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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Glee: "The Rocky Horror Glee Show"

Illustration for article titled Glee: "The Rocky Horror Glee Show"
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Sometimes, I miss the Will Schuester of the Glee pilot.

Do you remember that guy? That was a guy you built a TV show around. He was a man chasing his memories of the good times back in high school. He was a man who was trying to inspire kids to create great art because he never had. He was a man who had to give up a job that maybe wasn’t his dream job but was certainly a job he loved because his wife was pregnant. He wanted to be a dad, but he also wanted to be a kid again, and the divide between those two halves of himself was downright poignant. Especially in the original cut of the show’s pilot, the one that I don’t believe ever aired, he was an essentially tragic figure, holding on way too hard to something he should have let go of long ago. The show realized this was kind of creepy, but it also realized that he could be a sad little man and still create an environment where his kids felt free to be themselves.

By and large, that Will Schuester is completely gone from the show. You’ll catch glimpses of him here and there, particularly in last season’s finale, but the show seems uninterested in him as anything other than a mouthpiece for whatever any writer on the show is trying to say that week. The recent, rampant ads on Fox about how “Will Schuester is trying to make the world a better place!” increasingly strike me as outright lies, not just vague advertising platitudes. Will hasn’t been even a ghost of a good person for something like 25 episodes now, and the few times the show does anything interesting with him – like when he found out Terri’s pregnancy was fake – have been drowned out by everything else the show does with the character.

I suspect the big beef against “The Rocky Horror Glee Show,” a singularly flat and affectless episode of television and the worst hour this show has ever produced, is going to be that everything in it is deeply implausible. Somehow, Will is almost able to pull off a production of The Rocky Horror Show in a small-town Ohio school, while only cutting a few items for content, and he does it all in just a week. At the same time, Sue becomes obsessed with shutting him down because episode writer Ryan Murphy sees the character less as a person and more as a bludgeon and because, for whatever reason, she immediately becomes obsessed with the idea of winning a local Emmy. All of this didn’t bother me. So long as the characters on this show are consistent (which, admittedly, is sometimes a tall order for this show), inconsistency in plotting doesn’t bother me (as it wouldn’t on other TV comedies). Part of the fun of Glee is that it will do anything for an audience reaction.

My big beef against “The Rocky Horror Glee Show” is that it tries to have things all ways, for all people. It tries to be a tribute to the original Rocky Horror Show for the musical’s fans. It tries to be a standard, Ryan Murphy episode of Glee for those who have a casual relationship with the show but really like Glee. It tries to be a primer on the musical itself for those who’ve never seen the stage show, though it mostly just gives up on this after the first 20 minutes or so. The way it tries to have things all ways is the most egregious thing wrong with the episode: It grounds everything in the character of Will and in his pursuit of Emma, and it pretends we care about this as much or more than whatever it is the kids are up to. Furthermore, it takes Will’s pursuit of her and finds it deeply romantic, when it’s really just kinda creepy.

The basic idea is this: Emma’s favorite movie is The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Why? Dunno. The episode half-asses an explanation, but I wish they’d just left it out. Will, abruptly realizing yet again how little he knows about the woman he ostensibly loves, decides to put on the show for the population of Lima, somehow mustering the wherewithal and resources to mount a full musical without anybody much caring at all. There’s some argument over who should play Frank N. Furter, but the role ends up going to Mercedes. (Kurt refuses it; Mike Chang’s parents refuse it for him.) Sue gets wind of all of this and tries to shut the show down, finally succeeding at “protecting the children” or whatever (and actually making some good points about how art that has as its sole aim pushing the envelope often ends up pretty bad). Finn, appearing as Brad, doesn’t want to strip down to his underwear. Sam … er … CHORD OVERSTREET! is an asshole for no apparent reason. A bunch of stuff happens in a mostly formless middle, then Will makes a series lowpoint speech about how everybody is an outcast, including the original Rocky Horror fans AND the glee kids. It’s a muddled, terrible message, particularly in an episode that seems to have an uneasy relationship with ACTUAL outcasts, transsexuals. (About which more in stray observations.)


