Home ยป Culture ยป Is Ryan Murphy's Scream Queens trolling us? Sometimes it's hard to tell

Is Ryan Murphy's Scream Queens trolling us? Sometimes it's hard to tell

Aleesha Matharu | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 6:00 IST

When Scream Queens premiered on Fox in September, it promised to introduce a "fresh brand of hell to college Greek life" with the ladies of Kappa Kappa Tau.

Five episodes later, that hell is very real. Particularly for viewers who may not fully grasp that the ridiculous, #overthetop nature of the show is meant to satirise and lampoon Greek societies in US colleges.

Even so, there are moments where you're left scratching your head wondering if the show is the most spot-on satire of political correctness or just the stupidest thing ever.

But can it not be both?

It can, and it totally is.

Mean girls meets Texas Chainsaw Massacre

For those who have no clue about the show, here's the basic idea: Scream Queens is set at Wallace College, at the Kappa Kappa Tau sorority house.

It begins with a flashback to 1995, when a Kappa died in a bathtub after giving birth because her sorority sisters wouldn't call an ambulance until they had danced to TLC's Waterfalls.

It then jumps to the present, where Kappa president Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts) ruthlessly dominates her minions, whose names she cannot be bothered to learn. She refers to them, instead, as Chanel No, 2 (Ariana Grande), Chanel No. 3 (Billie Lourd), and Chanel No. 5 (Abigail Breslin). There's still no clue about Chanel No 4.


Chanel is the quintessential, steroidal mean girl. She's racist, homophobic and an all-round nasty piece of work. In fact, calling her mean girl is understating it - this is a girl who'll burn your face off with a deep fryer.

But her character is the exact stuff Ryan Murphy's brilliance is made of - she is a Taylor Swift parody in that she embodies the crazed, power hungry underside of Swift's squeaky-clean facade.

Nothing could have made this clearer than episode 4 - 'Chanel-o-ween' - which torched Swift for hand-delivering gifts to her most adoring fans last Christmas.

Murphy took a real dig at Swift with a scene in which Chanel is preparing the presents and handwriting the cards, encouraging one 'frumpy spirit' fan to "post this on social media" for Chanel's gain.

In fact, if you want to learn Roberts' perfect bitch face from the show, here's an instructional video:

For those looking for a more standard heroine, the good girl all-too-ready to be corrupted, another Murphy favourite, is also on hand.

Grace Gardner (Skyler Samuels) is a bright-eyed innocent who wants to rush Chanel's sorority because her mother, who died when she was 2 (or so she thinks anyway), was also a Kappa.

Anyway, back to the plot. There's a mysterious killer on campus who dresses up as the school's mascot - the Red Devil. He isn't slow going about his gory business - five episodes down, the body count is already in double digits.

scream queens red devil

Image: Fox

Paying homage (spoilers ahead)

Those attuned to the horror genre are likely to notice that Scream Queens is a loving homage to slasher movies.

Not only does Murphy have the most legendary Scream Queen herself in his series - Jamie Lee Curtis - who is wonderful here as an anti-feminist yet feminist university dean (Dean Munsch), but he also has out-and-out callbacks to the creepy stalking of Michael Myers from the original Halloween film.

Nods to Silence of the Lambs and The Shining feature big in episode 5 as well. But additionally, Scream Queens pulls from The House On Sorority Row (1983), Prom Night (1980, also starring Curtis), Wes Craven's Scream series and at times is even an out-and-out parody of Scary Movie.

The scene where Ariana Grande's Chanel No. 2 is offed is a perfect example of that. Likewise with the death of Shondell, one of KKT's (Kappa Kappa Tau) inept security guards.

When the Red Devil attacks Chanel No. 2, rather than screaming for help, she tries to tweet an SOS after exchanging text messages with her killer.

"I'm going to kill you now," the murderer texts. Rather than run away, Ariana types back, "Wait whaaaat???!"


Don't get me wrong, it's all strange in a great, hilarious way.

Murphy's law

Much like Glee, where Ryan Murphy made sure there was a message to take away from nearly each episode - be it bullying or sexuality issues - the fourth episode has this gem: in a scene that started with a gaggle of KKT sisters eating cotton balls to stay thin, a painfully archetypal frat bro approaches the girls and asks which one he will be wearing as a Halloween costume this year.

Naturally, the Chanels are having none of this. Hester Ulrich (Lea Michele) delivers a swift blow to misogyny and his manhood, inciting an ass-whooping from the ruling elite of KKT.

Societal punches

In another scene, when Dean Munsch tells Chad Radwell (Glen Powell), Chanel's frat boyfriend who happens to be in love with the dean, to take a psychology course to find out who gave him "such disgusting mommy issues," Chad dumbly replies, "Well, it was probably my mom."

In fact, the dean continuously takes swipes at the stupidity of rich, white frat boys. Her mission seems to be to raze KKT to the ground and the scenes where she's facing Chanel are absolutely electrifying with hate.

And in case you were wondering why Chanel's own "gross rich" father couldn't post bail in episode 5, it's because he's backing Ted Cruz's presidential campaign and can't be seen sliding money to an alleged murderer. Naturally.

Which is why even if Scream Queens is not all-out brilliant, it is fumbling to be something better.

Murphy's show, full of snappy, mean dialogue, sharp references, frothy costumes, fluffy earmuffs and ugly hats, is also boundary-pushing television that recognises that all of us, regardless of race, sexuality, or gender identity, have the capacity to be catty, jealous, cruel, selfish, desperate and insecure.

And week after week, we'll keep returning for both the brilliant and the stupid bits.

Oh and of course, quizzes like Are You More Like Chanel Or Hester On Scream Queens? already exist. Thanks Buzzfeed.

First published: 17 October 2015, 4:42 IST
Aleesha Matharu @almatharu

Born in Bihar, raised in Delhi and schooled in Dehradun, Aleesha writes on a range of subjects and worked at The Indian Express before joining Catch as a sub-editor. When not at work you can find her glued to the TV, trying to clear a backlog of shows, or reading her Kindle. Raised on a diet of rock 'n' roll, she's hit occasionally by wanderlust. After an eight-year stint at Welham Girls' School, Delhi University turned out to be an exercise in youthful rebellion before she finally trudged her way to J-school and got the best all-round student award. Now she takes each day as it comes, but isn't an eternal optimist.