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Halloween Week Gleecap: “Don’t Theme It…Be It”

By Adam

October 28, 2010 at 5:01AM EDT

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Coming on the heels of the stellar “Duets” episode two weeks ago, I didn’t hold much hope that the “The Rocky Horror Glee Show” would reach the same heights; after all, it’s a theme episode. Add to that the fact that it was written by Ryan Murphy, probably the most inconsistent of Glee‘s three writers, and it’s chances looked even worse. Though even if Murphy eschewed plot and character development completely in favor of sheer entertainment, I’d still probably have been happy. And truthfully, I think the episode would have worked a whole lot better if he had done just that, retooling it into a stand-alone tribute to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

As the episode opened, recreating the film’s opening titles with the iconic ruby red lips, singing “Science Fiction Double Feature,” it seemed as though the show might actually take that route. But, alas, just as I got my hopes up, we suddenly flash back to the beginning of the episode’s story, and of course it continues the one recurring plotline I find most tiresome on the show: the on-again, off-again romance between Mr. Shue and Emma. ::sigh::

It seems that Carl the Dentist whisked Emma away on a madcap weekend that involved a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the local revival theatre, and somehow this has magically begun to cure Emma of her OCD tendencies. Instead of being happy for her, this, of course, triggers Will’s insane jealousy (quickly becoming his only defining characteristic). He scrambles for some way to outdo Carl, telling Emma that he’s planning a stage version of Rocky Horror with the Glee Club, which he then rushes into production. I think Todd VanDerWerff, Glee recapper for The Onion’s AV Club, said it best: “I miss the Will Shuester of the Glee pilot.” You know, back when the character wasn’t a giant douche (albeit one who looks damn good shirtless, in just a tie). In hindsight, I think “Duets” may have worked so well because, for the most part, it did away with the adult characters and focused solely on the kids. If we had to have a normal Glee storyline molded into a tribute to a cult classic musical, it would have fit better if the episode had actually focused on the kids. They should have been the ones to want to put on the show. Will’s speech at the conclusion of the episode, about the way the self-identified “outcasts” who made up a majority of the film’s fanbase were brought together through the musical and created their own community, had a kernel of truth to it, and I wish the show had run with it. The need to create a family has always been one of the show’s more resonant themes.

But instead of the fun throwaway episode featuring elaborate production values that I had imagined as a best-case scenario, we got a terrible plot that furthers the aspects of the show I most dislike, interspersed with lifeless musical numbers. In the name of research, I recently watched the original Rocky Horror film for the first time (I know, I know; everyone has already told me that I deserve to have my gay card revoked), so I would have some point of reference for this episode, and honestly, I’m not sure whether or not that was the right decision. On the one hand, if I hadn’t had some knowledge of the film to start with, I would be completely lost; the episode gives the audience no sense of the musical whatsoever (which, when talking about a “ tribute” episode, is probably the worst criticism one can make). I doubt I’d even be able to describe the barest outline of the plot based only on what I’d seen here. On the other hand, I probably wouldn’t have minded the watering down of the original show as much.

Oddly, one of the things I thought I’d mind most (Mercedes stepping into the role of Frank-N-Furter, I thought worked fairly well in context. You have to admit that it made sense that none of the teenage boys in Glee Club would have volunteered to step up to the plate. But, in dealing with such a boundary-pushing musical, it would have been nice if the show had found some other way to shake up some taboos on network TV. It’s not like Glee has been afraid to be a little provocative up until now (witness Brittany and Santana’s “scissoring” discussion from a couple of weeks ago). And on the subject of Frank-N-Furter, is transsexual really an inappropriate word for primetime TV?

The other aspect of the episode that worked, in my mind at least, was Finn and Sam’s struggle with body image. It’s not often that we hear about this topic from a male perspective and the way the issue differs along gender lines. Plus—woo hoo!—shirtless boys!

I wasn’t wild about the musical numbers in the episode, but listening to the album versions on their own, they’re really not half bad. It’s a small consolation, but one I’ll gladly take. One last note: take another look at the “Time Warp” number that appears in the episode—probably the most limply staged of all the songs—but tell me that Dianna Agron (Quinn) isn’t having the time of her life. How great would this episode have been if it had been able to convey even half that level of enthusiasm?

Reviewed by ADAM image In just seven days, he can make you a man.