It’s never a good thing when the remake’s acronym is longer than the original’s. (Side note to Rotten Tomatoe’s reviewer: it’s RHPS, not TRHPS.)
Speaking of Rotten Tomatoes, for once I’m not at odds with either the critics or the audience: the show achieved a rotten score of 32% last time I checked.
Someone else’s opinion is just that, someone else’s opinion, but it is comforting to know that many of my critiques are shared by others, especially in the face of taking such a beloved property to task.
I first learned of RHPS in 1975 during its initial release, and then actually got to see it in 1978 at a midnight showing at Rutgers University.
What a revelation! People who were different celebrating their differentness in such a wild, over the top and utterly confident manner that they managed to sway others into acceptance!
Why, wasn’t that a metaphor for being a fan? Weren’t we all different? Hadn’t we all paid a price for being so? Didn’t we all wallow in dark pits of self-doubt? Wouldn’t it be great to just be accepted for who we were, with no recriminations attached?
Yes. In fact it would be wonderful if we could all Be It instead of just Dreaming It.
There, right up on that screen in glorious technicolor, a man in drag, his presence alone shredding convention: hey, it is possible to be different and happy!
After about a year of regularly attending midnight showings (mostly in Hoboken, NJ) my friends and I threw a RHPS Halloween party; I took the starring role – much to the shock and amazement of a gas station attendant (after our party – complete with Roast-of-Eddie carved electrically, we had to fill up on the way to the film), my father (he kept a pic of me in full Franky drag on his desk at work: whenever a subordinate complained about something, he’d say “you think you’ve got problems? This is my son” as he turned the pic around; and to everyone in the university dorms, most of whom kept on asking me to open my cape; yes, those really are fishnets held up by a garter belt): the power of stepping into such a (at the time) transgressive role and owning it can not be over stated. I had, at the tip of my false eyelashes, the ability to shock, titillate, awe, fascinate, confuse and excite everyone I came into contact with, merely by being.
Masks can be liberating and RHPS certainly was.
But that was a full decade before I came to realize that one really can pay a price for difference. Green monkeys are usually torn to pieces by the tribe. Which is one reason why the original RHPS was so important to its 70s thru 80s audiences. Most seeing it never went as far as I did (plenty still do with floor shows), but they did get exposed to different lifestyles in an environment that not only accepted that difference, it reveled in it with abandon. I have no doubt that RHPS made a significant contribution towards our now (uneasy) acceptance of LGBTQI lifestyles.
When Fox announced their re-imagining, I had grave doubts about its possible success. Alternate life styles are not hidden behind closet doors, nor whispered about in dark corners, they’re front and center in our newspaper headlines. Those of the same age now I was when first exposed live in a world that largely accepts these things. Rocky would hold little shock value for them.
The show did not disabuse me of these thoughts. Indeed, it was often so confused (certain key elements were left out of this iteration) that I imagine most youngsters who have been hearing about Rocky as this great and wonderful liberating experience walked away from this version utterly convinced that their elders are daft in the head: there was no shock value and the story made absolutely no sense whatsoever.
In short: they re-did the film shot for shot and line for line – except when they didn’t, and when they didn’t, it was weak, or unnecessary, or confusing, or all three. The choreography was, in a word, atrocious. The Time Warp was meant to be a dance that anyone could pretty much just hop up and do with little or no instruction. TV Rocky resembled Twyla Tharp experimenting with experimentation – utterly impossible for anyone not trained in dance to replicate. The songs were a mixed bag; some of the new arrangements were flat and inappropriate – Sweet Transvestite rendered as some kind of funkadelic, jazzy thing just did not work.
The acting was, well, meh. Janet was not the innocent ingenue Susan Sarandon managed to portray; Victoria Justice went in and out of being convincing and being flat; Ryan McCartan as Brad was awful during his late night rendezvous with Frank; Riff Raff (Revve Carney) seemed to be trying to portray an idiot; Annaleigh Ashford as Columbia was flat (no real Brooklyn twang that robbed the character of any import); Magenta (Christina Millan) was hardly present; Laverne Cox has gotten praise from others for her performance, but I found her singing raspy and uninspiring; her dialogue delivery was not nearly as playful and arch as Curry’s had been. Curry’s Frank gave the impression of almost always wanting to break the fourth wall; Cox’s was merely a performance.
I have to wonder about the selection of a transgender star to portray a transvestite. This is admittedly touchy ground: I’m fine with transgenders and transvestites, but this choice confuses me: transvestism is the practice of wearing the clothing/adopting the manners of one of the opposite sex. This is what gives it its transgressive nature (men wear pants, women wear skirts). Cox was a man who transitioned to female and is now a woman (belaboring the point, but many folks just don’t get/see a distinction). A woman wearing feminine attire is not transgressive. (Perhaps that was the message: Frank is no longer transgressive, but accepted. If so, its not Rocky’s message, which was, in order to be accepted, you must be true to your inner self and damn the torpedoes.)
I thought both Tim Curry (can’t believe I’m saying this) and Ben Vereen were terrible, like they phoned in their performances. Gray’s original Criminologist nicely portrayed a man slowly being won over, compelled to join in the insanity; Curry seemed bent on delivering the most monotone performance of his career. Vereen was just bad.
