Glee, “The Rocky Horror Glee Show”

I’ll be the first to admit that I have not seen “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” the cult phenomenon that supposedly inspired last night’s Glee. And I’d like to say that unfamiliarity helped me enjoy “The Rocky Horror Glee Show” instead of experiencing it as a fan of the film and being wholly disappointed. However, because this episode is such a misfire on nearly every single level, I don’t think it matters what my experience with the film is. Basically, everyone who watched Glee last night should be disappointed and perhaps even angry because this is definitely one of the worst episodes the series has done in its short time on television.

Immediately after this episode aired and I did my usual post-Glee ritual of talking to my girlfriend on the phone about the episode, I told her that I didn’t really think it was worse than the Britney Spears episode because, ultimately, “Rocky Horror Glee Show” is completely innocuous. It doesn’t attempt anything wildly innovative with the source material, especially in comparison to the drug-induce video sequences of the Spears episode. Of course, that’s pathetic in its own right, but the more I thought about the two episodes and placed them against one another — which I felt applicable since they’re both theme episodes penned by Ryan Murphy — I realized that this one is worse, particularly for one major reason: It’s treatment of Will.

Will Schuester used to be somebody we could root for. He was trying to balance his feelings of regret for not making it big with helping these New Directions kids do better than he did, and even if Terri was a psychopath, Will had someone had home that kept him grounded. Will finding out about Terri’s fake pregnancy and confronting her in the kitchen is, to this day, my favorite moment in Glee history. It’s fantastic. How the series let his personal life disrupt New Directions’ journey to sections across “Mattress” and “Sections” created my favorite one-two punch of Glee episodes ever. It was heartbreaking. And some of the dumb things he did leading up to that — starting a boy band that went through all the Behind the Music tropes in a week, rapping — were forgivable because, damn, his life sucked and he was just trying so hard to be something.

But after the big break in season one, Murphy and company decided it was somehow better to make Will the worst character on the series, and honestly, the worst lead character on any series that I can think of off-hand at 9:35 a.m. while I sit at Starbucks. Apart from an interesting (but still misguided) detour in “Dream On,” Will has sucked the life out of every episode he’s been forefronted in. It’s awful. You know why “Duets” is the best episode of the series? Because it regulates Will to reaction shots of smiles and head-bobs.

Anyway, though I hoped the new season would bring change for Will (and in the premiere, he was okay), Ryan Murphy effectively murdered him in the Britney Spears episode with his ridiculous idea of getting involved with the “Toxic” performance as some way to impress Emma in his “competition” with Carl, who generally seems like a cool dude. I guess Murphy doesn’t realize that the idea in keeping a couple apart is that one of them dates a scumbag so that we can root for them to get together. Making Carl a nice guy and Will a giant tool mess doesn’t really gel. But supposedly, at the end of that episode, Will had learned his lesson. He wouldn’t meddle in their relationship, he’d be mature and figure out how to be himself instead of a sex-crazed wannabe with no sense of self.

Well, because Murphy not only doesn’t pay attention to other writers’ episodes (more on this later), he doesn’t pay attention to his own, because Will makes the same exact mistakes here, only taking it steps further. I can get past the logistical ridiculousness that is Will deciding to have ND perform “Rocky Horror,” write the script in a clean-ish way, get the rights, make all the costumes, have rehearsals and keep it under wraps in western Ohio while Sue goes along with it because she randomly wants a local Emmy very badly just so he can impress Emma. Logistically, fine. But read that paragraph again, and it’s Will as a character that will frustrate you. HE DID ALL OF THIS TO IMPRESS A WOMAN WHO SEEMS GENERALLY HAPPY WITH A NICE DENTIST WHO CLEARLY ADORES HER.

Thus, if Murphy killed Will Schuester in “Britney/Brittany,” “The Rocky Horror Glee Show” is his funeral service. The Will Schuester we used to adore and then kind of like is officially dead and gone, replaced with a vessel for stupidity and pathetic rapping skills. That and that alone makes this the worst episode of the season.

