Scary Summer Series Scorecard (Part One)

The summer season is quickly becoming my favourite TV season. This summer saw the return of my three favourite comedies from last summer (Difficult People, Another Period and Barely Famous) as well as a handful of series that set out to prove that summertime can also be scarytime. Let’s go in for a closer look, shall we?

SCREAM: The Series – Season 2 (MTV/Netflix)

screamS2_01

After a shaky first season, I was mildly surprised that SCREAM got the go-ahead for a second season. With an uneven go at being a slasher-movie-as-episodic-television I was intrigued to see how it would handle doing a slasher-sequel-as-episodic television. On the up side, I was glad to see that the acting and writing had both improved. On the down side, I was dismayed to see it stumble over the same problems it had in the first season: a low body count, how to plausibly have all the main players remain in an isolated location for several days while a killer is not only stalking them, but offing everyone around them  (a problem that also plagued both Scream Queens and Slasher earlier this year) and a killer whose whole plan would be shot to hell if those goddamn teens would just stop answering their phones whenever it says “UNKNOWN CALLER”.

Usually horror sequels are supposed to give us more of everything: more deaths, more danger, more suspects, etc. Well, SCREAM season 2 definitely served up more suspects, adding three new suspicious students to the six who survived season 1 (SIX! No “final girl” here, instead we got a “final sextet”) as well as a bevy of new suspicious adults to cast suspicious looks and do suspicious things. Yet, with all the new bodies, season two proved to be very skimpy on making any of them new corpses. Instead, it chose to pad it bigger season order (12 episodes to last season’s 10) with plodding side storylines and even LESS kills than season one. It never felt like the stakes were really high this time around, especially when the killer spent more episodes blackmailing one of the characters instead of actually trying to y’know, KILL them.

But, much like season one greatly improved in the final stretch, so did season two, and the final reveal of the killer was pretty darn great. It’s just too bad that it took forever to get there and that *SPOILER* only 1 of the original surviving six got knocked off in the process (like I said, low stakes). But the most scary thing about season 2? Wes Craven, director of the SCREAM film series, retained his executive producer credit on SCREAM the series, even though he passed away well before the second season even began filming.

But then again, Wes Craven executive producing from beyond the grave seems just about right to me.

SCORE – 2.5 imitation ghostface masks out of 5

 

dead02Dead of Summer (Freeform)

Hoo-boy, this one. I can only imagine what the pitch meeting was like: “Okay, it’s like those 80s summer camp/coming of age movies – hey we’ll even set it in the 80s! – but with a bit of LOST and Twin Peaks thrown in, then mashed up with, say The Last Exorcism, Candyman at least three of the Friday the 13th films”.

And that’s Dead of Summer in a nutshell. At the core, it’s about the reopening of a summer camp where decades in the past, some unfinished, unholy ritual resulted in the deaths of numerous people. And now it seems like someone or something is trying to mount the ritual once again. Now, being a Freeform (nee ABC Family) series, you know that it’s aimed at the Pretty Little Liars set and won’t be able to amp up the scares and carnage that we’re used to seeing on similar cable shows, but what I wasn’t expecting was for almost half of each episode to be devoted to the decidely un-scary backstories of the Camp Stillwater counsellors (all of which except for main girl, Amy were Camp Stillwater campers 5 years earlier – a plot point which has no payoff whatsoever).

Things go off the rails almost immediately with an “accidental drowning”, and soon we’re dealing with ghosts, possessions, devil worshippers and how Camp Stillwater is one of the worst-run camps EVER (like, we’re talking Kamp Krusty levels here). I mean, a very significant plot point involves how the area all around the camp is peppered with bear traps. BEAR TRAPS. Surrounding a camp for children, who are only cautioned with a “be sure to stay on the trails!” warning from their counsellors. (Those counsellors, by the way, are the worst. They pretty much treat the campers as minor diversions that get in the way of them hanging out with and/or blackmailing each other, leaving camp to go into town or leaving camp to explore the woods and/or explore each other).

Even after one counsellor almost dies after literally getting struck by lightning and another counsellor DOES die after “accidentally” falling into one of the aforementioned bear traps (she was totes power-pushed by a devil worshipper), the camp director just squeezes in a quickie memorial service between Arts and Crafts and Capture the Flag and then continues running the camp as scheduled, hoping the dead counsellor’s grieving parents who come by to pick up her belongings don’t ruin the vibe any more than it already has been.

To try and explain the actual plot would take far too long, and probably wouldn’t make much sense, but suffice to say, when it did stick to the scary stuff, Dead of Summer was kind of enjoyable (in an incoherent way) and as with SCREAM, it balanced out some pretty wooden acting and writing with action that kicked it up a notch in the home stretch including a final twist/reveal that was also pretty darn great.

SCORE – 2.5 bear traps out of 5

Next up: In Part Two of this post, my pick for the best “scary summer series”!

Summer Series Breakdown (Part Two)

Previously on Pop Culture Problems…In Part One of my Summer Series Breakdown, we looked Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, Barely Famous and Difficult People. Now let’s dive into Part Two see what other new series I endured and/or enjoyed over these past few months.

Scream-TV-PosterScream (MTV)

In the film-to-tv spectrum, Scream – The TV Series comes to us from the end at the extreme opposite from Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. Unlike WHAS:FDOC, the series version of Scream has absolutely no connection to its namesake’s film franchise beyond its concept – a white-masked killer in a black shroud who taunts and stalks a group of meta-aware teens, wielding a cell phone with as much ferocity as his hunting knife.

