect when she suddenly appears from upstairs after the killer had vanished from the Kappa house moments earlier.
With nearly everyone being eyed as a potential killer, Scream Queens can take its narrative in almost any direction and share the spotlight amongst its talented cast. That is exciting in numerous ways, but mainly for the fact that -- at this point in the season -- it would be nearly impossible to correctly guess who the killers are.
While the mystery is undoubtedly the narrative driver of the series, the most enjoyable element of the show is still the humor, and last night's episode is easily the funniest of the three that have debuted so far. With a lighter focus on Chanel this week, the humor was less mean-spirited and spread around a whole lot more, as almost every character received some great lines to deliver. Perhaps the standout for the second straight week in the comedy department was Niecy Nash as the sorority's security guard Denise, who uses her crime scene investigation knowledge to point out to Grace (Skyler Samuels) and Zayday that when you think you see blood, it's almost always blood, and is ketchup "about zero percent of the time."
With the focus on generating laughs and interest from its core mystery, Scream Queens has found the sweet-spot in balancing its horror and comedy. In the post-Scream world we currently live in, we've seen several shows and films attempt and fail to find that perfect genre blend, so some credit is due to Scream Queens' writers and co-creators (which include American Horror Story and Glee creator Ryan Murphy) for pulling off the rare feat. Now, we're just hoping they can keep the fun rolling, and -- considering the extremely large and inviting sandbox they've built for the show to play in -- we can't see any reason why they wouldn't be able to do just that.
Scream Queens season 1 continues next Tuesday with 'Haunted House' @9pm on FOX.
Photos: Skip Bolen/FOX, Patti Perret/FOX