The Highs and Lows of Fox’s Rocky Horror Picture Show

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Photo: Steve Wilkie/FOX

Of all the network TV musical productions, Fox’s Rocky Horror Picture Show has felt like the biggest dud yet. The uninspired production’s high points were little kernels we held onto throughout the show (we all became Brad stans tonight). But in general, it just made us want to watch the original, not least of which because it didn’t do much in the way of reimagining its predecessor. Let’s relive the weird ride that is a network TV production of Rocky Horror.

HIGH: Ivy Levan’s usherette. Fox replaced its classic lip-centric credits sequence with a scene where Ivy Levan provides a tour of a rundown movie theater. It was a rare moment that capitalized on the film’s history, instead of simply replicating its every beat. And for all those beginning, “Let there be lips!” Levan certainly did not disappoint.

LOW: The fake audience. Half the fun of Rocky Horror is getting to shout at the screen, but if you’re not going to do an actual live show, consider cutting the wooden audience segments. Leave the running commentary to the pros — a.k.a. all of us on Twitter.

HIGH: Annaleigh Ashford’s Columbia. Spunky, and sardonic, and, best of all, weird, the Masters of Sex actress’s devious groupie rose above the limp energy of the rest of the cast in nearly every scene. Fox, take notes on her snide remarks in “Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me” and put her back in her pajamas and Mickey Mouse hat to run commentary on every other stunt TV musical. Also, damn girl.

LOW: The raggedy costumes. We used to buy Rocky Horror costumes at Hot Topic as kids, but that doesn’t mean that a major TV network should, too. Magenta and Riff Raff’s silver Transylvanian looks, Columbia’s weird tutu — this production fell well below B-movie glamour and landed somewhere closer to a bunch of middle schoolers trying out an emo phase.

HIGH: The Castle’s Last Supper. Can something be completely on the nose and still thrilling? Is that the entire appeal of Rocky Horror in general? Enhanced by Tim Curry’s intro (“Food has always played a vital role in life’s rituals …”), the castle dwellers forming a neon Last Supper tableau around Laverne Cox’s Dr. Frank/Jesus as they eat giant slabs of audibly wet meat is the show’s finest moment.

LOW: Rocky’s boxers. If perfect human specimen Rocky isn’t wearing a speedo, then Dr. Frank-N-Furter is definitely not doing his job.

LOW: The Snapchat tie-in. During commercial breaks, Fox did a thing where it displayed the Snapchat logo, and if you took a photo of it, you would get access to an exclusive Rocky Horror filter. But it flashed on the screen so quickly, it was impossible to unlock the filter in time. We spent an embarrassing amount of time pausing the TV, trying, and failing anyways.

HIGH: Brad’s transformation. Ryan McCartan plays our stuffy, uptight hero Brad Majors with the precise amount of sexual anxiety needed to make his gilded floor show transformation really (pussy) pop.

LOW: It’s not live. Unlike other network productions like Grease and The Wiz, Rocky Horror was pre-taped. Part of the joy in watching these stagings is for that intangible quality that comes with watching the actors sweat through it and hearing them hit that high note in the moment. Better still when there’s a live studio audience to laugh and cheer them on. Without that, the whole affair feels stripped of the very thing that makes it a unique television experience.

LOW: The uneven performances. The acting was all over the place, and Laverne Cox’s take on an iconic character, in particular, never quite gelled. But the bigger issue was a tonal one: Everyone felt like they were operating on different energy levels.

HIGH: This guy. For committing so hard.