Tag Archives: The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Fox’s Rocky Horror remake is dull, sexless and even more problematic than the original

rocky-horror-press-fox-2016-billboard-1548Remakes of old movies are probably never necessary, but they can often be redeemed if they can breathe new life into old stories and present the audience with a fresh perspective on dated material. Sadly, Fox’s clunkily titled The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again does neither of these things. Instead, it somehow manages to sanitize and straighten a classic piece of queer theater and highlight all of the problematic aspects of the original film at the same time.

First things first, though. There are a few things to like about this new production. Laverne Cox (while in my opinion miscast—more on that later) sparkles in the role of Frank, and a couple of her songs are truly excellent. Annaleigh Ashford’s Columbia is pitch perfect, and she does the best job of anyone on the cast to make this role her own. It’s good to see a production that is so diverse in its casting in general, and this is especially apparent in the crowd scenes. Finally, the costumes are pretty great.

So, this new Rocky Horror isn’t a complete disaster. Still, it’s not good, either.

From pure craft standpoint, this reimagining of Rocky Horror is a bit of a mess. The framing device of the theater and the choice to include some of the audience participation that is common at the still-ongoing midnight showings of the original film sounded interesting when the show was in development and suggested a sincere attempt to introduce a new generation of young people to Rocky Horror. The execution of this concept was terrible, though, from beginning to end. Even decisions that in theory work really well to set this production apart from the 1975 movie—for example, the choice to cast the Usherette for the show’s opening number—fail to hit their mark.

Ivy Levan’s soulless rendition of “Science Fiction Double Feature” is illustrated with her empty-eyed vamping around an old-timey movie theater with no coherent sense of tone or meaning. Like, I literally don’t know what they’re going for here. Similarly, while Reeve Carney’s performance as Riff Raff is overall workmanlike, his introductory solo (in “There’s a Light (Over at the Frankenstein Place) is characterized by absurd overproduction and a truly bizarre set of incomprehensible facial expressions. It’s genuinely weird and not in a good way. This kind of emotional disconnect is (with a few exceptions) a consistent thread throughout the show, as if everyone learned the words of their songs but had no idea how to bring any of the characters to life. Lowlights include the worst version of “The Sword of Damocles” I’ve ever seen and a “Planet Schmanet Janet” that wildly misses its mark, tone-wise.

The whole show would likely have benefited from live performances, which might have felt more organic. Instead, everything kind of ranges from somewhat to ridiculously overproduced, which gives the whole thing a slightly sterile feel that is enhanced by the too-clean cast and pristine (if nice-to-look-at) costumes. There’s an affectation of high camp here, but it’s too self-conscious and purposeful to have the disheveled charm of the original. Probably the perfect example of what I mean comes when we get to the floor show. Frank has Columbia, Rocky, Brad and Janet decked out in gold costumes with gold makeup, but the makeup doesn’t run when they move to the water. The original Rocky Horror had a messiness, a sort of homemade quality, that made its weird world feel real and lived in, and this remake doesn’t have that.

Perhaps the greatest sin of this Rocky Horror, however, is the sheer sexlessness of it all. There’s very little chemistry between any of the characters. Brad and Janet seem not just innocent and unworldly, but practically childlike. The connection between Columbia and Eddie feels real enough, but it’s such a small, fast-moving section of the film—and with the dinner party scene missing its cannibalistic implications—that it isn’t actually very impactful. Laverne Cox is stunningly beautiful and oozes sex appeal, but all of Frank’s interactions with other characters have been toned down so much that it’s never actually clear if any sex happens at all. Instead, everything comes off as just slightly saucy play. This is also true of Janet’s big song, “Touch-a Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me,” throughout which she and Rocky gambol around a bed like a couple of thirteen-year-olds having a sleepover—I don’t think he even touches a boob. Meanwhile, Columbia and Magenta are very specifically non-sexual in their interactions. Even the climactic orgy in the pool is stripped of most of its sensuality. Lips barely even touch, and none of the ones that do belong to two women.

Even stripping most of the sex out of the show and making what remains almost aggressively heterosexual doesn’t allow the show to completely avoid the problematic messaging of the original. In fact, it almost highlights these things even more, and the casting of a trans woman as Frank actually deepens some of the more unfortunate implications of Frank’s predatory behavior. The toning down of Frank’s “seduction” of Brad and Janet here accentuates rather than mitigates that this is rape. While there’s less actual sexual content to the encounters, the coercion is exaggerated and then highlighted by the absence of any sense that Brad or Janet are overcome by either passion or pleasure. Instead, their decisions to give in to Frank’s advances feel both more calculated and less earned.

