Review

MTV's 'Scream' feels like a retro take on the film franchise

Robert Lloyd
Contact ReporterLos Angeles Times Television Critic

"Scream," the metafictional slasher-movie franchise, has made its way to television, where it premieres as a series Tuesday on MTV. If you're going to make a TV show about murdering teenagers, that does somehow seem the likely place.

Kevin Williamson, who wrote the original (and most of the three sequels), is not involved with the small-screen version, though it owes everything to his voice and original bright idea: to reinvigorate the genre by shining a light on its tropes and limitations in order to guiltlessly employ them all. (For my money, Williamson's own related series, "The Following" and "Stalker," both since canceled, took out of the genre whatever joy "Scream" had returned to it.) If that prophylactic self-awareness is really the only thing that separates "Scream" from less clever horror stories, it is plenty scary nonetheless: Suspense is, after all, a matter of knowing what's coming, just not when.

The pilot – which begins with an updated homage to the original "Scream," the only movie whose name it cannot drop — has an expensive, cinematic look and sound, achieved not merely by putting all the characters in fancy houses. (Real estate may be cheaper in murder-plagued Woodsboro.)

Its fealty to the original, given the graphic extremes to which horror films now run, provides it with an air that might be called old-fashioned, even restrained. It is, after all, the product of a 20-year-old franchise that itself was a play on a genre already nearly two decades old: 2018 will be the 40th anniversary of John Carpenter's "Halloween."

The casting is all perfectly on point — you know who these characters are even before they start talking (and some of them you will want to murder yourself): the smart, good girl; her dumb-jock boyfriend; the dumb jock's dumber friend; the sensitive arty outsider; the extraordinarily beautiful mysterious new kid in town; the self-described "genius IQ outcast with the serial-killer fetish." Indeed, if you can't recognize them, the script will point it out to you — that is the game, after all.

And so we have a scene in which a teacher, whose youth and good looks tell us that he will be sexually involved with a student, discusses gothic literature and name-checks "American Horror Story," "Bates Motel," "Hannibal," and "The Walking Dead" — a scene, indeed that, after name-checking "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Halloween," goes on to explain why you can't make a slasher film into a television show.

They are here to tell you that you can. Whether you should is a separate question that viewers will answer for themselves.

For younger viewers just discovering irony and metafiction and possibly not acquainted with the screen originals, which have done them to death, this may seem fresh and fun. (Perhaps the series will get around to commenting on its own lack of diversity, a single Asian character notwithstanding.)

I will not be sticking around, as a matter of taste; but I will not be standing in your way.

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'Scream'

Where: MTV

When: 10 p.m. Tuesday

Rating: TV-14-V (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with an advisory for violence)

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