Now, it’s a tough sell for some, but I’m all for the horror-film-as-a-tv-series concept (as I noted in an earlier post about Harper’s Island). However, Scream does itself no favours by committing a few major missteps. The biggest one being how the action hits some serious lulls, which you just can’t do in a genre that is supposed to be all about the slowly increasing tension and dread. We also get some seriously wooden acting that isn’t helped at all by some seriously clunky writing, a heroine who we have no reason to invest in and well, just a problematic script in general. Let’s just say that there were times when I wanted to reach into the screen and just kill everyone myself.

I mean, you can try to rationalize the impossible timeline (if you believe in 48 hour days and that everyone can teleport) or accept that a teenage girl is allowed to walk right in on an active autopsy of one of her friends or question a murder suspect in an interrogation room, by herself — but there is only so far you can suspend your disbelief. When the point had been reached where four students had been systematically targeted, stalked and murdered by a psychopath who was still on the loose, and no one – not parents, teachers, police, or even the other students seemed to regard this as anything more dangerous than say, a wild coyote spotted in a local park, I again wanted to reach into the screen and kill everyone myself. Again.

However, I’m pleased to say that just when it looked like there was no saving itself, the series turned things around in episode 7 and continued to pick up speed as it headed towards its end game. The last three episodes (of its 10-episode season) were easily the best and displayed a tension and urgency that had been sorely missing. I also have to give props to the “whodunit” aspect. At any given time there was always 3 or 4 characters who could potentially be the killer.(or killers, as is Scream tradition) and plausible motivations could be theorized for almost all of them as well, so it was fun to have that guessing game going on right up to end.

Wes Craven, the director of all 4 Scream films was also an executive producer on the Scream series. Sadly, Craven passed away on August 30, but just a few weeks prior, it was announced that Scream had been picked up for another season. In that respect, I think it’s nice to know that when he left, he got to do so on a note of success, with his legacy already ensured to carry on (now we just need season 2 to make itself worthy of that legacy).

Wayward Pines (Fox)

After reading a synopsis that presented it as not just a Twin Peaks knock-off, but one that was being produced by M. Night Shyamalan (whose name on a project these days is the equivalent to a “WARNING: TURN BACK” road sign), I went in to Wayward Pines with low expectations, so low actually, that I didn’t even notice that I had missed the premiere until the after I saw a recap online for its third episode. Oops.

Undaunted, I dug in, and was quickly glad that I did. It thankfully wasn’t a Twin Peaks knock-off, but more of a Twin Peaks/Lost/The Prisoner hybrid – and one that moved along at a fairly good clip, which was understandable since this was being advertised as a limited series – one season only, consisting of just 10 episodes. It also didn’t hurt that there was some serious talent populating  Wayward Pines – the town where no one knows how they got there, no one can leave and no one acts like anything is at all wrong – like Matt Dillion, Melissa Leo, Carla Gugino, Toby Jones, Juliette Lewis and Terrence Howard among plenty others.

What was also refreshing about Wayward Pines is that it gave up its big reveal – the secret of Wayward Pines – right at the midpoint of its run, in episode 5. In this era of dramatized serials stretching out their big reveals over multiple seasons, it was great to see one literally flip the script and change the whole dynamic of its show, re-energizing it for its last half season.

Wayward Pines also did well in the ratings – a little too well, unfortunately, because now there is talk of trying to bring it back for a second season, which is never what was intended (indeed, the final episode seems to wrap everything up in a nice, solid series-finale-type ending, but then it’s followed by a 3 minute “epilogue” that just screams “set up” for another season…and that doesn’t appeal to me in the least). I’d prefer my series of Wayward Pines to be a nicely packaged one-and-done season, thank you.

Another Period (Comedy Central)

And here it is, my top summer series! Another Period, is a hilarious anachronistic mash-up/send-up of Downton Abbey and Keeping Up With The Kardashians. The story focusses on the well-to-do Bellacourt family, specifically, sisters Lillian and Beatrice Bellacourt, (series creators Natasha Leggaro and Riki Lindhome) who are the two most self-centered, scheming and senseless society climbers in all of Newport, Rhode Island, circa 1902.

With amusing (and inexplicable) realty show  “talking head” sequences interspersed among action that always goes one step further than expected (a pleasant visit from Helen Keller turns into a hilarious cocaine-fuelled brawl of blood and violence), Another Period packs the most, (and most consistent) humour of almost any comedy currently airing. But this should be no surprise, because it follows two of the apparent rules of a successful summer series: have a big, top-notch cast (this one also includes Christina Hendricks, Jason Ritter, Paget Brewster and summer series MVP, WHAS:FDOC alum Michael Ian Black) and don’t skimp on the guest stars (Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Thomas Lennon and Missi Pyle are just among a few of the visitors the Bellacourts entertained this summer).

There is really so, so much to take in and enjoy each episode that I couldn’t even begin to delve into it here and do it justice, so I highly suggest you check it out for yourself. And there’s going to be even more to look forward to – Another Period has already been given the go for a second season.

So that’s the end of my little breakdown of the new series that I watched this summer. However, I should give a shout out to two more series that I have yet to sample in full – UnREAL and Mr. Robot, for not only being two of the most well-received series of the summer, but for coming from two of the most unlikely networks as well (Lifetime and USA, respectively), proving that it’s never too late for a network to step up its game.