Rocky Horror has never been a paragon of sense-making cinema, but this production turns absurdity into straight up gibberish. It does nothing to address the problem of the damaging and dated depraved queer trope, and even adds a new dimension to it by inserting a trans woman into the role of Frank—which feels especially irresponsible in a time when public fears of trans women continue to incite violence and are motivating anti-trans legislation all over the place. Sure, the ultimate “message” of Rocky Horror is still about sexual freedom, but what was significantly transgressive forty years ago is positively tame by modern standards and made more so by the determined effort to sanitize and straighten the production so it could be aired in an 8:00pm Thursday timeslot.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • It’s bittersweet to see Tim Curry as the Criminologist.
  • Christina Milian is a fine Magenta, but her wigs are godawful. That bright magenta is too on the nose, and the wigs are so monochromatic they look cheap.
  • I know I said I liked the costumes, but I hated Rocky’s gold boxers with a passion. They’re hideous and incredibly unsexy.
  • The conventioneers weren’t terrible, but they did all kind of blur together into a kind of indistinct countercultural blob of attractive bodies.
  • I wish Ben Vereen had gotten a little more screentime to stand out. His scenes felt rushed and a waste of his talent. Great legs, though.
  • Seriously, though, Laverne Cox’s version of “I’m Going Home” is incredible. Like, she’s so good that it almost redeems this whole shitshow.
  • Last thing: Richard O’Brien’s recent garbage statements about trans women have honestly kind of soured me on Rocky Horror altogether.

The SF Bluestocking 2016 Fall Watchlist

After a summer of not watching much at all–though I did finally check out Stranger Things–I feel like September has really just crept up on me. I realized yesterday that I’d been unaware of the premiere date for Son of Zorn, one of the few new shows that I’m even moderately interested in this year, and that’s when I sat down to work out what I’m going to be watching this fall. Sadly, some of my favorite shows (notably The Expanse and iZombie) won’t be back until 2017, and the same goes for the new shows (American GodsPowerlessStar Trek: Discovery) that I’m most excited to see. So, this fall definitely is a season of slim pickings. Still there are a few things I’ll be following.

Son of Zorn
September 11 on Fox

I don’t have super high hopes for this show (in fact, I’m somewhat confused about how this one got greenlit in the first place), but it’s got several people involved in it who I really like. The pilot was watchable and moderately amusing, but it was dedicated almost entirely to basic character introductions and setting up its frankly silly premise. Tim Meadows pulls his weight, but Artemis Pebdani is the real highlight of the pilot as Zorn’s new boss, Linda. The rest of the cast is fine, and I really love Jason Sudeikis, but I’m just not sure this show is going to work. I’m here for it, though, at least for a few more episodes. I expect this one to either sink or swim quickly.

Lucifer Season 2
September 19 on Fox

Lucifer is one of my favorite problematic faves, and I’m very much looking forward to its second season. Adding Tricia Helfer to the cast can’t hurt, and D.B. Woodside and Lesley-Ann Brandt killed it last season. My biggest hope for it is that it gets some better, or at least more consistent writing instead of simply relying on Tom Ellis’s considerable (possibly infinite) charisma to save the show from mediocrity. Also, more Trixie, please.

The Good Place
September 19 on NBC

I like Kristen Bell, and the show claims to be from the same creator as Brooklyn 99 and Parks and Recreation, two of my favorite comedies in recent years. However, the trailer for this one isn’t great, and it seems like it could be taking its concept to a place that is a little more cartoonish than I normally find funny. Still, I’ll check it out for an episode or two at least.

The Exorcist
September 23 on Fox

I’m not that into horror, as a general rule, because I don’t like things that are actually scary, but I’ll watch this for Geena Davis.

September 23 on CBS

MacGyver is the most profoundly stupid-looking and completely inexplicable reboot of the year, and there is no universe in which I don’t check out at least a couple of episodes of this train wreck.

Luke Cage
September 30 on Netflix

Full disclosure: I still haven’t watched the last couple episodes of the first season of Daredevil, but I absolutely loved Jessica Jones, so I’m not sure when I’ll get around to watching Luke Cage. I’m not sure that I’ll like it, since I’m not really that into super heroes, and I was turned off of this show a little by an early trailer (the SDCC one maybe?) in which not a single female character was even visible. However, it’s on my list.

Ash vs. Evil Dead Season 2
October 2 on Starz

The greatest virtue of season one of Ash vs. Evil Dead may have been that it was only a half hour show, so it never overstayed its welcome. It certainly made some missteps, most notably in the treatment of its female characters, but it was nevertheless a fun watch, enough that I’ll be tuning in for a second season, anyway. I’m sure it’ll be worth watching just for the artfully spraying gore, if that’s a thing you like watching (and I do).

