'Scream: The TV Series' – Exploring Character Archetypes and Story Conventions in Slashers

When I first heard about Scream: The TV Series, like many others, I was skeptical. Let’s face it, movie to television adaptations are pretty hit and miss, the original Scream is an iconic part of horror history, and the traditional slasher isn’t meant to stretch much further than ninety minutes. Now, with the final credits a mere memory, I have mixed feelings about Scream: The TV Series. At its best it pays homage to the excellent movie franchise, case-in-point Bella Thorne’s opening scene mirrors Drew Barrymore’s opening scene in the original movie. But for all its pop culture, self-references and winks towards the camera, it isn’t quite as clever as it wants to be. Still, there’s a lot to enjoy if you can get past some questionable acting and teenage melodrama that at times veers nearer to The O.C. than the slasher genre. With that said it’s time to delve into the traditional archetypes and conventions of the slasher and see what Scream: The TV Series gets right and wrong.

*SPOILERS*

The Jock

What he lacks in intelligence he makes up for in physical prowess, sporting achievements and the ability to attract almost any partner he desires. Typically, the jock will make ill-advised decisions – especially if he thinks he can show-off his macho bravado in the process – and rough up, look down on and trash talk ‘the nerd’. Self-absorbed and despised by the majority of the male characters, the jock is likely to ‘hook up’ with the final girl’s best friend, the princess or just about anyone he can, and sometimes those he can’t. He may be the best friend of the main male character. If there’s a challenge to his masculinity or someone places a bet he can’t get with a certain character, you can be sure he’ll take the challenge. It’s unlikely the jock will survive though as typically every character that has sex, indulges in drugs or just dabbles in the darker side of life dies. And at the moment he has an inevitable showdown with the killer, it’s likely both the audience and the characters will be hoping the killer prevails.

There’s a lot to enjoy if you can get past some questionable acting and teenage melodrama that at times veers nearer to 'The O.C.' than the slasher genre.

How this relates to Scream The TV Series: The jock in this instance is Jake, Will’s best friend. Of course, Will, is both one of the major male leads and the ex-boyfriend of final girl, Emma. He’s also the love interest of Emma’s best friend, the princess, Brooke. From his boyish good looks to his overindulgence in alcohol to his dumb decisions and ‘plans’ to make money, it would be difficult to make Jake any more of a slasher archetype. He even sets up a ‘dare’ for Will that is revealed in episode five and shatters any hopes we ever had for a rekindling of Emma and Will’s relationship. Jake isn’t just difficult to like but difficult to care about because he doesn’t ever deviate from the jock archetype. Perhaps the biggest tragedy and misstep is that – despite some near-misses – he wasn’t killed off, so will presumably return for the second season. Perhaps his best moment comes towards the end of the series when he attempts to give mouth-to-mouth to the downfallen Brooke, who screams “I’m still breathing you creep!” Ouch!

The Princess

There are obvious parallels to be made between The Jock and The Princess. Like The Jock she is physically attractive and mentally underwhelming. Usually an object of desire for the men and an object of envy and resentment for the women. Often rich, spoilt and self-entitled, makes stupid decisions, is easily scared and very vocal about situations she doesn’t like much to the chagrin of everyone else. Typically she’s the best friend of the final girl and serves as little more than on-screen eye candy.

How this relates to Scream The TV Series: While designated ‘princess’ Brooke ticks a lot of expected boxes – best friend of the final girl, wealthy, self-entitled and self obsessed, sleeps with her high school teacher – she is a lot more interesting, particularly in the latter half of the series, than most other princesses. A large part of this is, no doubt, thanks to the confident portrayal from Carlson Young and Scream’s decision to cast an actual actress rather than, say, Paris Hilton (hello 2005 House of Wax remake). Of course, Brooke starts off just as unlikable as every other princess, encouraging Emma to feel no guilt over cyberbullying Audrey and the resultant deaths. Yet as the story unfolds we are shown a warmer, more loyal and sympathetic Brooke who has emotional baggage of her own that cuts deeper than the usual ‘she’s being played by the jock and is hosting her own pity party’.

The Nerd

The nerd is the inverse of the jock. Blessed with intelligence but lacking in the looks department, the nerd is often far more aware of what’s happening than anyone else. Usually the nerd has an encyclopaedic knowledge of serial killers and grisly history of the town, and is eager to carry out his own investigation into the murders – often hitting closer to the truth than the incompetent police department.

How this relates to Scream The TV Series: If Brooke starts off as instantly dislikeable and grows on you then resident nerd, Noah Foster, has the opposite effect. His knowledge of the town’s own legendary monster, Brandon James, Lakewood, serial killers and pop culture is second to none, and to begin with is part of Noah’s appeal. There’s a real delight to be had in his references to Scream The TV Series’ contemporaries, Bates Motel, Hannibal, Dexter et al. but the more this goes on the less clever it becomes and the more we realise this is all surface-level stuff with nothing deeper or intelligent at work. Like the TV series, Noah Foster is a lot less layered than he thinks he is. A particular highlight is his opening spiel in which he talks about slashers and how you could never make a slasher as a television series, he also tells us how the key to a successful slasher is to make us care about the characters, how the identity of the killer is incidental. It all sounds rather smart and encouraging, until you realise it isn’t… Still, at least John Karna’s portrayal is convincing.

