Glee Does Rocky Horror

Halloween spoof plays it too safe

Courtesy of Fox

There isn’t much about hit Fox TV show “Glee” that isn’t pretty gay (it’s about theatre and chorus geeks after all). But in last night’s special Halloween episode, the creators did more slashing than Jason Voorhees. Trouble is they went a bit too far in an attempt to sanitize the much beloved camp classic Rocky Horror Picture Show.

One of the biggest no-nos was casting a chorus girl (Amber Riley) as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the famous transsexual from Transylvania – expertly played in the 1975 film by Tim Curry. Lame? Very. What was even more perplexing is how this new squeaky clean act could possibly come on the heels of the recent uproar over sexy photos of the cast in GQ. Is that like saying sexy straight photos are okay but gaying it up on stage is, well, a little dangerous for television audiences?

Even if Rocky Horror might be considered more of an absurdist comedy than a legitimate fright fest, it has a very long and legendary reputation for being completely off the wall. It’s hard to see any danger in singing a word like “transsexual,” especially given the show’s songbook this season and last. They recreated the overtly erotic “I’m a Slave 4 U” in the Britney Spears episode after all.

Entertainment Weekly reported that recurring guest star John Stamos was originally expected to play the transvestite, but the Fox network pulled the plug over concerns that the image of this former Uncle Jesse in fishnets might upset family-friendly viewers.

So why even go there? Given the enormous closet of Halloween themes that are available to riff on (everything from the Scream movies to Sweeney Todd), why select such an overtly gay (and adult) concept that needs to be watered down to the point of insignificance? The whole point of Rocky Horror, for those who may not know, is that a meek straight couple get lost, end up at a mansion, meet a transsexual who’s creating a beefcake in his lab, and become intoxicated by the debauchery of said transsexual and a gaggle of eccentric characters who regularly break into song. It’s kind of a like what would happen if a B-movie met a monster movie and was set to the tune of a Meatloaf album.

The casting of Frank-N-Furter, with safe makeup and a very safe wardrobe, wasn’t the only letdown last night. Many of the lyrics were also scrubbed clean. Sadly, “transsexual Transylvania” was even rewritten to be “sensational Transylvania.” Talk about a horror story. It’s hard to hit reverse when you raised the bar pretty high in the first place.

Up until now, “Glee” has broken many boundaries by introducing not only a gay character, but also plenty of pertinent gay themes, like Curt’s coming out to his father. Couldn’t the network do a better job of stepping up to honor the original Rocky Horror story a little more creatively so as to address the issue of its appropriateness (or not) in high school? The plot to stop the production, as led by the show’s saving grace in a sweatsuit Sue Sylvester (played by out actress Jane Lynch), would have had more fuel that way. If the musical Mr. Shue and the kids decided to produce was a little over the top, how much more interesting would the crusade have been to stop it?

For anyone who is familar with the show – and for anyone who may have dressed up and tossed toast in a movie theatre during one of many memorable midnight showings (yes, you) – this episode probably seemed pretty drab.

Cute? Yes. Artful? Absolutely not.

And in its most recent attempt to get melancholy for camp (it’s a good guess the show’s openly gay creator Ryan Murphy is a Rocky Horror fan) the result was definitely not much of a “Time Warp” at all.