The latest of Glee's stunt episodes, an adaptation of the cult classic musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show showed up just in time for Halloween, the most cross-dressingest time of the year. Well, it wasn't a total failure.
But it was partly a failure. The songs, on a whole, were excellent and the costumes, sets, and choreography (probably from guest director and So You Think You Can Dance judge Adam Shankman) were good fun, but there was a bit of the narrative struggle we've seen all season. At the end of the episode, it dawned on me that I had no idea what the drive of season two really is. Sure, there's some vague mention of the national glee club championships in New York, but other than that, what do we have that's driving the episodes? Finn and Rachel? Will and Emma? Babygay Kurt making us cry and Sue Motherfucking Sylvester making us laugh? Is that enough? Do we need more?
Before we get to Glee, let us concern ourselves with Rocky Horror.
This is a very adept and faithful rendition of "Science Fiction Double Feature," the overture to the movie, complete with the signature singing lips that start off the 1975 musical starring Tim Curry, Barry Bostwick, Meatloaf and a young Susan Sarandon. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I am a huge fan of Rocky Horror. I first saw it probably around the age of 15 when my best friend Cathryn made me watch it on VHS. The movie is the story of two straight-laced kids, Brad and Janet, who are celebrating their engagement and get a flat tire. They end up at the mansion of Dr. Frank-N-Furter a cross-dressing alien scientist who is unveiling his latest creation, a hunky sex slave named Rocky. Throughout the course of a wild and bumpy night, Brad and Janet both have sex with Frank and discover the hedonists that were cowering inside them all along.
The movie is one thing, but Cathryn and I soon went to one of the movie's midnight performances, which is a whole separate endeavor. Real actors pantomime the action in front of the screen and the audience (many of them dressed in costume) is trained to yell things back at the screen. For instance every time Brad says his name, the crowd yells, "Asshole," and every time he introduces Janet, they scream, "Slut." They also bring various and assorted props—rice, toilet paper, newspapers, squirt guns, toast, playing cards—to employ at the appropriate moments. In Cathryn and my case, this was all made even more enjoyable because we went to see the performance at an old dinner theater in East Hartford, Connecticut, that allowed you to smoke all sorts of things during the show.
I think the biggest misstep with this episode is that it took for granted that everyone in the television audience has an intimate knowledge of the musical as I do. The plot is only sketchily explained, the songs' relevance to the action is often tangential, and there is some insider humor that would make the original movie even more mystifying for those who don't know it. For every clever cameo (Bostwick and Meatloaf as sinister newsmen) there was a vague joke about people throwing toast. For people who don't know the show, it doesn't matter whether or not they know that Bostwick and Meatloaf were in the original cast, but the toast joke is going to fly right over their heads (pun intended).
"There's a Light (Over at the Frankenstein Place)" is a song that is a duet between Janet and Riff-Raff as she approaches Dr. Frank-N-Furter's lair and Frank's malicious henchman watches Brad (asshole) and Janet (slut) stumble into his world. It is a song about the beginnings to things and the hope that comes from any adventures.
It's a fitting beginning because Rocky Horror is Will's hope of a new beginning with Emma. He sees her eating sandwiches with crusts and going to dirty movie theaters with Carl, the dentist formerly known as John Stamos, to see the movie. He sees that it's making her better and feels that he's losing her forever. Will mentions that he's going to put on Rocky Horror with the Glee kids as a fundraiser. I'm a little bit sick of Will inserting himself into Glee in a way that only benefits him. It's like he used Glee to get laid back in high school and that's the only strategy he can think of now that he's all grown up. It's creepy.
Emma seems resistant to the plan, probably because it's so transparent, and also because the material in RHPS is a bit too adult for high school kids. Will explains that he's going to have to make some edits to the script and the lyrics, which is probably how they wrote around the censorship in some of the songs. The kids in Glee all think it's a great idea, naturally, cause they get to perform and wear crazy outfits, which is the only character traits that any of them have anymore. Oh, Brittany is dumb too. We can't forget that.