I bag on Ryan Murphy a lot in these reviews, but I do think the guy is capable of coming up with great moments on this show. I think “Wheels” is a good episode (though much of that could be credited to journeyman TV director Paris Barclay), and “Mattress” has the aforementioned confrontation between Will and Terri, a moment as raw as anything the show has ever done. Murphy’s also the best writer on the show’s small staff at coming up with completely bizarre one-liners or stock characters that then become amusingly awesome, like Sue or Brittany. But the simple fact of the matter is that Ryan Murphy is one of the most powerful men in television right now. He could be making any kind of show he wants, and what he’s choosing to make is a half-assed, attention deficit disorder-ridden show about whatever the hell pops into his brain at that moment. Consistency isn’t important to me. If Murphy wants to make a show that’s a grand series of giant, musical climaxes, I think he should go for it. But there’s nothing in his career that suggests he has anything like the tenacity or the vision (to crib a word from Matt Zoller Seitz) to just up and go for it.

I try to only hand out F’s to episodes I genuinely believe to be the worst of a show’s run. An F, I think, should go to that episode that represents a nadir the show will never visit again. And I certainly hope “The Rocky Horror Glee Show,” which has always seemed like an idea Murphy just kinda tossed off at Comic-Con (seriously, check the original quote) and then felt obliged to make, is the series’ lowpoint. As an episode of Glee, it fails because it doesn’t bother to ground any of the action in anything other than a funhouse version of these characters. (OK, Finn’s worries come close, and I’m tempted to bump this up to a D- for that storyline alone, but we must press on!) The Will and Emma storyline is a complete mess, misplacing what made either of the characters enjoyable in the first place. It fails as a Rocky Horror tribute because it misplaces a lot of the show’s charm and messages, in favor of flat recreations of some of the musical numbers. And it fails as a bridge between those two audiences because it mostly just gives up trying to satisfy either. I still think Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan are making a fantastic television show. I still think Ryan Murphy is capable of doing so. But the show Murphy makes is increasingly holding the other shows hostage, and it’s time for all involved to cut bait with these ridiculous theme episodes and get back to what made the show lovable in the first place.


Stray observations:

  • My wife has never seen Rocky Horror, and she was utterly lost throughout this episode. The episode uses the stage show as an end unto itself, something we’re supposed to care about because the characters do, but it largely misrepresents the stage show at the same time, creating a weird disconnect that must have been jarring for those unfamiliar with the original property.
  • I would have bumped this up to a D if “Time Warp” hadn’t sucked so much. I’ve seriously never seen a more lifeless version of that song, and I’VE SEEN THE DREW CAREY SHOW VERSION.
  • About transsexuals: Obviously, one of the most subversive things about the original show is that it features as its – arguably romantic – lead a transsexual. But Glee would have trouble addressing this issue without it taking over the show and making it no longer “family fun” or whatever, so it mostly just decides to toss in some jokes about transsexuals and call it a day. It’s more offensive than if the show had simply ignored the whole thing to begin with.
  • This episode even fails as a Halloween episode. Normally, the sight of people in crazy costumes would be enough to melt my heart just a bit, but not here. Not now. (I also have a soft spot for high school musicals, but this failed to work on that level as well.)
  • I’m working on researching just how much each of the show’s three writers brought to the show at its initial stages, especially by reading my way through the original pilot script (sans Kurt and Sue) and the original MOVIE script. I’ll hopefully have some thoughts on this in the next review I do.
  • Despite it all, I think Rachel and Finn as Janet and Brad is pretty good casting. So is Kurt as Riff Raff. Oh, and Santana as the lips was pretty cool. Honestly, this could have worked if it had just gone all out and done a straight-up Rocky Horror tribute. It probably wouldn't have been GOOD, but it wouldn't have been BORING.
  • You can all thank Myles McNutt for the horrifying screencap.
  • "I have no idea what's going on in this script, and it's not in a cool Inception way."
  • "None of this is plausible!"