Tuesday, October 26, 2010

GLEE: "The Rocky Horror Glee Show"

Yet another theme show, and one that's had a lot of press leading up to it. Again, I'm not a huge fan of the theme episodes. The Britney Spears show exceeded my expectations. Sad to say that while this episode was not a total bust, it did not.

From the very opening, I was disappointed. I had hoped that we would just have an episode where the cast does a school musical, and it's The Rocky Horror Show, and we hear the songs etc. But no, the episode opened just like the movie, with the singing disembodied lips (Quinn's I believe), and that's when it was clear that the episode was much more about The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Why should this matter? Because it's a distinction that annoys me. I feel like on the whole the episode was trying so hard to do homage, but didn't exactly achieve it as it could have. Having said this, it was a cute opening on its own terms, mimicking the film's opening, complete with title card (the first time an episode title has appeared on-screen) and fake credits.

It seems that Emma and her hot dentist boyfriend have been getting along great, so much that her OCD is getting better. She and Carl went to a screening of Rocky Horror and she was able to handle the mess. This makes Mr. Shue jealous, so he tells her that he loves the show and is going to have the glee club put it on at the school. Emma suggests this will be problematic due to the adult themes, but he brushes it off saying he'll make some edits.

The issue of appropriateness is the source of most of the episode's drama, though it's somewhat poorly handled. Even the kids question whether they can do it. Kurt points out there are high schools that have tried to put on Rent and been stopped. This is true. Of course on the other hand, there are high schools that do Equus. Certainly it's controversial, but is doing an edited Rocky Horror really all that different from doing an edited Grease? I mean, how many schools do Grease, and that show has racy content as well (often the lyrics are changed. Heck, in the script available from Samuel French the lyrics to "Greased Lightning" are all bowdlerized). But I was wondering exactly how Shue was going to edit the piece. As it turns out, not well. But he does do the smart thing and hand out permission slips so that if parents object, the students don't do the show. This seems reasonable.

Mr. Shue assigns parts for the play. Rachel volunteers her and Finn for Brad and Janet (obviously). Artie is of course Dr. Scott, since he's in a wheelchair. Sam is cast as Rocky, which is not surprising; he actually looks a lot like him. When Shue suggests Kurt be Frank-n-Furter, Kurt objects. He says no due to the transvestite outfit and all. ...I'm sorry, who are you and what have you done with Kurt? Where's the flamboyant Kurt who just last episode was performing from Victor/Victoria and embracing his feminine side? Where's the Kurt who put on a leotard and danced to "Single Ladies" in his basement? You would think Kurt would be all into this! Especially since Frank seduces Brad (Finn) and has his boy toy Rocky (Sam). How is this not a slam dunk for Kurt? Plus he gets all the best songs! There is no good reason for this to be that way other than the writers want to be different for no good reason (and create drama for the rest of the episode about who will play Frank). Kurt really has no motivation for refusing. Was it maybe that his voice isn't quite suited to the range of the songs? I just don't get it. He's the guy who had the whole football team doing Beyonce dance moves, and he doesn't want to appear onstage in drag? Give me a break.

Mike Chang suggests he would like to play Frank. Interesting idea, though he doesn't quite have the voice. Then again, a lot of Tim Curry's style was talking on pitch for chunks of it. But before we get to see Mike do any performance, his mom refuses to sign the permission slip and he is out. It's a bummer because I would have preferred it to what we got.

Meanwhile, word has reached the local news channel where Sue does her weekly "Sue's Corner" segment about the production. They want her to do a piece on it and how wrong it is, promising it could earn her an Emmy (which is it's own inside joke now that Jane Lynch has an Emmy). And the execs from the station are played by none other than original movie cast members Barry Bostwick and Meat Loaf! It was a nice cameo appearance. Again though, it makes the episode more about being a disjointed love letter to the movie than its own entity.

I started to get really annoyed that "the show" was used to refer to the movie and the stage show interchangeably.

There's another of those teeny little dialogue gags that I love when Carl meets Sue Sylvester. He's wearing a black suit; he shakes her hand and says, "Sue, how do you do?" This really felt like a nod to Johnny Cash's "Boy Named Sue" (he even inflects the same way).

Sue has been cast in the show as well as the criminologist (actually, a decent part for her). In the end, she will use this as an excuse that she was "undercover" investigating the play. With no Frank, she suggest to Carl that he get involved in the show since he knows all the songs and such. He auditions with a performance of "Whatever Happened to Saturday Night" (also known as "Hot Patootie"). The song is pretty good. It's nice hearing Stamos sing on TV again and he does a good job. The choreography is fun. Why did it take so long to get him a song on this show? He sang on Full House all the time! He performed with the Beach Boys! Get him singing more! But I was watching thinking, "why is he singing for Eddie?"

