Scream Queens Premiere Recap: What's Your Damage, Chanel?

Photo: FOX.
Ryan Murphy’s latest foray into horror-comedy is sure to delight or infuriate — or in the show's best case scenario, both? — all who encounter it on social media or maybe television. Doesn’t it already feel like it’s been around for months, lurking greedily in our digital consciousness like Ariana Grande over a pastry display? Well, I’m an investigative reporter now, and I can confirm: Scream Queens is indeed a raucous vortex of campy terror stuffed with sound bites, winks, and pastel-hued fur. It’s fun, but it’s a lot. I was honestly not expecting this much fur.

There's so much activity on the surface that you might not even notice all of the blood dripping out on the sides. It may have been there for days, or years, or since the '90s — impossible to know just yet. This is only Week 1, and fur can be very absorbent.

Welcome to Wallace University, a pristine academic bubble overrun by racist, classist psychopaths who spend their free time playing lawn games. If Christian Slater ever pops up as a guest star, the show's obvious homage to 1989's Heathers just might feel complete. Behold our glamorous anti-heroes as they waste away their college years in smart suits and semi-sheer knee socks: sorority queen Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts) and her cadre of three other Chanels, who must glide by her highness every morning in a sweet live action homage to Cher Horowitz’s outfit-selection software from Clueless. It’s a tough life, but someone’s got to live it, especially after the former chapter president got spray-tanned to death by hydrochloric acid. (Freak accident during a routine liposuction would have been too obvious.)

Kappa Kappa Tau has been steeped in wealth and murder since at least 1995, when a sister who didn’t even know she was pregnant gave birth in a bathtub and then perished. It was her own damn fault for chasing waterfalls upstairs during a downstairs party, but for some reason the mean old dean (Jamie Lee Curtis) and the maid, Ms. Bean, helped cover it up. Now, Dean Munsch — who is still kickin’ mostly undergrads out of her bedroom — has declared war against leader Chanel, who represents everything wrong with today’s young women. This year, Kappa House will be required to accept anyone who wishes to pledge. It’s the worst sentence imaginable: “The doors are open to the public."

This aggression will not stand, says Chanel’s quasi-boyfriend Chad Radwell (Glen Powell), a beefy lad with mommy issues who got his first boner while watching Faces of Death. He also loves golf. See, Chanel’s royalty would instantly dissolve once Kappa Kappa Tau allowed random “fatties and weirdos” into the fold, and the president of the Dickie Dollar Scholars can’t just go around dating "garbage people.” Naturally, Chad is also hooking up with Dean Munsch, who declares him rubbish. And he let his gay roommate Boone (Nick Jonas) into bed with him. Of course Chad is confused, though. He’s a psych major.

Queen C is on a sullen warpath once she finds Boone spooning her BF. But suddenly, in a stroke of vulnerable brilliance, she decides to allow Boone to join her hive. After all, Chanel wants to be a network news anchor someday. So, she might as well make headlines now because her future hellscape, "a little thing called the media," is chock-full o’ gays. Eventually, she’ll have to tolerate her gay makeup and wardrobe people, "not to mention my creepy, gross gay viewers and weird, gay higher-ups.” It’s a cute shout-out to everyone watching the Scream Queens premiere. Now do you understand how it feels to be marginalized? IT’S A SATIRE, OKAY? SO EVERYTHING’S FINE.

Not all of the characters are crazy nightmares, not yet. Meet Grace (Skyler Samuels). Think of her as the Veronica to all those Chanel-Heathers but with less of an edge. She wears two sweatshirts in public within the first two hours, so we know she’s legit. Along with her new roommate, Zayday (Keke Palmer), Grace is on a blind-faith mission to make her late mother’s sorority a happy place to live again. It is absolutely insane that these two level-headed first years — especially the one who wants to be the first Black woman president — would stick around a haunted house after witnessing the frying of the help and the beheading of the deaf. They could have chased the wholesome vibes of their cute, first-day-of-school lunch date and just, you know, attended college. But who the hell would want to tweet about that?

The rest of the runty pledge litter makes more sense. Presenting the dregs of society: Hester (Lea Michele), a girl in a neck brace who’s gleefully obsessed with death; a token “Predatory Lez” (Jeanna Han), there to be a mouthpiece for the PC culture and, as Chanel puts it, eat bikini burger; and homely Jennifer (Breezy Eslin), a candle vlogger. I am very into "candle vlogger,” for the record. It is almost as delicious as “Vine star."
Oh, and this is pretty distracting to be honest, but there's a killer roaming campus in a rubber Red Devil suit. Its victims include:

Chanel No. 2 (Ariana Grande) — despite her valiant attempts to text-flirt and tweet her way out of it.

A deaf Taylor Swift fan, run over by a lawn mower over in the garden, while screeching something indecipherable.

Security guard Shondell, taking a burger break on campus because “ain’t nothing going on in a Best Buy parking lot.”

We thought we lost poor Boone, but it was a false alarm. One minute he’s lying on a candlelit frat- house table with a slit throat, the next he’s waiting patiently in a morgue drawer for his cohort the Red Devil to let him back out. “What took you so long?” he wonders.

So who is this murderer/network of murderers, operating under the agenda “SLUTS WILL DIE” (written in blood on Chanel’s bedroom wall)? Sinister music while certain characters stand alone at the end of scenes would lead us to suspect both Dean Munsch and the school’s newspaper editor Pete (Diego Boneta) — the latter of whom has the actual Red Devil costume in his closet. But I’m not discounting creepy Hester or any of the sisters just yet. And, where did that maid go after Chanel No. 1 deep-fried her face?

Other burning questions:

Are we really to believe the Red Devil is this school’s mascot?

Is Chanel No. 3 (Billie Lourd) somehow communicating with the killer through her large collection of fashion earmuffs, or does she just like earmuffs?

What was the traumatic experience that kept Gigi Caldwell’s (Nasim Pedrad) psyche trapped in the ‘90s? Could a slap bracelet cause real physical damage if its user got creative?

Does security guard Denise Hemphill (Niecy Nash, the night’s MVP) do parties?

Grace’s playlist-obsessed dad (Oliver Hudson/Jeff from Nashville): Hot? Or the hottest?


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