‘Scream’ Season 3 slices cleaner

Tony Todd in Scream

“Our life is made by the death of others.” – Leonardo da Vinci

A property going from movies to television can be a real crapshoot. Sometimes you might get a M*A*S*H or Buffy, but quite often it’s a real dud. Whatever middle ground there is between the two would be where the Scream show lies.

Season 1 was predictable at times (if the actor is credited as a guest star and not part of the main cast, it’s a safe bet they’re a goner) and what happened in-between the pilot and finale was not very memorable. The motive in the end worked for the central character, but did not explain why some of the first few characters to die were targeted. Season 2 was much more forgettable, as was the Halloween special.

The long-delayed Season 3 is an improvement on both (an odd reversal of the Scream films, where the third is seen as the weakest). Leaving Emma, Audrey, and the rest behind to focus on a new crop of teen stereotypes at the mercy of a sadistic killer (or more?), the episodes here are tighter and leave more of an impression. Still not on the same level as the movies of Wes Craven (who is credited as an executive producer, despite having passed away several years ago), but a step forward nonetheless.

Deion Elliot (R.J. Cyler) is starting senior year of high school and things are looking bright. His prime spot on the football team gives him a good chance of being given a scholarship. But he is hiding a pretty damning secret: as a child one Halloween night, he and his twin brother (Jaden Robinson, also playing past Deion) were fooling around on the property of Hook Man (Tony Todd) when he ran off scared and left the other to die.

Somehow, someone is aware of this. Phone calls start to come in to Deion demanding that he come clean, or else. Moreover, the students he shared a detention session with are also targeted. They’ll need to put aside their contrived differences to stay alive.

While the Ghostface costume is finally back – complete with Roger L. Jackson as the voice on the other end of the phone – this story seems to take place in a world where the movies never happened. If it did, the characters would recognize the costume from the Stab films and news stories about the events. One character continually refers to their situation as a “reboot” scenario, but this makes no sense when nobody has any knowledge of the Sidney saga. A re-anything needs to have something to refer back to.

Which brings us to a big issue from the previous seasons that is here yet again: the self-referentialness doesn’t sync up. The film characters discussing their plight like a horror movie worked because the product itself was in the form of a movie. This, however, is a television show, and thus should be going off of TV rules. Moreover, the types of shows they should be following – law enforcement procedurals (Law & Order, CSI), serial killer dramas (Criminal Minds, You), and dark teen mysteries (Riverdale, Pretty Little Liars) – are never brought up. If these characters realized that this was their lot, they could work to build a profile and identify the unsub(s?).

But to its credit, having just six episodes this time around does wonders for the show. It could probably have been streamlined just a little further, but there’s much less filler (and thus unmemorable) content and more momentum to its flow. Kills are properly vicious and gruesome, stretching the limits of what one might expect to see on basic cable before 10 PM. The story’s turns and reveals, while one or two can be predicted somewhat, are much more satisfying and pay off better. It will stay with the viewer longer than anything from the previous seasons combined.

Another strong point in Season 3’s favor is the cast. The first two seasons gave us a good grouping of interesting young character actors and this one continues that streak. Cyler, Keke Palmer, Jessica Sula, Giorgia Whigham, Tyga, C.J. Wallace, Tyler Posey, and even Paris Jackson are here. The central group has a more interesting dynamic than most, often pairing characters that work well together. Those in the core cast perform sublimely in elevating their characters above the stock types they’d otherwise fall into. Todd is a such a compelling presence and natural fit for the franchise that it boggles the mind why they never reached out to him before. Plus, the one and only Mary J. Blige is on hand as Mrs. Elliot.

The likelihood of this is up in the air (much more so than it was the last time a renewal was in question), but Scream really should continue on into a fourth season. It should, however, perhaps follow the example set here and focus on a new setting and characters with a slim episode count. But if this really does turn out to be the end for this show, it was a decent enough run all things considered, and this season was a good note to go out on.

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