Thankfully when the song was over, Sue asked my question. "That's Eddie's song and I cut him out of the show in my rewrite!" Apparently, Carl refuses to play Frank as he feels it would be inappropriate to come on to high school students in drag onstage. He wants to play Eddie. So Eddie is back into the script and we still have no Frank. Oh wait, Mercedes just volunteered. That's right, Mercedes volunteered. Um, darlin' do you understand what you're doing? She says that she was taken with the lyric "don't dream it; be it" and that she always wanted to be a lead, so this is her chance. Sorry, no. The role is for a man. That's the whole point of the character. And Mercedes, that lyric you fell in love with, you have no idea what it means. In context, it's sexual brainwashing from an alien being meant to tempt humanity to decadence. I mean, there's even the reference to Lily St. Cyr in the song. Who was she? A burlesque performer. ...What exactly were Shue's edits here?

So then we are subjected to Mercedes as Frank performing "Sweet Transvestite." There is so much wrong with this I don't know where to start. Was the only reason Kurt refused just for the writers to get Mercedes singing this? She has also altered the lyric. I thought it might have been passible if she were "a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman" a la Victor/Victoria. But no, her lyric changes make clear that she is a woman ("I'm not much of a girl by the light of day"). And what's her costume? She's in a leather bustier and skirt with some big ol' boots. Or more simply, she's dressed like a girl. So she's a girl, dressed like a girl. But she keeps singing "I'm just a sweet transvestite." No you're not, you idiot! If you're not crossdressing, you're not a transvestite! There's even further sacrilege in that she sings that she's from "sensational (or sinsational?) Transylvania" instead of "Transexual Transylvania". Was this just for the kids watching at home? In the context of the show, Transexual is the name of the planet they are from. Come on! The whole number was a mistake, and to make it worse, Mercedes totally oversang it. Few can match Tim Curry, but this was nothing CLOSE.

At that point, Carl bursts through the wall as Eddie. But that wasn't his cue. He just "felt it was right". Mr. Shue points out he doesn't come through the wall until the dinner party. ...Wait a minute, I'm trying to remember the film, but Eddie DOESN'T burst in on the dinner party, does he? He interrupts them in the lab during the Charles Atlas song.

The best part of the episode for me was the very relevant issue of male body image. Finn is insecure when he learns Brad spends much of the show in his underwear. Sam on the other hand is ripped so he doesn't mind being half-naked. Or so he thinks. After some time in the costume, he gets a little embarrassed too. There's some very good interaction with Finn and Sam as they work out and talk about looking good and the work that it takes and why they should have to be so self-conscious. These are real issues and I'm glad they were being discussed; eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorders are not female only. Men really are as concerned about appearance, more then they let on. I was a fat kid in high school; I remember. I remember doing King and I and having my gut exposed (and having to shave my chest for it). However, for all this the show missed a golden opportunity to use more Rocky Horror music. Wouldn't this have been a sensible way to work in "Charles Atlas Song"? Come on, writers! This thing writes itself! Why are you so clueless?

Anyway, Mr. Shue continues to be jealous of Carl and sees Sam's slight reluctance as an opportunity; he will relieve Sam of the role and play Rocky himself. He claims that the role is just too mature for a high schooler. Um, okay, so this means that a teacher is going to have a student fondle him and sing "Toucha Toucha Touch Me"? Yeah, 'cause THAT's more appropriate... It's really all just to impress Emma.

In that vane, Emma helps him "rehearse" the aforementioned "Touch Me" song. Now I have to ask again, what edits did Shue make? There are a few klunky lyric changes that feel like a censored performance of "Beauty School Dropout" (I've seen it done with the lyric "no customer would go to you unless somebody took 'er" instead of the other). Wouldn't it have been safer to cut the entire song? I mean, a few lyric drops aside, it's still all about getting boned by a stranger. It's nice to hear Emma sing again, though her voice sounded a bit odd here. Some of the best lyrics in the song were changed. They swapped "heavy sweating" for "heavy petting" and the brilliant "seat wetting" was altered to something like fretting which sounded awful. I mean, why even do the song without that? Thank God we only saw it done with Emma and Shue; perish the thought of seeing Mr. Shue and Rachel perform this (coming off of last year's crush on him, this would have been really awkward with Rachel I think). To make matters worse, the whole thing was staged just like the movie. Santana and Brittany watch out the window in place of Magenta and Columbia. Then there's a really awkward moment toward the end of the song where Emma is lying on the desk, and we see everyone do the "creature of the night" lyric just like in the movie. Only it makes absolutely no sense in this context. Why is Finn suddenly there singing? Or Artie? Or Kurt? I hope Emma's not actually fantasizing this? It all seemed like a slavish retread of the film that made no real sense in context.

