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Scream - Pilot - Review

“Hello.” – Casey Becker, “Scream”

The first film in the “Scream” franchise opened with the rings of a corded home telephone. Nearly nineteen years later, MTV’s television series take begins with the bleeps and bloops of a video being uploaded to the Internet.

It’s of two teenage girls kissing, one of whom is Audrey (Bex Taylor-Klaus, “Arrow”), already an outsider at George Washington High School. And in a sequence that reminded me of this year’s “Unfriended” (which was actually a fun little horror flick), to Audrey’s shock, the clip of the same-sex makeout session quickly spreads across social media.

Guilty of its wide release is mean girl Nina (Bella Thorne, “Shake It Up”), who brags to her ex-boyfriend Tyler (Max Lloyd-Jones, “iZombie”) that it’s a time-honored tradition of the high school food chain to prey on the weak. A comeuppance for Nina comes quicker than for most as she’s shortly thereafter stalked over Snapchat and texts, terrorized with a severed head, and then has her throat slit. It’s a clear homage to the iconic opening scene of the show’s cinematic big brother, in ways both big and small (I liked that the boyfriend bit it first, a la poor Steven Orth). The modern updates worked – I wondered why Nina wouldn’t use her cell phone to call for help and thus chuckled when she was foiled by wet fingers and spotty Siri – and Thorne, though no Barrymore, was serviceable as the starting victim.

Worth noting – Tyler is later named the prime suspect in Nina’s death, which means nuGhostface (and for what’s it worth, the glimpse of the mask we get after Nina’s tossed in the pool is the best the mask’s looked thus far, in any clip or picture) purposely fished his head out of the hot tub. Also, was I the only one fearful that Nina’s prominently featured pooch might get filleted?

So, Audrey aside, who might have wanted Nina dead? Well, the boyfriend of the good girl protagonist is always a good place to start. Emma (Willa Fitzgerald, “Royal Pains”) catches her basketball player beau Will (Connor Weil, “Sharknado”) in a lie about where he was the night Nina was killed and later learns that he slept with the deceased while they were on a break. Will and his buddy Jake (Tom Maden, “Parenthood”) are also up to something shady involving pervy spy videos (we see Jake watching one of Nina on what appears to be a different day than her death). Bit of a Billy and Stu vibe there?

You also can’t rule out Noah (John Karna, “Premature”). Not only does he have a Randy Meeks-ian love of slasher movies, he also has a self-described fetish for true crime (“Some guys like sports, I like serial killers”) and he hated the way Nina treated his BFF Audrey. Plus, the episode ends on a weird shot of him sporting a strange smear of blood.

Or it could be Brandon James. Who? Why, the town of Lakewood’s very own boogeyman! Brandon’s backstory is a pastiche of horror villain origin stories – he suffered from facial deformities, was isolated and neglected by his ashamed parents, was bullied by his peers, and finally snapped after being rejected by the virginal blonde beauty he had become obsessed with. He killed a handful of teens and knifed several others (including Emma’s MIA dad) before being shot by the police, his body disappearing into the lake. I’m into the idea of this dark past haunting the present, as long as nothing actually supernatural is going on. Brandon James somehow surviving (mention was made of a doting older brother) would be okay, him simply inspiring the current bloodshed would be even better. But the “Scream” movies always put a real person with a motive behind the mask, not a reanimated monster.

I also thought the Brandon James mythology was a smart way to tie the adults closer to the carnage. Not only does being the coroner allow her to be an active part of the investigation, but Emma’s mom Maggie (Tracy Middendorf, “New Nightmare”) is also “Daisy,” the girl that Brandon James was obsessed with. And she’s horrified when a bloody gift on her doorstep hints that history might be repeating itself with Emma. The “sins” of her mother were constantly coming back on Sidney so I liked seeing that echoed here.

Some other scattered thoughts about the premiere: the two fake out jump scares during the teen party setpiece – blonde bitch Brooke (Carlson Young, “True Blood”) get spooked in a garage like her spiritual ancestor Tatum while Noah takes a dip in the lake as part of a prank – were fine, but I’m wary of the show overusing them if there’s not a death every week.

Seemingly the killer’s main targets (outside of Nina’s big moment, we see nuGhostface spying on Audrey and Emma gets a classic creepy call from a voice that’s reminiscent of but isn’t Roger L. Jackson’s), I’m interested to see Emma and Audrey fix and depend on their fractured friendship. Fitzgerald and Taylor-Klaus are solid, likeable leads.

What I have absolutely no interest in is Brooke’s affair with Seth Branson (Bobby Campo, “The Final Destination”), the school’s English teacher, who looks about a year older than his students. I get the writers not being able to resist having this type of character as a red herring/suspect, but it’s a trope that's been done to death on teen dramas. And I also hope Riley (Brianne Tju, “Make It or Break It”) develops a personality outside of putting quarters in Noah’s meta monologue machine.

So what did you think of “Scream”’s pilot episode? Did it scare you off or will you brave another week? And who’s at the top of your suspects list? Sound off in the comments section.