October 2 on HBO

So, Westworld, is apparently a television adaptation of a 1973 film by the same title that I’ve never seen, but that some people are outraged is being rebooted because that’s how these things go. It’s HBO, so I expect it to have high production values and good writing, but I also expect it to have problematic elements and a similar tone deafness to certain issues that characterizes other HBO shows. That said, it looks good, and I’m always happy to see more serious sci-fi being made even if I do wish we could get more original content–or at least shows based on material written in this century.

October 3 on ABC

I’m not sure the world needs another hard-living anti-hero lawyer show, but if it really must be done I guess casting Haley Atwell is a good direction to go.

Supergirl Season 2
October 10 on CW

I really liked the first season of Supergirl, but it’s a show that was bogged down time and again by poor writing. Sadly, I don’t expect this to improve with its move from CBS to the CW and the correspondingly smaller budget that comes with that. Calista Flockhart has already been downgraded to guest star, which is disappointing as Cat Grant’s relationship with Supergirl/Kara was for me one of the best parts of the show. We’ll see, though. Maybe the smaller budgets will bring a new back-to-basics mentality to the writers’ room, and we’ll see some more coherent storytelling. Melissa Benoist is an amazing Supergirl, and it would be nice to see her get the type of writing she deserves.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again
October 20 on Fox

I am unabashedly excited for this.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Season 2
October 21 on CW

I almost never watched this show because I hated the title so much. I still hate the title, but the show itself is amazing, and I cannot wait for season two.

Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life
November 25 on Netflix

I mean, obviously.

All the SDCC Trailers I Care About, Part Three: Television

Most years, SDCC adds a ton of new shows to my watchlist, but this year was mostly recaps of some shows I already watch (like iZombie), recaps and trailers for shows that I don’t watch (The Walking DeadGothamAgents of Shield, etc.), and just a handful of trailers for actual new shows that look good. As with the super hero stuff and movies, these trailers also have a woeful lack of women, with not a single new woman-led show being promoted, which likely accounts for my general apathy towards most of this year’s offerings. Still, there are a couple of shows coming up that I’m looking forward to, even if none of them are quite what I really want to see.

American Gods

American Gods looks amazing, you guys. Ricky Whittle is perfectly cast as Shadow, and the rest of the supporting cast is also excellent. I’m a little disappointed/concerned that there’s been no casting news for Sam Black Crow, who figures much larger in the narrative than Bilquis or Easter or the Djinn–all of whom have already been cast–but I’m hoping they’re just saving her as a surprise for when the show finally airs next year.

Star Trek: Discovery

It’s not much, but I’m glad we got something Trek-related. I’m super stoked about this show, and I can’t wait to see the new crew and have some idea of the plot. I’ve always love DS9 best of the shows, though, so I’m slightly skeptical of this being another ship series. Those always struggled with getting preachy and feeling very after-school-special-y or just with being too episodic without a strong overarching story. That said, it’s not 1995, and I have a lot of hope that this new show is going to reflect the best of some of the newer trends in TV storytelling.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is among the Douglas Adams books that I haven’t ever gotten around to reading, though I am vaguely familiar with the concept of it, so this show wasn’t even on my radar before SDCC, to be honest. In a largely lackluster year for new shows, this one stands out as a quirky adaptation of a work by one of the great humorists of the genre, and it looks hugely entertaining if you enjoy madcap adventures (which I do).

The Exorcist

On the one hand, I’m not sure why anyone thought The Exorcist needed to be revisited. On the other hand, Geena Davis.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

I am unabashedly excited for this, just like I have been about most of the recent spate of TV productions of musicals. Laverne Cox looks amazing, and Tim Curry is the Criminologist. The inclusion of the audience participation stuff seems iffy, but I like that they’re taking some chances on incorporating some different things into the production so I’ll reserve judgement on it. I’m not expecting great things from this Rocky Horror, but I think it’s going to be fun to watch once.

Lucifer Season Two

There’s not a ton of new footage here, but it’s enough to keep me interested. Season one of Lucifer was inconsistent, to say the least, but I ended up really enjoying the show overall. Tom Ellis often carries the show with just his considerable charisma and excellent good looks, but it’s enough to keep me coming back.

Sherlock Series Four

I generally prefer Elementary to Sherlock, but I’ll watch three or four more episodes of this.

The Expanse Season Two

There are no words for how thrilled I am by The Expanse. It’s the best sci-fi show since Battlestar Galactica in my opinion, and I have every reason to expect season two is going to continue the excellence that characterized the first season of the show. Now I just need them to give us a firm air date for the series so I know how long I have left to get around to reading the second book, Caliban’s War.

(Part One HERE)

(Part Two HERE)