You know, maybe if I'd punched my v-card, the rules of horror would've kicked in. Maybe I'd be the one who died.

Mr. Nice Guy

One of the lead male characters, Mr. Nice Guy is typically the boyfriend, brother or love interest of the final girl. As a genuinely nice guy with few flaws he is often suspected to be the killer at some point but rarely is. After all, how can someone so squeaky clean exist? Typically he’s best friends with the jock though inevitably they clash over a common love interest. It’s not uncommon for him to be amongst the last to die as he selflessly saves the final girl. 

For season two to be successful and for it to surpass this year’s outing, 'Scream' needs to do away with the archetypes and clichéd conventions and take a more original path.

How this relates to Scream The TV Series: Interestingly, there are two characters that fit this archetype. Firstly, we have Emma’s ex-boyfriend, Will, and secondly there’s the new guy in town, Kieran.

Let’s start with Will. A man of dubious morals and comprised of shades of grey. He’s the best friend of jock, Jake, and as such involved in all manner of illicit activities – bribery, corruption, voyeurism – but at his core he likes to think of himself as a good person. So much so that he’s given the line, “I really don’t want to die for doing the right thing.” His relationship with Emma is over largely thanks to his own doing – I mean, when you first sleep with a girl because of a dare, you’ve got to believe you’re starting off on the wrong foot.  Still, his death is one of the best of the series and in a way you could say that Emma avenges his betrayal, though I’m not quite sure that’s how she reads the situation.

As the new guy in town, Kieran is an obvious candidate for ‘killer’, which is exactly why he isn’t the killer. Of course, Scream teases a motive or two (as it does for almost every character) but in the end it is just that, a tease*. A possible romance between Kieran and Emma is hinted at early on, but her recent breakup with Will means Emma doesn’t go along with it. Similarly, as the loner new guy, Kieran is far too cool to push her on the matter, so plays the long game (this is a series so we have time) being dark and mysterious from a distance. Dark and mysterious he may be, but clichéd and one-dimensional he is, too. Scream have kept him alive for a second season – and killed off his stepfather, in the process – but ultimately I doubt many viewers will care.

*Plus, if he were to be the killer then he’d also have to be the half brother of Emma and this isn’t the type of TV show to unapologetically (or apologetically, for that matter) go the incest route.

The Final Girl

We all know the final girl. Often the sole survivor of the slasher (though not if it’s a TV series and they’ve commissioned a second series), a virgin (or at least ‘purer’ than her peers with few vices) and typically the killer’s ultimate target because (s)he’s somehow connected to her. Usually she’s the quiet one in the group, but as the deaths and stakes rise so, too, does her resolve, determination and gusto to do whatever it takes to survive and bring the killer to justice.

How this relates to Scream The TV Series: Emma is perhaps the biggest disappointment in the entire series. Her character arc is much narrower than you would expect for a ten-episode television series. She is constantly overshadowed by Noah and the hands-down best character in the series, Audrey.

Final Thoughts

While Scream started off as an encouraging and modern retelling of the franchise, it fizzled out the longer it went on. What started off as its strength – the homage to its predecessors – soon became its biggest crutch as it was unable to distances itself from the films and become something new and fresh. The ultimate reveal – that podcast presenter, Piper Shaw, was the killer – was too obvious because the writers lazily delivered a motive for every other character, in an unsubtle attempt at diverting our attention from Piper, who was present at every single crime scene and just as unsubtly attached to Emma as the season climaxed.

While I’ve mentioned some of the key archetypes and conventions of slasher movies this is by no means an exhaustive list. There’s the incompetent policeman (often the sheriff or deputy), the intrusive reporter, the social outcast, the creepy older man – all of which are present in Scream.

For season two to be successful and for it to surpass this year’s outing, Scream needs to do away with the archetypes and clichéd conventions and take a more original path. It looks like Audrey will be more of a focal point going forward, but if season one teaches us anything it’s that archetypes and conventions are in place to serve as templates and not to be copied verbatim. Subvert expectations and keep the audience guessing so that next time Scream can challenge rather than fulfill Noah’s prophetic summation. If you’re looking for originality that questions rather than confirms archetypes consider The Cabin in the Woods, The Final Girls or even Tarantino’s Death Proof. 

Image of Scream / Scream 2 / Scream 3 (Triple Feature 3-DVD Set)
Director: Wes Craven
Starring: David Arquette, Drew Barrymore, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Parker Posey
Rating: R (Restricted)
Michael David Wilson

Column by Michael David Wilson

Michael David Wilson is a professional writer and editor. He is the Managing Editor and Owner of the popular UK horror website, podcast and small press, This Is Horror. He is the founder of the ancestral health website and podcast, Paleo Minds. A qualified ESL Teacher and graduate of The University of Warwick’s English Literature and Creative Writing Programme, you can connect with Michael on Twitter @WilsonTheWriter.

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