They way Glee used "Damn It, Janet," the movie's opening number where Brad (asshole!) declares his love for and proposes to Janet (slut!), is quite interesting. Finn—who is rightly more confused by this nonsensical plot of the musical than he was by Inception—gets scared when he finds out that his role demands he wear just his underwear. The context of this number becomes less about him finding confidence in his love and more about him doubting himself and his appearance.
It's great to see a mainstream television show addressing men's body issues, something that has only become a wide-spread issue in the age of Abercrombie Ads, the men's underwear market, and (as Sam points out) internet pornography. Men are now expected to look just as unnaturally "beautiful" as women have been expected to look for ages. Finn is already a little defensive because the girls in Glee were making fun of his body and Sam, with his cheese grater abs, was chosen to play the hunky blond Rocky. Sam takes Finn to the gym and explains that if he wants to be as fit as him, then he has to devote himself to the gym and nutrition in a way that practically takes all the fun out of life. Finn feels like he doesn't have enough time to get jacked, and starts to get nervous.
Also getting nervous are Mike Chang's parents. After stepping up to take the lead as Dr. Frank in the musical, a newly confident Mike is shot down by his conservative parents, who don't want him cross-dressing on stage. This was just one of the narrative gymnastics and too-easy coincidences that forwarded the plot in an unbelievable way. When Mike steps down, Emma volunteers Carl for the role and he gets a tryout.
In the movie, Dr. Frank-N-Furter is unveiling his greatest creation, Rocky, when the rocker Eddie bursts out of his cryogenic crypt and sings "What Ever Happened to Saturday Night." It is Meatloaf's big number and he takes all the excitement away from Frank, who then murders Eddie for barging in.
That's exactly what happens to Will. Carl (who is so sexy that he arouses every creature who lays eyes on him) ruins Will's fun by hogging all the attention. Will says that he doesn't need an Eddie, but a Frank. Oh, well, Carl can't possibly do that. Thanks plot device! That's when Mercedes steps up and takes the lead. Oh look! Another helpful coincidence and a revelation that had absolutely no foundation laid for it before this. Sarcastic Huzzah!
So Will has to reinsert himself back into the musical, which he does by saying that the role of Rocky is too risque for Sam to play, so he will take on the role himself. Now we get to see even more creepytime with Will using Glee to get naked in front of the school and leverage the club for his social life. Screw Brad, he's the real person we should be calling asshole.
Sue Motherfucking Sylvester is also trying to ruin Will's fun. After a segment of Sue's Corner where she explains that Halloween should be about fear once again, Sue is approached two newsmen or something. I don't remember. It was another one of those constructed plot devices from Glee's big bag of deus ex machinae. The long and short of it is that Sue wants to infiltrate the play to do an expose on the TV news about how the arts are over sexualizing our children. To that end, she gets cast in the show. Now there are three creepy adults walking around this sex-crazed performance with a bunch of children. Just great! Still, seeing Sue trash the iconic "Janet," "Brad," "Dr. Scott," "Rocky" scene was worth it for me.
Speaking of creepy adults, here is Will getting all dirty with Emma.
In "Touch A Touch A Touch A Touch Me," a newly-sex positive Janet (slut!) seduces simpleton Rocky. The once frigid woman has melted and now she can't get enough heat. This was my favorite number of the night. The song really played into Emma's character and the addition of Brittany and Santana in the Columbia and Magenta roles was a perfect addition to the scene. Really, the whole thing was pitch perfect, including Will's furry abdominal muscles.
What I hated was how the show changed the lyrics. Instead of saying "I need a friendly hand," as in the original Emma sings "I need a friendly man." Sure I get why they changed "heavy petting" to "heavy sweating" and "seat wetting" to the (groan worthy) "deep fretting," but they went overboard with cleansing the lyrics to this song. The same thing happened in "Sweet Transvestite."
