Dramatic tension: ‘Scream Queens’ and ‘Minority Report’ bring highs and lows to Fox’s fall lineup

scream-queens-trailerBy JIM SABATASO

Fox’s Scream Queens and Minority Report represent two very different approaches to TV drama this season. The former is a shiny, ambitious original series by a talented creative team. The later is a dull, largely superfluous sequel to a mediocre film from more than a decade ago.

The bubblegum-slasher Scream Queens, is the latest from Ryan Murphy, and feels like a cross between the creator’s two previous hit series, Glee and American Horror Story, with all their attendant highs and lows.

Set in a college sorority house, the show stars Murphy regular Emma Roberts as Chanel Oberlin, Kappa Kappa Tau president and next-level mean girl. Roberts is a fierce but fragile force of nature as she attempts to preserve the reputation and status quo of her house in the face of a series of grisly murders and the threat of charter revocation by hard-ass dean Cathy Munsch, played by Jamie Lee Curtis.

Both Curtis and Roberts throw themselves into the material, which is really the only thing you can do on a Murphy series, which often teeter on the cusp of ridiculousness often falling over the. It’s a brand of camp immediately recognizable to fans of Glee and AHS.

Scream Queens is no different. Everything here is dialed up to 11, and the knob is ripped clean off. The cast is sexy. The plot is loopy. The gore is gruesome — surprisingly so for network television. All this adds up to a gorgeous show with meticulous sets and costumes, and beautifully composed shots.

It’s also frequently funny. Murder scenes contain a tinge of humor amid the violence. The dialogue, while often over the top, is also smart, clever, and expectedly bitchy.

Scream Queens is, honestly, not my bag. I enjoy AHS well enough — beautiful train wreck that it is — but this show falls a bit too close to the Glee end of the spectrum to keep me watching. That said, Murphy and Fox deserve credit for putting such a unique and fun show out there amid a season of uninteresting retreads, reboots, and sequels.

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Minority Report happens to be one such uninteresting retread. The series is based on the 2002 Tom Cruise film, which itself was based on the 1952 short story by Philip K. Dick. Picking up 11 years after the events of the film, we see how society has faired since the government dismantled its controversial pre-crime unit, which utilized three siblings with precognitive abilities to stop crimes before they happened.

Now liberated, the precogs live a life of seclusion and anonymity. Precog Dash (Stark Sands), however, can’t seem to ignore his visions. Compelled by a need to help, he eventually connects with Washington D.C., detective Lara Vega (Meagan Good).

Dash’s siblings fear their brother’s exploits will put them back in government service (read: captivity). In fact, they’ve had a vision that predicts as much. It’s a classic superhero dilemma: if you have the power to save the world, is it ethical to do nothing?

While the film proved what an ethical mess pre-crime was, the series seems to want it both ways, overwriting that lesson while trotting out the moral ambiguity as dramatically needed. Both Dash and Vega share a sincere desire to save lives, but the convenient eliding of the ethical implications overshadowed this motivation for me. Perhaps the show will unpack all this as it progresses.

In one scene that set me groaning, Vega laments the job of being a homicide detective because of all the detecting it requires, uttering something like, “Man, this job was easier when we arrested people before they committed the crime.”

Aesthetically, the show exists in a version of the future, which, at this point, is overly familiar — all shiny and modern with dark, gritty corners full of generic bad guys. A fake-looking backdrop of a far off skyline intended to be D.C. (or maybe Baltimore?) looked like an alien world designed by Jack Kirby, and felt out of sync with the foreground world inhabited by the show’s characters.

Watching Minority Report, I kept thinking of Almost Human, another Fox police procedural set in the not-too-distant future. While far from perfect, that short-lived series, about a cop and his android partner, felt fresh, fun, and playful in a way this show does not.

Minority Report, mostly phones it in, as if showrunners Kevin Falls and Max Borenstein expected viewers to be interested based solely on the source material. The show’s main premise has potential, and with time this could be a heady, paranoid and ethically complex thriller. However, as it stands now, it’s just more bland filler in a similarly unimpressive season of network TV.

CHECK IT OUT: Scream Queens airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on Fox. Minority Report airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on Fox. Catch up on episodes of both on Hulu.

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