Photo: Illustration: Maya Robinson and Photos by FOX and FX
There’s a reason why Ryan Murphy is one of the most popular creators on all of television — the man has a formula for success. Part of that formula is relying on some of the same characters for each of his projects. Looking back at Popular, Nip/Tuck, Glee, The New Normal, and American Horror Story, some very specific types emerge again and again. Using Scream Queens, which debuts tonight on Fox, as our guide, here are the ten archetypes Murphy keeps returning to. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?
1. The Bitchy Blonde: One of the major drivers of plot in all of these projects is a young, attractive, usually rich blonde girl whose insecurities come out when she is exceptionally cruel to those around her. Most of these characters also have a group of lackeys that follow their every move. On Scream Queens, she is Chanel (Emma Roberts), she calls her minions Chanel No. 2, Chanel No. 3, and Chanel No. 5 (Chanel No. 4 died of meningitis). The bitchy blonde is often the focal point of the action even though she’s the misunderstood antagonist.
See also: Nicole on Popular, Quinn on Glee, Madison on American Horror Story: Coven.
2. The Crusader: Every villain needs a hero to play off of, right? The crusader is the person who comes into an institution and tries to make it better by the dint of her determination and the reflection of her virtue. Meet Grace (Skyler Samuels), who goes to college wanting to pledge Kappa Kappa Tau because it was her dead mother’s sorority. She wants to tear down the bastion of white privilege she finds and turn it into a true sisterhood. Dawn, like the other crusaders, is no angel, and will undoubtedly often lose her way morally on the way to achieving her goal.
See Also: Rachel on Glee, Sean on Nip/Tuck, Zoe on American Horror Story: Coven, Sam on Popular.
3. The Camp Queen: Just like a gay Quentin Tarantino, there is nothing Ryan Murphy loves more than taking an aging actress who hasn’t been working and giving her a plum role where she can swan around, chew the scenery, and deliver a bitchy line or two. Original scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis finally took a break from her poop-yogurt commercials to return to TV as Cathy Munsch, the dean of students with some dark secrets and a special hatred for Kappa.
See Also: Jessica Lange on every season of American Horror Story, every guest star on Glee, Mary Cherry on Popular, Joan Van Arc on Nip/Tuck, Ellen Barkin on The New Normal.
4. The Hot Stupid Dude Who Looks 10 Years Older Than He Should Be: They’re often shirtless, more focused on hitting the gym than hitting the books, and always look like there should be 30 candles on their cake rather than 18. In Scream Queens we have Chad (Glen Powell), a beefy doofus who is dating Chanel and looks like he should be a college senior, if it took him the better part of a decade to graduate. Usually this big lug is stupid but has a heart of gold. Unlike his cohorts, Chad is just as cruel and self-centered as Chanel. Maybe he’s the exception that proves the rule.
See Also: Finn on Glee, Sam on Glee, Kyle on American Horror Story: Coven, Clay on The New Normal, Josh on Popular.
5. The Funny Dumb Girl: This isn’t just a dumb-blonde stereotype. Murphy’s very specific type of imbecile lives in some sort of weird fantasy world that only makes sense to her. She doesn’t have many lines, but the ones she does have are always the most memorable. Chanel No. 3 (Billie Lourd, Carrie Fisher’s daughter) serves that purpose here. Just wait for her monologue about ice-skating over frozen ponds of pig poo.
See Also: Brittany on Glee, Mary Cherry on Popular.
6. The Differently Abled Person: Nothing says “band of misfits” quicker than a character with some sort of disability. There are two Kappa pledges who fit the bill, cruelly known as Neck Brace and Deaf Taylor Swift. This person is not only the butt of jokes, but also can be the one who has specific insight into what it’s like to be human due to their condition. A subset to this category is the character with Down syndrome, which also occurs with some regularity.
See Also: Everyone on American Horror Story: Freak Show, Artie and Becky on Glee, Nan on American Horror Story: Coven.
7. The Hot Gay Guy: There’s always at least one gay dude, and he’s always really, really sexy. Depending on the show, Murphy gets him shirtless as often as he can, and who can really blame him? Boone, played by Nick Jonas, is a frat bro who comes out as gay shortly into the pilot of Scream Queens, and no one really seems to have a problem with it. That is so much easier than St. Kurt’s journey to acceptance on Glee.
See Also: Kurt, Blaine, et al. on Glee, David and Bryan on The New Normal, Christian (kinda) on Nip/Tuck, Andy on American Horror Story: Freak Show.
8. The Sassy Black Girl: Murphy isn’t the only one who uses these quickly drawn characters as comic relief, but he sure does it quite consistently. However, I will give him credit for giving them a fair amount of depth in several circumstances. Scream Queens not only has one but two SBGs. Niecy Nash (who plays the opposite of sassy on Getting On) does a killer job as security guard Denise Hemphill, and Keke Palmer is Grace’s friend and fellow Kappa pledge Zayday, who hopes to be the first black female president. Let’s just hope both of these women get the extra dimensions these actresses deserve.
See Also: Mercedes on Glee, Queenie on American Horror Story: Coven, Desiree on American Horror Story: Freak Show, Rocky on The New Normal.
9. The Caretaker: When dealing with a group of teens, there is usually one person (often a woman, but not always) who has the kids’ best interest at heart and does her very best to protect them against the various villains trying to break their honest enterprise. SNL vet Nassim Pedrad plays Gigi, the national president of Kappa who shows up to make sure the girls don’t lose their charter, and sticks around so she can feel some of those lovely sorority vibes once again.
See Also: Will on Glee, Emma on Glee, Cordelia on American Horror Story: Coven, Ethel on American Horror Story: Freak Show.
10. The Lesbian of Color: It’s unclear why, but Mr. Murphy likes his lesbians to be nonwhite, including a Kappa pledge they call “Predator Lez,” a butch Asian who is obsessed with political correctness.
See Also: Santana on Glee, Liz on Nip/Tuck.
*A version of this article appears in the October 5, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.