By now we all know that Mercedes can kill just about any number she's assigned, so it's no doubt that her "Sweet Transvestite" is a revelation. I think I might even prefer her soul-inflected version to the original. Yes, sacrilege! I would love to hear what she could do with Frank's other big number "I'm Going Home." In the movie, this is our introduction to Frank, and it's about celebrating who you are even though others might think it's strange. Frank doesn't say, "Oh, by the way, I'm a transsexual." He says, "I'm a transsexual and I am fucking fierce, bitches!"
When Sam is axed from his role as Rocky, he worries it is because his abs are not enough. Oh Sam, but they are! And we were lucky (or as Magenta would say, "I'm lucky, you're lucky, we're all lucky!") to get to see them more than once last night. It was such an astute observation that the people with the best bodies are usually the people who are most concerned and insecure about how they look. No matter how fit you get, confidence comes from something else.
Finn learns that as well, and once he realizes that he can be just as sexy in his tighty whiteys as Sam is in his gold hot pants, he really learns the true lesson of Rocky Horror. The show tells us to be who we really are and to be proud of it to the point of reveling in it. And even though his body is a little lumpy, walking down the hallway with his head held high made him the sexiest dude in school. Sure he faced suspension and ridicule, but he was saying, "I'm fucking fierce, bitches."
It's sad that a song about loving one's self had to be changed. How can Mike Chang say "tranny" but they censor out the word "transsexual" from "Sweet Transvestite?" It just doesn't make any sense. The whole thing seemed disingenuous.
Also disingenuous was pretty much the whole final act of Will's story. Carl finds out about Will and Emma's "rehearsal" (again, another easy plot device that is explained rather than shown) and gets mad at Will. Then, when he finds out Sue's plot to ruin his show, he confronts her about it. She says that Will is unnecessarily exposing the children to adult material. This is pretty much true and, as much as I hate to admit it, I completely agreed with Sue's editorial that even though we have a right to free speech doesn't mean we should always exercise it. "There are limits. There is a line," Sue tells us. True enough. She also tells Will he shouldn't be exposing kids to adult material. "They're already exposed. There's the internet," Will says. And Sue says yes, but not to lead them to it.
That was the most off-key sentiment of the evening to me. Yes, Sue is right that teachers shouldn't be directing students to adult material, but isn't the show doing the same thing for its young fans. How many 12-year-olds who love Glee are going to cue up Rocky Horror on their Netflix cue now that it was featured on their favorite show? Sure, I saw it at 15, but the movie is probably better suited for teenagers, and definitely should be out of reach of kids under 13. So here is Glee saying, "don't lead kids to things they can't handle," while simultaneously leading kids to things they can't handle.
What's fun for children of all ages, though, is the "Time Warp."
This dance really serves no purpose in the movie other than to be a whole lot of fun, and that's what it is here. After Mr. Schue realizes that the only reason he was putting on this racy show was to get laid, he decides to cancel it. Well, at least for public consumption. He's still going to celebrate the freaks and misfits of the Rocky Horror by privately performing the show. Sure, it's going to end with your leads running around in women's lingerie humping boas and singing lyrics like, "It's beyond me. Help me, mommy," but, hey, as long as it's in private.
Earlier in the night, Principal Figgins tells Will, "I want to make sure anything you do is worth it." It seems that Will has had to learn the same lesson 23 times now: stop using the kids in Glee for your own fiendish purposes. Let's hope that's the last time we have to address that.
I hate to get all meta, but it seems like Figgins' statement can also apply to Glee. Just like Will, it might have gone too far on progressing its own agenda (or its gimmicks) at the expense of the quality of the show. In the end, I think that the Rocky Horror experiment was wildly entertaining, even though the story was meandering and uneven. It addressed some interesting issues about confidence, sexuality, and just what is appropriate in schools. It also had some kick ass production numbers and some real laugh out loud moments. But can we lay off the Madonna/Gaga/Britney/Rocky love fests for awhile and get back to using regular music to tell some good stories about the characters we love? In the immortal words of the Rocky Horror Picture Show it's time for Glee to stop dreaming it, and start being it!