[This is a review of the Scream Queens season 2 premiere. There will be SPOILERS.]
Last fall, FOX's Scream Queens was a campy horror comedy that gave equal screen time to its biting satire of sorority life and slasher-style murders. One moment the series could be uproariously funny, the next it'd be downright chilling. Created by Ryan Murphy (along with Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan), Scream Queens proved to be a pitch perfect blend of Murphy's snappy high school comedy, Glee and his more unsettling horror anthology, American Horror Story.
Yet, by the end of the first season, practically all of Scream Queens' dangling threads were tied up: the Red Devil killers were apprehended, Kappa Kappa Tau rebuilt, our heroes vindicated, and the Chanels - Emma Roberts, Billie Lourd, and Abigail Breslin - cleared of their murder charges but sentenced to an asylum for being the pretentious, self-absorbed, sorority girls they are. What was there for a second season of Scream Queens to explore?
Turns out, plenty, as season 2 of Scream Queens moves much of the primary cast from the college campus to a hospital where former Dean Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis) now serves as an administrator. Soon, the Chanels are working as medical interns, Zayday (Keke Palmer) is on her way to becoming a doctor, and Hester (Lea Michelle) swaps out her neck brace for a Hannibal Lector mask. New additions this season include the hospital's requisite "hot" doctors, Dr. Brock Holt (John Stamos) and Dr. Cassidy Cascade (Taylor Lautner), a hardass head nurse, Ingrid Marie Hoffel (Kirstie Alley), as well as a new serial killer to terrorize every resident and patient. And if season 1 was anything to go by, absolutely everyone -- no matter how unlikely or ridiculous -- will be a suspect.
Scream Queens season 1 was about as over the top as a series about a serial killer hunting down sorority sisters could get. But here, in only its first episode titled 'Scream Again', Scream Queens season 2 has managed to take its premise into even more ludicrous territory. Still, there remain signs the series will continue following the same formula it established in season 1.
This time it all begins with a flashback to a Halloween party, not a sorority party, where instead of Kappa Kappa Tau pledges, it's the doctors and nurses of Our Lady of Perpetual Suffering getting down and dirty. As the party rages on, a doctor and nurse (guest stars Jerry O'Connell and Laura Bell Bundy) are pulled away in order to help a sick patient, but they'd rather get back to Cheetos and quaaludes. So they tell the man's pregnant wife they'll immediately prep him for surgery, only to drug the poor S.O.B. and dump his unconscious body in the toxic swamp out back. (If you didn't remember, basically everyone in the Scream Queens Universe is a terrible person with easy access to places just perfect for ditching bodies.) As their unsuspecting victim sinks into the muck, the doctor hastily throws in his costume as well - a green cape with a demon head's mask nicknamed the Green Meanie, just in case you were worried they couldn't invent an adequate successor to season 1's Red Devil.
Jump forward roughly thirty years to the present - also about three years after the events of Scream Queens season 1 - and Dean Munsch has used the Red Devil killings to score lucrative book deals and TED Talks. Now she has her sights set on the medical field, opening the C.U.R.E. (Caregivers United in Restorative Etiology) Institute - a teaching hospital committed to curing the world's most incurable diseases - in the same location as the Our Lady. She bribes Zayday with free tuition to come to her teaching hospital, where she'll work alongside Doctors Holt and Cascade, earning the credits and experience required to become a full-fledged M.D. Munsch then, at Zayday's insistence, hires more women to the staff - specifically, the Chanels.
Though exonerated of any involvement with the Red Devil murders thanks to a hit Netflix documentary about the incident (Entrap a Kappa Kappa: Murder on Sorority Row), the Chanels are reviled nationwide for being awful human beings thanks, again, to that Netflix doc. Still, they've managed to move on, finally earning a communications degree (the easiest one there is) and finding jobs where they can actually help people. Chanel #5 is a receptionist at a dentist office, Chanel #3 is mopping up wads at a sperm bank, and Chanel #1 is a certified phlebotomist - turns out, she really has a thing for blood. But like so many recently graduated millennials, they're barely scraping by. Enter Dean Munsch, who offers them a similar deal she gave Zayday - come study at her teaching hospital and she'll make sure they become real doctors.
It's not until almost halfway through the premiere that the Chanels finally appear, but with all the setup required to soft-boot the series, it's a forgivable sin. And especially when the new additions to the cast promise to be just as bizarre as what we've come to expect of Scream Queens. Stamos' is definitely playing to his strengths here, equally charming and funny in turn. His Dr.
Hot Holt looks to be an interesting character, too, what with being the first recipient of a successful hand transplant; though that new hand appears to have a mind of its own, hinting there may be something devious about whoever previously owned it. Lautner has less to do in this episode, though his few scenes suggest the heartthrob will make comedy gold of Dr. Cassidy Cascade. (Plus, he may be a vampire, which if true, might just be the best meta in-joke ever.)
Though it's only been one episode, it seems that Curtis has been given an expanded role in season 2, which is welcomed. She was having a ball the first time around and seems even more excited for the schlockiness to get underway this season. However, Munsch's motives are a real mystery, and there are no clues as to why she's gathered the former Kappa Kappas at her hospital. The plot only thickens when we add in Alley's Nurse Hoffel, a clear antagonist for the Chanels (it was truly a pleasure watching her tear into Chanel #1) but also a woman hired by Munsch for a purpose.
'Scream Again' definitely leaned more heavily on the laughs than the scares, but again, that's likely a symptom of setup more than anything. What's notable is that the comedy is just as sharp as it was last season, and in some scenes, the jokes come flying so fast it's tough to catch them all. (A particular favorite throwaway was Holt casually mentioning he performed surgery to separate the Hemsworth brothers.) Not many shows would let each and every one of its cast be this funny, but Scream Queens thrives on it. It's why the show can have half a dozen exchanges that are as funny if not funnier than the Chanels and Zayday's confusion over "ghosting".
Before the credits roll, we get the first of what will surely be many murders carried out by the Green Meanie. Dripping in bright green, toxic goo and dancing to The Ronette's "Be My Baby", the Green Meanie comes upon Chanel #5 and their werewolf girl patient (Cecily Strong, seriously playing up the monsters vibe this season) enjoying a soothing bath. There's some neat camera work happening here (as there was earlier with the use of a fisheye lens to represent patient P.O.V.) and the toxic goo is positively iridescent in the green light washing over the scene; hopefully, that's an effect they stick with throughout the season. The now hairless and cured werewolf girl is the first victim, being swiftly decapitated, and the episode ends on a cliffhanger that implies Chanel #5 is next! Sorry Little Miss Sunshine, you were easily the most expendable of the remaining Chanels.
Scream Queens season 2 hasn't skipped a beat, and if you enjoyed its campy ridiculousness last season, this one promises more of the same. It's wacky, it's funny, and at times thrilling in a way only the best slashers can ever be. Whether or not Chanel #5 really bit the dust is left until next week, but even if she is a goner, it'll be weeks and week before we know who is the latest killer(s). Any guesses?
Scream Queens season 2 continues on FOX next Tuesday, September 27th @ 9 p.m. EST with 'Warts and All'.