In many ways, Scream set itself an impossible task in trying to replicate the self-referential winkiness of its predecessor, given that audiences are more fluent in pop-cultural references these days than ever, and horror specifically is a genre that’s constantly adapting and manipulating other works in an effort to stay fresh. It was certainly buoyed by its connection to Craven, an executive producer who had little involvement in the show, and whose recent death has prompted multiple reflections on his uncanny ability to constantly reinvent horror. In that sense, Scream the show failed to offer any new insight into what’s changed in slasher stories over the past 20 years—its conclusion: not much—even if it was nevertheless pretty fun to watch.
If you could get over the smugness of the premise—and accept the dearth of diversity and improbable levels of attractiveness among the main characters—the soap-opera feel, gross-out deaths, and measured campiness made it work. In many ways, Scream was more enjoyable and cohesive than the second season of True Detective (an opinion that gained surprising traction on Twitter during TV’s summer doldrums) as well as the latest season of American Horror Story.
The show had some clunkier moments, mostly in its attempts to point to how much technology’s been updated since the original: There’s something weirdly un-threatening and un-cinematic about bargaining with a killer via text message. But on a more positive note, it attempted to follow through on how technology can turn people into predators and victims. Some girls were cyber-bullied and slut-shamed after videos of secretly filmed intimate encounters went viral (usually in the form of everyone at a single high school getting a text of the video at the exact same time). And in another modern touch, Emma agonized over the ethics of outing someone without their permission after a video of her bisexual friend kissing a girl went viral.
Like its predecessor, Scream was replete with nods to horror forebears (Saw, Halloween, The Faculty, and The Castle of Otranto) as well as contemporaries (Hannibal, American Horror Story, The Walking Dead). And it also constantly tried to spell out its relevance to viewers by liberally name-checking current pop-culture references: Daenerys Targaryen, Etsy, The Babadook, hybrid cars, Taco Tuesday, texting and driving PSAs, and Taylor Swift as a verb. (As in: “Maybe Audrey will Taylor Swift her anger into creative energy.”) But at times, the referentiality felt less like a tribute and more like a crutch. The curated, seen-it-all-before teenage hipness was perhaps the defining attitude of the show, but it also served to preempt any criticism for unoriginality (think of all the sequels, good and bad, that use self-awareness in this way too).