There's a sweet subplot running through the episode with Becky trick-or-treating dressed as Sue. When she comes to Mr. Shue asking for candy, he apologizes, saying he forgot about it. After the scene plays out, she gets a brilliant capper for it. In full Sue Sylvester mode, Becky turns to Mr. Shue and says, "Give me some chocolate or I will cut you." It was just so hilarious. I love that they continue to let Becky make jokes instead of MAKING Becky the joke.

Mr. Shue discovers Sue's plan to expose the show as bad for the community. They discuss it, and Sue gives a rousing speech about exposing children unnecessarily to things they need not be exposed to. That they may be bombarded by adult content all the time, but that's no reason to give it to them willingly. Shue agrees, and decides not to put on the play. Um, that's all nice and all, but since this entire episode of Glee just exposed the kids of the nation to Rocky Horror, isn't the episode sending a VERY mixed message? It's also funny that this comes on the heels of the GQ photo shoot scandal.

I also have to question all the logic of this episode's stage production. How much time elapsed between the decision to do the show and that first dress rehearsal? Because Halloween was approaching at the start of the episode. Am I to believe Mr. Shue cast, rehearsed and costumed an ENTIRE MUSICAL in the span of maybe two weeks at most? What? And what about the set construction? Furthermore, now that there will be no performance, what becomes of all that wasted effort? They were going to use the admission money to fund the trip to Nationals. Now they don't get that revenue. And who payed for the elaborate set and costumes? What kind of an irresponsible decision was that?? Now the glee club is financially in the hole! Maybe Sue payed it out of her Cheerio budget. I hope they at least rent some of this stuff out to some theater company or something.

The episode ends with Mr. Shue deciding the group would put the show on for themselves without an audience. And they do (with an all student cast). We watch them do the Time Warp, the end. Mr. Shue even goes so far as to say that what midnight screenings of Rocky Horror were really about was the unity of outsiders or some such thing. Sorry, I think that's nonsense. Furthermore, it's really specious to link the point of Rocky Horror to the point of the midnight screening culture. The show and film existed before it became the cult thing that it is now. They might seem inextricably linked but it wasn't always that way. Man, I found this episode rather simplistic. Oh, and the Time Warp vocals weren't even that good. Kurt's Riff Raff was okay, but Quinn's vocal was terrible. And she can sing! She affected some odd deep register that just sounded bad.

I was really underwhelmed by this episode. I would have much preferred they stick to a normal Glee episode and base it around the stage production. But they didn't. This episode further proves the inability of the writing staff to differentiate between stage and film, though it wasn't as egregious as last year's Cabaret debacle. It felt too like Puck was written out of the show solely so there would be a lack of men available for this episode. I know Ryan Murphy wanted to do an homage to the movie, but it felt very disjointed. Frankly, when you have a character who is a dentist, Little Shop seems like a much more obvious choice. But of course, this year is the 35th Anniversary of Rocky Horror Picture Show and Fox owns the rights. It came off as little more than a marketing gimmick. There's even rumor that Ryan Murphy wants to remake it for televison. It felt a little like this episode was a dry run for that. Talk about unnecessary.

The funny thing is, there are ways this could have worked. Early in the episode Mr. Shue refers to these events as a nightmare. Well, why not have just made it a nightmare? A dream sequence. Lots of good shows do special parody dream episodes. Like that Boy Meets World which was a Scream parody. Make it like a special Halloween event. Northern Exposure did a Halloween dream episode. That would have justified the different opening that paralleled the film. Then they could have just staged the whole episode as a truncated version of the movie with the cast of Glee, and made it all somebody's dream. I feel like that would have been much more cohesive (man, maybe I should write for this show). In the end, it was not cohesive. Some of the dramatic events were ridiculous. Moments were stolen from the film for no other reason than to reference them. Some of the most obvious songs were chosen, even when better ones might have served. Wanna showcase Mercedes' voice as Frank? What about "Going Home", which is my favorite song in the show? This was a golden opportunity too to perform "Once in a While" which was cut from the movie. Finn would have sounded great on it. Oh well. Not a total bust of an episode. The stuff with the guys and their body image was well done. On the whole though, the episode was having too much fun with itself to be completely fun for its audience.

Best line of the night: Brittany discussing her Halloween costume -- "I'm going as a peanut allergy."

Songs in tonight's episode:
Late Night Double Feature Picture Show
Over at the Frankenstein Place
Dammit Janet
Sweet Transvestite
Whatever Happened to Saturday Night?
Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me
The Time Warp

Next Week: nothing. but...
In 2 Weeks: Puck's back from Juvey, and things are gonna shake up a little. It's hard to get a sense of plot from the promo, but Coach Beiste is back, so that should be fun.

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