As for the use of the source material within the episode, I still see it as fairly innocuous and ultimately, pointless. I understand the desire to not to a full-blown “Rocky Horror” hour where the characters basically just perform the play and then maybe it’s bracketed with a few character moments, because although that would be an interesting exercise, it would alienate most of the series’ audience. I get that. But even as someone who hasn’t seen the film, but is familiar enough with it and the music, the episode doesn’t seem really interested in A.) using the material to say anything about the characters and B.) really use the material at all.

From the beginning, there’s really no indication of why any of the kids are excited or not excited to do this. They just go along with it because the episode dictates that they should and it feels like they’re not only being pulled along by Will, but the script as well. There are moments where Murphy is trying to convince us that the “Rocky Horror” material is inspiring the kids to do something — you know, because that’s Murphy’s “message” every time — like when Kurt decides maybe he shouldn’t play Frank-N-Furter because he’s already got a bulls-eye on his back and when Mercedes eventually steps into the role. The series could have really taken a leap and had Kurt take the Frank-N-Furter role, because there’s definitely a part of Kurt we’ve seen who would totally do that. Instead, Murphy doesn’t seem too interested in taking risks with the material in the way that he perhaps should, so Kurt gets pushed to the side for the entire episode. As for Mercedes’ decision, it’s nice, if only because it gives her something to do, but there’s no context. She wants a leading role. Okay. Great. Boom, character development!

Oddly, when the episode actually does make an attempt at telling some semblance of story as to how this material influences the characters, it kind of works. Finn’s struggle over his body image is a fairly quiet, but effective story that we don’t typically see on television, and one that naturally fits into the Finn we’ve seen all season. Unfortunately, Finn’s journey is neutered a bit by his conversations with Sam, who Murphy apparently thinks should be a less charming, more douchey version of Puck. This would be disappointing as a singular occurrence, but in the shadow of “Duets,” an episode that made him instantly likable, cute and interesting, it’s overwhelmingly offensive to me as a viewer. I can sort of buy that he’s worried about keeping Quinn around, but good lord does he show that insecurity in the worst ways. I don’t understand Murphy’s desire to make all the guys on the series stupid but Kurt, but this is the world the series lives in.

Sadly, that’s really all there is that’s even close to “development” or even an attempt at it here. Quinn gets nothing to do, Kurt’s sidelined, Santana and Brittany got over their emotional fight from “Duets” (3 Glees, everyone!) and even Rachel exists only to tell Finn he’s attractive, despite his issues. I guess we can take solace in the fact that Rachel didn’t lampoon this whole production like the awful version of her would have, but after such wonderful development in “Duets,” her lack of screentime is actually disappointing.

And again, the music and film are ultimately useless within the episode. After Will goes through his usual thought process of making a dumb decision and then continuing to make things worse before, around about minute 35, he realizes he’s a freaking immature fool, he gives one of the worst “THIS IS THE MESSAGE” speeches in a series full of awful “THIS IS THE MESSAGE” speeches. He’s realized that the intent of “Rocky Horror” is not to push boundaries, but instead to be a home for outcasts, which of course, fits into the “We’re in this together, even no one likes us!” mantra of New Directions. Not only is the speech an awful way to bullet the episode’s use of the material — well, at least both are executed in a half-assed way! — but it’s problematic for a few reasons. First of all, the episode itself clearly has an uneasy relationship with supposed outcasts like transsexuals or at least doesn’t want to comment on them in a way that could seem challenging on a family series. Secondly, despite all its attempts to claim not to be, Glee wants to be a boundary-pushing series. It’s created by Ryan Murphy for god’s sake. This is a particularly intriguing comment in the wake of the GQ photo shoot, which existed only to push boundaries. So, the speech is ultimately stupid, flat and a bad attempt to bring a horrible episode together, but also not completely true in how the series usually operates.

I don’t want to make claims I can’t back up, but from the beginning, this episode felt like something Ryan Murphy randomly said at Comic-Con when answering a question, a stream of consciousness kind of thing, and then the media picked up on it and he felt obligated to do it. I was there, like in the 10th row and that’s exactly what it felt like. I might have even tweeted at the time that he was perhaps just BS’ing because in the same breath in mentioned going back to character stories. Whether this is true or not doesn’t matter, what does matter is that the episode feels like there was little effort put into making the material relevant to character or even using the material past a facade appearance of doing so.

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