Our hopes were high (astronomically so) for this week’s Rocky Horror episode. We thought of making toast and procuring plastic gloves. We considered yelling “Slut!” and “Asshole!” every time Rachel and Finn graced the screen (we mostly wanted to yell at Mr. Schue). Instead, we scientifically analyzed each musical number — often, we were quite impressed! — while marveling at how the episode that could have truly transgressed was actually one of the more traditional Glee shows. But as the immortal Dr. Frank-N-Furter might say, “It wasn’t all bad, was it?”
“Science Fiction Double Feature”
Yes, that’s a 9 for absurdity — absurdly awesome! The iconic opening credits for Rocky Horror are re-created here, from the sexy-grotesque lips to the titles font. Naya Rivera’s slithery voice is perfect for the song, a train of nonsensical lyrics and
seventies pop-culture and horror thirties and fifties B-movie references delivered in self-satisfied deadpan (and, thankfully, not a word changed). We only wish she’d performed the entire thing (this will be the rare week we recommend you support the juggernaut that is Glee on iTunes and buy every track — many were abbreviated for broadcast).
“There’s a Light (Over at the Frankenstein Place)”
In a welcome change of narrative pace, we begin this week with a flashback: We see what actually looks like a realistic high-school-musical set (props for the right-on depiction of Frank’s castle!), with realistically bad staging (which makes every past Glee number even more of a mystery). Jump to Emma and Will: Emma’s eating her sandwich crusts! And she’s got a kicky new haircut! It’s all because of Carl (swoon), a fact Will knows all too well and is almost willing to accept — until he hears that, horror of horrors, Carl’s succeeded in getting Emma to become a Rocky Horror–goer.
Always ready to embrace ready lessons for selfish purposes, Will decides the arts are about pushing boundaries and thus, he will throw together a Rocky Horror school musical (by which he means New Directions musical). As if to answer questioning Rocky-freaks, he explains we will see two Columbias and Magentas. In a move thankfully away from the obvious, Kurt immediately declines to play Frank. Artie hilariously assumes he’ll play Dr. Scott (“the guy in the wheelchair, right?”). The obvious Brad and Janet, Finn and Rachel, sing this Rocky classic (sadly their backup trio isn’t dressed as Puritan farmers, but we’ll let it slide) with the right amount of flat naïveté. Meanwhile, “Sue’s Corner” has triumphantly returned! And this time, two original Rocky cast members (disguised as cable-news scouts) have noticed — hey, look, it’s the original Brad and Eddie, Barry Bostwick and Meatloaf! She's never recovered from getting hit by wayward pieces of toast at a Rocky screening with her sister, and so Sue’s deception of the week begins: She’ll infiltrate the glee ranks and air an exposé on how the “secular progressive agenda has arrived in Lima.”
“Whatever Happened to Saturday Night (Hot Patootie)”
We didn’t expect this episode to be the one that would take on teen body image in an affecting but funny way, and yet here we are in the boys' locker room, unable to keep from smiling as Sam explains to a charmingly insecure Finn that “ain’t no
carbo carpool to sexy.” It’s refreshing to see the show acknowledge that superficial scrutiny in high school isn’t limited to girl-girl or boy-girl (as in the case of Artie’s magnificent omelette comment to Santana) quips. Of course, being extremely hot doesn’t really hurt — let us direct your attention to a singing Mr. John Stamos, who’s got what we believe they call Effortless Charm in spades, and not too shabby a singing voice either!
Despite plenty of references to Rocky Horror’s less family-friendly elements (permission slips, script amendments, obvious lyric changes), this episode strangely skirts the blatant sexual taboos of the musical. Why is “transvestite” apparently so much less risky a word choice than “transsexual” (well, we get why it is — but still, it’s a very fine line). Why is it only when Sam and Finn voice their insecurities that revealing underwear is nixed from the costume list? It all feels a little uneven, and we’re mildly weirded out that the inspirational message Mercedes takes away from the film is “Don’t dream it, be it” — the theme to the film’s ending orgy. Still, we’ve got to hand it to her: She makes us miss Tim Curry a bit less than we anticipated. And Lea Michele gets Janet’s pre-number fainting lines perfect! Yay!
As Carl’s ability to even bust through a wall on a motorcycle without mussing his hair continues to irk Will (“Bra-vo, Carl. Bra-vo”), Will’s less-than-noble intentions toward Emma only heighten, resulting in a really, really lame attempt to get in her pants by taking on the Rocky role and rehearsing the number we like to call Susan Sarandon’s Soprano-gasm. Thankfully he leaves the singing to Emma, who’s a perfect vocal (and eyeball!) match for Sarandon. Best of all? The spot-on participation from Brittany and Santana, singing Columbia and Magenta’s voyeuristic lines (an expertly integrated bit referencing the original staging) and the amazingly re-created ending sequence — Janet with head thrown back, seeing visions of all the men in her life creepily singing “Creature of the night!” (well done, Matthew Morrison, in particular, who gets the original Rocky’s vocal inflection eerily right).
For several reasons, we’re left wondering whether the “Rocky Horror Glee Show” might have been better executed as a special, longer episode. For one, we’d have heard the extended versions of these songs (we miss Kurt’s amazing Richard O’Brien imitation in “Over at the Frankenstein Place”). For another, the impending conflict we’re warned the show will cause throughout the episode never materializes. The point of Sue’s unaired segment is actually an interesting one worth exploring — that sometimes boundary-pushing art is great, and sometimes art for art’s sake isn’t the right thing for everyone. Instead, Schue decides the kids will not perform publicly; much like poor Frank at the end of the film, they’ll be the glittering stars of a show for practically no audience. It's a shame that this excellent rendition of the “Time Warp” — highlighted by Brittany and Tina’s perkily tapping Columbias — won’t see the light of day in Lima.
Also, read Rebecca Milzoff's IM conversation with the New York Times' Dave Itzkoff (both longtime Rocky Horror devotees) as they debate the episode, as well as the state of Glee this season.