Buckle up folks – we’re talking about Glee today.
My experience with the hit TV phenomenon known as Glee pretty much extends to me listening to and sneering at any number of the cover songs the show’s producers and cast have put out through the years. While I’ve never heard many good thing about the show in general, it seems like their brand of jukebox musical follows the method of taking a pre-existing popular song and making it even worse (or at the very least, more boring). Their Halloween episode, titled “The Rocky Horror Glee Show” (o2x05) came out around my first year of college, coincidentally around the time I was starting to get pretty obsessed with The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I never watched it because… well, why would I when I have the presumably better original version to watch whenever I want?
This holiday season, though, my curiosity simply got the best of me. I decided to use this opportunity to actually watch a whole damn episode of the show for once – at the very least, the presence of Richard O’Brien’s original tunes would make this viewing somewhat worthy for me… right?
Okay, so in this episode, the glee club director decides that the club should put on a production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show for their upcoming musical. The reasoning for his decision? He learns that the pretty young guidance counselor for whom he has feelings went to a midnight screening of the film (with her current beau) and was immediately enamored. So he basically drags a bunch of these impressionable teens to perform a not-at-all-age-appropriate stage play in order to fulfill his own need to get close to the object of his desire, who is probably not at all available. This is already off to a good start. But at least it gets a tad more interesting with the sub-conflict of cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester (played by the wonderful Jane Lynch) attempting sabotage the project entirely by working undercover to bring the play to fruition, only to report on it unfavorably and win brownie points from the community. She is persuaded into this role by two news station managers, played by none other than Barry Bostwick and Meat Loaf! A couple of neat little cameos in a throwback to the original beloved movie.
Let’s just say that the worthwhile bits of this episodes end right about there, for the most part. I’ve always suspected that Glee had its share of really dull, unfunny humor, but I somehow never realized that it actually got this bad! So much of this show’s writing is incredibly tone-deaf, with jokes often made at the expense of the cast’s most marginalized characters. There’s a joke about how the character in a wheelchair would obviously be given the role of Dr. Scott, who is wheelchair-bound, but it’s fired off with a complete lack of self-awareness which results in the disabled kid being the butt of the joke itself. Now that I mention it, I’m pretty sure this was also the only line he spoke the entire episode. Additionally, the t-slur is uttered by a cis character/actor at one point which is just awful and unnecessary. Finally, a little girl with Down Syndrome is essentially used as a sort of deus ex machina in the final third, haphazardly thrown in to conveniently tie off the conflict. I say “finally”, but let it be known that this is far from the extent of terrible, downward-punching comedy that this show features.
In terms of the narrative content itself, much of it ranges from boring to appalling. There’s some drama involving a love triangle between the glee club director, the counselor, and her arrogant boyfriend (oh, hi, John Stamos)… but none of it is even remotely intereting enough to get into. Moreover, there’s a shoehorned side-plot involving a couple of male cast members dealing with body issues as they anticipate getting half-naked in front of a large audience. Snore. Most egregiously, though, as the cast shuffles around in determining who plays what character, what seems to be plainly glossed over is how strange it is for adults to cast themselves alongside teenagers in an explicitly sexual musical. Maybe I’m just uptight, but I really can’t see this going well in any scenario, especially not one when the organizing adult is doing so for selfish reasons. At least the show isn’t unaware of the preposterousness of this being a high school play – after all, the risqué nature of the play is the driving force for Sue wanting it dead. Nonetheless, the final stance of the episode isn’t actually made until the very end, after which it renders the preceding events completely pointless. I won’t spoil the end here, but just know that it isn’t at all as satisfying as it very well could have been.
But wait a minute – Glee is a musical show, so wouldn’t it be worthwhile that I talk about the musical numbers, all of which are direct covers of songs from the stage play and film?? Well, would it surprise you if I said that most of them were completely pointless and dull? Seriously, The Rocky Horror Picture has long been lauded for the campy, sleazy, over-the-top nature of its music, but the second that the giant lips came on screen for the sterilized Glee rendition of “Science Fiction Double Feature” with way too much vibrato, I knew that this wasn’t what I was going to get. I can appreciate that the singers on display here are legitimately talented and have some real vocal chops to work with, but I’m not at all convinced that they were suitable for Richard O’Brien’s songs. After all, it’s all about the performance for songs like “Hot Patootie – Bless My Soul”, “Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me”, and “Time Warp, but these performances were kind of lackluster. Some of the energy and nuanced humor was seen in their versions of “Dammit, Janet” and I definitely enjoyed Amber Riley as Dr. Frank-N-Furter singing “Sweet Tr*nsv*st*te”. Other than that, though… just no. It’s the same old lifeless Glee covers I’ve come to know and despise all these years, only with songs I actually give a damn about.
Essentially, I knew that I wasted my time when it was quoted near the end that, “Rocky Horror isn’t about pushing boundaries”, as if that’s a valid moral lesson to get from all this. I don’t know about anyone else, but if Rocky Horror isn’t actively working at pushing boundaries, I don’t want any part of it. And no, I don’t mean grown-ass adults engaging in erotic acts with non-adults, nor button-pushing “humor” that only serves to make punching bags out of the most easy targets in the whole damn show. In the end, all I can say is that I’m glad that I finally got the obligatory first Glee episode out of the way, and I doubt I’ll ever revisit this again.