Fox’s imperfect but fun horror spoof ‘Scream Queens’ has returned for a second season of skewering genre conventions. Even though the setting and horror theme have changed, it turns out that the show is not exactly an anthology like creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s ‘American Horror Story’. Many of last season’s characters are back and as delightfully despicable as ever.
The show (the premiere episode, at least) has actually made one significant improvement by dumping former lead character Grace (Skyler Samuels). This is almost certainly a good thing. She was quite bland and annoying.
The setting has moved out of a college and into a hospital. We start with a flashback to 1985, during a Halloween party for the doctors and staff. For a moment, this seems to be a reprise of the first season’s pilot episode. Everyone is very drunk and acting very stupid. The most irresponsible and degenerate doctor is called away from the party by a pregnant woman whose husband is having an appendicitis attack. Dr. Mike (Jerry O’Connell) would just as soon leave the guy for someone else to take care of in the morning, but the wife begs him to save her dying husband. Dr. Mike assures her that he’ll do everything he can, and then promptly wheels the man out the back door and dumps his body in a festering, toxic swamp. He’ll just pretend that the surgery was a success and the patient checked himself out. In the meantime, there’s a party to get back to!
Cut to the present day. Former college dean Cathy Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis) is a very famous and very wealthy feminist icon. After receiving a bullshit honorary doctorate in Women’s Studies or something, she now fancies herself an actual medical doctor. She used a portion of her fortune to buy the old swamp hospital and remodel it into a clinic called the C.U.R.E. Institute. Motto: “Where the Incurable Are Cured.”
The top physicians on Munsch’s staff are shallow playboy Dr. Brock Holt (John Stamos) and younger eye candy Dr. Cassidy Cascade (Taylor Lautner, who’s actually pretty good at comedy). Holt had a hand transplant after losing his original hand in a freak Super Bowl party accident, and doesn’t seem to have full control over the new one. Cascade is cold-blooded (literally – he has a disturbingly low body temperature).
At the end of last season, sociopathic rich bitch Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts) and her underlings Chanel #3 (Billie Lourd) and Chanel #5 (Abigail Breslin) were convicted of the Red Devil murders and institutionalized in an insane asylum. In the meantime, a popular Netflix documentary about them uncovered that wackadoo Hester (Lea Michele, making a very brief cameo) was the real killer. The Chanels were exonerated and released, but their reprehensible behavior has left them three of the most hated women in America. Because their families disowned them, they’re also poor and miserable and are forced to get… gasp!… jobs. All three wind up in positions vaguely related to the medical profession: Chanel as a dental hygienist, Chanel #3 as a hospital janitor, and Chanel #5 as a veterinary assistant.
Taking over as the season’s only sympathetic protagonist is Zayday (Keke Palmer), who has buckled down since leaving college and is working hard to put herself through medical school. For reasons unclear, Dr. Dean Munsch recruits her to work at the clinic and offers to pay her full tuition.
Even less clear is why Munsch would next go and recruit the three Chanels. When asked about this, all she can say is, “Let’s call it redemption.” She also later intimates to the stern head nurse (Kirstie Alley) that she has secret plans for these girls.
The clinic’s first patient is a woman (Cecily Strong from ‘SNL’) suffering “Werewolf Syndrome,” a condition that causes her entire body to be covered in hair. She just wants to look normal. The syndrome has no known cure, but Zayday promises to get her fixed in a week. When doctors Holt and Cascade have no clue how to do that, Zayday hits the books and proposes that they drill a hole in her head to remove the portion of her brain that controls hair growth, which would effectively lobotomize her. This doesn’t sound like a good idea, but nobody has any better ones.
Chanel, who had no previous interest in ever becoming a doctor, believes she can rehabilitate her public image, and get super rich and famous in the process, if she can land a gig as a TV doctor. How hard could that be if Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz can do it? To set this new career path in motion, she decides that she needs to find a cure for the werewolf girl before Zayday does. Her only obstacle to this is the unfortunate fact that she’s a total airhead who knows nothing at all about medicine or human beings. That being the case, she’ll have to ingratiate herself into working with hunky Dr. Holt. And hey, if they happen to knock boots as a consequence of being such close work partners, that wouldn’t be so bad either.
Remarkably, Chanel says something to Holt that gives him the idea to switch Werewolf Girl to an all-soy diet and pump her full of estrogen to slow the hair growth. This sounds much more appealing to the patient than drilling into her head. Chanel lords it over Zayday that she found the cure first.
Somehow, it works… a little too well. Werewolf Girl loses all of her hair and is pretty upset about it. Not to worry, the Chanels know exactly what to do. Cue a makeover montage!
Werewolf Girl is ecstatic. With a wig, some makeup and fake eyelashes, she looks like a normal human – a solid New Jersey 6. For the final stage of her treatment, Chanel #5 brings her down to the hospital basement for “hydro therapy” and locks her into a hot water booth with only her head sticking out. Stupidly, Chanel #5 likewise locks herself into the next booth, but assures the patient not to worry because an orderly will come get them in an hour.
Sadly, they don’t have that long. A slimy, machete-wielding Swamp Thing monster wearing Dr. Mike’s discarded Halloween costume from the 1985 party finds them and beheads Werewolf Girl right in front on the helpless Chanel #5.
A show like this is of course completely divorced from reality. Nothing about this is in any way plausible, so we can hand-wave away the absurdity of Zayday and the Chanels working as doctors with next-to-no training or experience. If it’s somehow possible, the show seems to be even more cartoonish and over-the-top this year – perhaps too much so. For as goofy as it was, the first season still had something resembling stakes for a couple of the characters. That’s not the case here.
I’m also not clear on what the mystery this season is even supposed to be. Is the Swamp Thing killer not the guy from the flashback scene?
Regardless, ‘Scream Queens’ is still a lot of fun, and I’m on board to watch the rest of the season.