We’ve been here before: A girl home alone at night; a killer taunting her by phone; a twistedly gory denouement. The new MTV series Scream doesn’t even try to distance itself from its iconic predecessor — director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson’s 1996 horror movie of the same name — which stood out from the slasher film pack because its young, alternately nubile and nerdy cast of potential victims were hip to slasher film mechanics. They knew the genre they were trapped in and acted accordingly, which still didn’t up their chances of survival.
Drew Barrymore’s ill-fated Casey has been replaced here by Nina Patterson (Bella Thorne), one of the architects of a vengeful viral video targeted at rebellious outcast Audrey Jensen (Bex Taylor-Klaus). While images of Audrey making out with another young woman are drawing Twitter and Facebook OMGs, rich-bitch Nina is basking in the glow of her prank with a late-night Jacuzzi dip. Then the texts start flooding in — seemingly from a guy who wants to climb in beside her and put the “hot” in “hot tub.” But then the guy’s severed head comes flying through the air, and it isn’t long before Nina finds herself on the wrong end of a blade wielded by the Scream series’ ubiquitous ghostface killer. (His/her mask has been redesigned to resemble a dead-eyed porcelain doll.)
View more: MTV’s ‘Scream’: Watch the First 8 Minutes
So the mystery begins, but how does one stretch the tale of a knife-brandishing maniac over ten episodes (of which only the pilot was made available for review)? Resident film and TV nerd Noah Foster (John Karna) — basically the show’s Jamie Kennedy — ponders that very question over two scenes of the premiere, noting the rise of pop and cult series like American Horror Story and Hannibal before ultimately articulating the show’s mission statement: “You need to forget it’s a horror story … that someone might die at every turn.”
And what Scream gives its audience after that brutal first kill is exactly that: a sheepish teen soap in wolf’s clothing. There’s a Sidney Prescott-like heroine, Emma Duval (Willa Fitzgerald), who isn’t as innocent as she initially seems, and whose mother, Margaret (Tracy Middendorf), is hiding a dark secret. There’s the new guy in town, the ridiculously good-looking Kieran Wilcox (Amadeus Serafini), who despite his own shady past, seduces Emma away from her cheating boyfriend Will Belmont (Connor Weil). And there’s catty mean girl Brooke Maddox (Carlson Young), who seems set to go the way of the first Scream’s Rose McGowan (death in garage), until being granted a reprieve … for now.
At least in the pilot, this Scream seems set on calling back to its ’90s source and then ever-so-slightly tweaking expectation. Yet it never plays as anything more than copycat cleverness. (The scariest occurrence in the first episode is Nina’s lightning-speed texting ability.) If the series is going to continue as a high school drama that every so often is interrupted by a literal stab to the gut, then the stories need to be much more compelling and the performers much less central casting bland.