Ryan Murphy’s latest series, Scream Queens, premieres tonight and many Murphy fans are no doubt wondering if it will have any similarities to his past shows. By the looks of the trailer, a lot of the usual Murphy suspects are present: Emma Roberts playing someone horrible; pretty people having to deal with not-so-pretty people; young, mean girls; and blood spattering all over the place. But will Scream Queens have enough Murphy-isms to please fans of both Glee and American Horror Story?
Murphy’s shows are known for dark humor that often pushes the envelope and touches on extremely sensitive subjects, but what are the real themes that tie these shows together? And does Scream Queens have the potential to be the perfect hybrid — or bastard child — of Glee and American Horror Story?
Misfits Who Own Themselves
Glee, first and foremost, was all about teenagers and adults who were keenly aware that they were all different. It makes sense to make a show about people like this because who would be interested in a show about boring people? (Answer: boring people.) The characters on Glee all struggled not only with accepting their flaws, but finding a way to live in a world where people might not accept them. Rachel was ambitious with the talent to back it up. Kurt was gay and just trying to make it through the day in his own skin. Will Schuester had dreams beyond his hometown but was still enormously faithful to it. American Horror Story did an entire season, subtitled Freak Show, about the ultimate misfits, but every season has been about the misunderstood. The ghosts of victims haunting the Murder House might have scared the daylights out of people, but they really just wanted to be heard, right? On Glee, characters made themselves noticed through music. On American Horror Story, they tried to restore balance through blood and screams. Scream Queens concerns a bunch of misfits that are being let into an exclusive sorority with a bloody reputation. What are they going to have to do to make themselves heard?
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
The humor on Ryan Murphy’s shows gets into some seriously risqué territory. On a show like Glee, it can seem especially dark. While Terri Schuester fakes her pregnancy, her sister makes a joke about going “Susan Smith” on her own kids, referring to a woman who tried to cover up the murder of her own children. And while she might have the generational excuse on her side, Constance Langdon’s jokes about her daughter with Down Syndrome definitely wouldn’t pass any test of political correctness. Glee definitely doesn’t cover the same morbid territory of American Horror Story, but it really wouldn’t be a Ryan Murphy show without a heavy dose of gallows humor. (See: the very last Beetlejuice-inspired scene of Murder House.) Scream Queens has already suggested that it’s going to be one sick show.
Pregnancy is undeniably scary, especially when you’re a woman faced with the prospect of going through it yourself. Murphy plays on those fears in the first seasons of Glee and American Horror Story. While the terror isn’t quite as visceral in Glee, there is real fear: Does becoming a teen parent doom you to life as a “Lima Loser,” dashing any hope of leaving a small-town existence? And if you’re a grown woman who isn’t really pregnant, do you lose all the creature comforts of a devoted husband who acts like he wants to leave? Then there’s the American Horror Story pregnancy in Murder House, to say nothing of the resurrected Frankenstein’s monster baby from the first family who lived there and kicked off the whole century-long murder spree. There is so much uncertainty when it comes to pregnancy and babies, and Murphy understand the creepiest ways to tap into it, either realistically or fantastically. A house full of young women in Scream Queens? One of them is bound to end up pregnant if they’re on a Ryan Murphy show. But that said…
Don’t F*ck With the Women
Especially if Jessica Lange is in the house. Can you even imagine what would happen if any of Jessica Lange’s American Horror Story characters crossed paths with Glee‘s Sue Sylvester? And if Taissa Farmiga had found herself suddenly transferred to McKinley High, she’d be out of place, but exactly in her element in a Murphy show. Popular girls also get cut down a bit before being turned inside out and forced to face their flaws and insecurities. Quinn Fabray seemed to have a blessed life before she got pregnant after cheating on Finn. Then she was plunged into what must be a teenager’s worst nightmare — disowned by her parents while still straddling childhood and adulthood, her reputation at school tarnished irreparably. She even became paralyzed after being hit by a car a few seasons later. But she always came back, and she was better for it. Sarah Paulson’s character in Coven turned out to be stronger than she could ever imagine. Murphy trusts his female characters to have the strength to be themselves. And now, he’s got a whole cast of them.
A high school, a new house, a reporter seeking out a story in AHS: Asylum… and that’s about where the “ordinary” part ends, but Murphy characters and settings have a great way of presenting themselves as completely pedestrian on the outside before exposing how f*cked up they are on the inside. It’s a general rule of storytelling that the most interesting things are not always as they appear. That’s something good to keep in mind when watching Scream Queens. The most straight-laced character might be the most important one to watch.
Pop Culture References Galore
One of the most appealing aspects of Murphy’s shows is that his characters sound like they belong in our universe. They’re watching the same shows, they know the same stories, they’re browsing the same internet. Sometimes, the celebrities they’re talking about show up, like Josh Groban or Stevie Nicks. The pop culture jokes they tell often come at the oddest times, especially on American Horror Story, but peppered throughout the dialogue, those jokes bring some much-needed lightness to shows that go deep into very heavy territory. But mostly, it turns a normal TV show into something a little more aware and maybe even a little smarter than the average show. It will be cool to see who shows up on Scream Queens, even though the reigning Queen, Jamie Lee Curtis, is already part of the cast.
The most uniting emotion on a Ryan Murphy show is sadness. The characters on Glee were sad most of the time, either about something acute or something they’ve been dealing with for a long time. On Glee, characters had the outlet of musical numbers where they could fully express what they were feeling with borrowed words. And surrounded by death and judgment, the characters on American Horror Story were chronically sad. The ghosts in Murder House, the Harmons, were all grieving and taking desperate measures to regain what they’d lost as if they had some sort of control over other people. Even some of the most horrendous characters on Glee were just sad people. Terri was a fearful, insecure woman and she projected all of that onto other people and made herself a villain. Every member of that Glee club in the first season was sad before they found each other, including Mr. Schue. Then they started losing each other to either graduation or death, and it was clear that sadness took up a permanent residence on the show. Sadness lets an audience see how vulnerable a character can be when they’d rather hide. Ryan Murphy won’t let a sad character hide — so, who will try to hide on Scream Queens? They won’t be hidden for long.
Scream Queens premieres tonight on Fox at 8/7 Central.