The TV version of “Scream” has so much fun gutting its origin story for inspiration, it almost forgets to be scary.
The 10-episode series, which begins Tuesday night on MTV, is a reboot of Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson’s gory-meets-funny horror film franchise, four movies that twisted themselves into mostly delightful knots of self-referential storytelling.
In “Scream 4,” right before the masked killers came out to play one last time in the quaint town of Woodsboro, local high-schooler Rachel (Anna Paquin) explained how “Scream” stories work.
“A bunch of articulate teens sit around and deconstruct horror movies as Ghostface kills them one by one. It’s been done to death.”
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Rachel got stabbed in the stomach right after that little rant, but it sounds like she wouldn’t have enjoyed the comfortable familiarity of this small-screen “Scream.” Nobody’s re-inventing the wheel here: The intrigue among the town’s parents is straight out of “Halloween: H2O,” and the articulate teens are, in fact, getting picked off by a guy in a ghostly white mask who’s really good at using a smartphone.
The first episode is a Through the Looking Glass homage to the first film, with all-new teens in an all-new town. Sidney Prescott, the scrappy movie heroine portrayed by Neve Campbell, is nowhere to be found in this new “Scream” world.
The closest we get to Sidney is Emma (Willa Fitzgerald), who has perfect skin and a touching relationship with her secret-keeping single mom (Tracy Middendorf).
Emma also has some semblance of morals; her pack of friends … not so much.
Emma is dating affable jock Will (Connor Weil), until she finds out he’s more phony than faithful. Will’s sidekick Jake (Tom Maden) mourns the murder of a pretty classmate by saying, “She kinda always was just a body. But top shelf, all the way.”
Nina (Bella Thorne) and Brooke (Carlson Young) are competing to see who’s better at Twitter bullying. The target of their pranks, Audrey (Bex Taylor-Klaus), used to hang out with Emma before the politics of high school separated them. Now things are awkward.
Luckily for Emma, there’s a new guy in town. Kieran (Amadeus Serafini) is smart, handsome and polite, which should put him at the top of everyone’s suspect list immediately. His father is the sheriff who’s dating Emma’s mother, so that’s awkward, too.
Watch the original 1996 movie before you see MTV’s “Scream,” and you’ll notice the lovingly crafted parallel scenes as these fresh-faced kids gossip about the gory details of their classmate’s murder, wait for their turn with the school’s grief counselor, throw an ill-advised house party and constantly wander off alone in the dark.
And just like “Scream” on the big screen, the pop culture references to the horror genre are relentless. The first hour drops hints of Michael Myers, Jason Vorhees, Freddy Krueger, Jack the Ripper and the Phantom of the Opera, but these kids don’t sit around dissecting movies in English class. They’re talking about “The Walking Dead” and “American Horror Story” — and how the Gothic genre is taking over their DVRs.
“You can’t do a slasher movie as a TV series. Think about it,” says Noah (John Karna), the serial killer-obsessed nerd of the group.
The dialogue is practically a dare. If these teens weren’t already drowning in their hot tubs, they’d suffocate from all the self-referential irony. The first hour of “Scream” is an efficient fright-delivery system wrapped inside a teen drama, but it’s meta-commentary that makes it worthwhile. That, and the pilot’s promise to spread out its jump scares more slowly and deliberately.
“Slasher movies burn bright and fast,” as the ever-helpful Noah points out. “TV needs to stretch things out.”
WHERE TO WATCH
“Scream: The TV Series” premieres at 9 p.m. Tuesday on MTV.