First off, I have never watched an episode of Glee before this week. So for those of you as ignorant of the surprise hit Fox TV series as I am, let’s summarize. It’s about the members of a school choir in Lima, Ohio, as well as teacher Will Schuester, who runs the club (Matthew Morrison), and is about a 50/50 mix of high-school drama and musical numbers. The latter cover pretty much the gamut, from show tunes to Beyonce [sometimes even in the same number], and has become a cultural phenomenon. The show has sold 13 million digital downloads, and last year the cast had 25 songs reach the Billboard Top 100, the most by any act since the height of Beatlemania in 1964.
Still, you’ll probably also understand from that description why it wasn’t of much interest to me until last Tuesday, when the show delivered one of its themed episodes. Previous ones had included Madonna and Britney Spears (yawn…), but this one was themed on The Rocky Horror Show. Having seen more incarnations of that show than I care to think, dating back bordering on 25 years, this had to be seen. However, I had my pointy boots on, ready to administer an appropriate kicking, having accidentally stumbled open a scene where a fat black girl was playing the part of Frank N. Furter. Affirmative action at it’s most horrific? Lock and load, people.
Fortunately, it wasn’t that terrible. While I had not imagined the scene, it was at least provided with some justification – the original Frank having dropped out after his parents objected to the role, and the replacement choice fits in with the life-affirming messages for which the show is apparently renowned. But it also showed up the most obvious flaw in the endeavour: the need to water down the transgressive nature of the show (with its mantra, “Don’t dream it – be it!”) for network television. It’s not even allowed to use the word “transsexual”. When the aforementioned Ms. Furter was singing Sweet Transvestite, the lyric became “I’m a sweet transvestite, from sin-sational Transylvania.” Really. That wasn’t the worst moment of such TV censorship. Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me went from:
I thought there’s no use getting into heavy petting
It only leads to trouble and seat wetting…
I thought there’s no use getting into heavy sweating
It only leads to trouble and bad fretting…
Really. If you’re going to have a sanitized version of Rocky Horror, what’s the point? It’s like doing a remake of She-Wolf of the SS and making Ilsa Jewish. Missing the point much? I did enjoy the cameos from original movie cast members, Meat Loaf and Barry Bostwick, as TV executives – I can only presume Susan Sarandon and Tim Curry were “otherwise engaged”, filing their taxes or something. That drove the main plot-thread, which had cheer-leading coach and part-time TV pundit Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) joining the cast of the upcoming school production of The Rocky Horror Show, so she can do an expose on the filth your tax dollars is paying for, etc. etc.
Actually, she makes some interesting points, about how art whose only motive is to provoke, is usually bad art. But Will suddenly realizes that his motives for putting on the show are not even anything to do with ‘pushing the envelope’, being far more self-centred, and cancels the show. Damn. Just when a potentially-interesting confrontation was looming. Instead, the show closes with the cast performing The Time Warp for themselves, after some pseudo-philosophical justification that Rocky became a cult phenomenon due to the outcasts who embraced it. So they’re just like the glee club! [Only with significantly worse complexions and teeth].
Lob on the implausibility of, apparently, going from conception to near-finished show in about three days, and the show was on wobbly ground, plotwise. We were also unimpressed by its perpetuation of the myth that school is a place where people from all different social groups, races and backgrounds get along, in a way actually only seen in seventies’ Coke adverts. And teenage guys are just as insecure about their bodies as girls! Who knew? Which is why there are so many of the former getting plastic surgery before they can legally have sex. Oh, wait…
Still, as with any musical, it stands or falls on the strength of the songs [let’s face it, The Sound of Music? Totally implausible] and while the songwriting ability of Richard O’Brien is undimmed here, the performances delivered are almost entirely forgettable. With the exception of Sweet Transvestite – which, whatever its flaws, did at least bring something new to the party – at their best, they were adequate re-stagings of the versions from the original play. However, much of the time, they felt more like a homage to High School Musical than Rocky Horror, bland karaoke versions that were a shadow of the original.
I have to say, I have my suspicions that the episode may perhaps have been connected to the 35th-anniversary release this week of The Rocky Horror Picture Show on BluRay. By Fox. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence. I don’t think I’ll ever watch Glee again – not unless they do a Front Line Assembly or VNV Nation-themed edition. Seems unlikely, shall we say…