There were numerous other jarring moments, not the least of which were the commercial breaks. The first (an extended Snickers commercial) was a “behind the scenes of RHPS”; its impact was not well thought out, as it entirely removed the audience from the RHPS world. And, while I’m sure that it was very difficult to figure out where to put commercials, whoever made the final decisions made all of the most absolutely wrong choices possible. Any flow that the show might have had was entirely destroyed. There was no way possible for the audience to get into the show and stay there.
I was also terribly disappointed (though not surprised) that many of the sub rosa elements of the original were glossed over or entirely absent: Riff Raff and Magenta’s incestuous relationship was obviously too much for TV censors; Magenta and Columbia’s relationship (foreshadowed by the looks they exchange at the end of Columbia’s tap dance in the original – she had no fall at the end and that too was a mistake as her recovery supports the character) are gone; their TV watching scene where they mimic Janet and Rocky in a fairly explicit manner is gone; Magenta’s fetish for voyeurism (detailed in the Time Warp song) is ill served by Magenta’s delivery completely out on the open dance floor; Frank’s interaction with Janet and Brad in the bedroom scenes are reduced to a confusing spanking (one strike each). Even continuity suffers during Toucha-Toucha-Touch Me; it starts in the lab (as in the original where it stayed) transitions to a bedroom and then, shortly thereafter, Janet and Rocky are discovered back in the lab. Not to mention no peek at Columbia’s nipples.
The original portrayed, in one fashion or another, just about every sexual fetish known (with some very squicky exceptions); Magenta even fondles a vulture in a nod to bestiality; there’s bisexuality, pansexuality, gay, lesbianism, transvestism, incest, cuckholding, BDSM…obviously too much for TV, but also robbing the show of a large part of its original message. Only during the pool scene was any of this really brought to the fore.
I took notes during the show. I’ve included them below (explanations of what I was thinking, where necessary, in brackets). RHPS:LDTTWA is further proof that you can never go home again. Mores the pity.
will they have the incest implications [asked before it aired; I didn’t expect to see this included and was not disappointed.]
will they have all of the songs [yes, they did]
like the play opening [the original play worked the audience with usherettes]
started well then went to camp double feature [the lyrics of this song are already campy enough; no need for extra shmaltz]
showing the theater with fans doing responses is kind of lame and isn’t it what they did for the 25th anniversary DVD? [you kids these days…no lighters or candles allowed, no toast, no frankfurters, response lines so recycled the original meaning is lost – you all have no idea what you’ve missed. I helped create those response lines in Hoboken…you all are just not doing it right.]
There’s a Light is not a metal rock anthem [I mean seriously. Riff is supposed to be a tragic figure, the Judas to Frank’s Christ, not some ACDC standin]
Janet so far, is not the ingenue that Susan was…she doesn’t seem as scared [Susan Sarandon’s Janet was the picture perfect innocent virgin]
the inside story stuff just totally ruins the mood. nicely done, but doesn’t belong inserted the way it is [the snickers commercial]
long snickers commercial
Curry is very odd…off…flat…as the criminologist
didnt show the cycles, revealing the gathering that causes Riff Raff to bring them inside [when Riff greets B&J at the door of the castle, he wasn’t planning on letting them in – the party and the creation of Rocky are supposed to be a secret. After all, is is supposed to be an alien invasion…then there’s a flash of lightning revealing a long line of parked motorcycles, suggesting something big is happening and Riff brings them inside to keep the secret. We’re not shown this in this version, so Riff’s initial reluctance and his subsequent actions make absolutely no sense.]
ugh time warp [did not like this]
riff raff sucks
didn’t point out Magenta’s fetish adequately
time warp was a simple dance that anyone could do…not anymore
\Columbia didn’t fall, didn’t have her heat with Magenta…
Sweet Transvestitie ought to work as funk, but it doesn’t
Columbia is flat
Frank is ok.
really cut the creation scene short
gold lame boxers? [ridiculous…they show guys in speedos on the news, what’s up with this?]
Sword of Damocles makes Frank look like an idiot…makes no sense in terms of story
what the f is Riff doing?
rhps with commercial interruption sucks
i could stop watching now and not feel I’d missed anything. Its not terrible or some awful crappy interpretation, its just not different enough…like watching films you know with a foreign language dubbed in
its like Moroder’s colorized version of Metropolis. something you are familiar with with a few visual touches added and a different sound track. [Giorgio Moroder did a colorized version of Metropolis back in the 80s]
Dont like the choreography, too many hands flung into the air [the dance routines seemed to consist mostly of hand and arm motions]
tamer for tv?
no context for Eddies entry…his takeover makes no sense [we get no sense that Eddie was once part of orgy, or a special love interest of Columbia’s]
ugh Eddie has left the castle ugh
I don’t think Frank said “one from the vaults”…which explained Eddie’s relationship to the whole thing..also, no big scene with Columbia…not clear that they had a special thing
GOTG trailer. already seen it it, but its GOTG fun. worth sticking with rhps to see.
no bringing them to their rooms scene [why? no one gets to say “Pink is for girls…and blue is for…assholes!]
less risque than film
choreography sucks (tv?)
no faces of everyone singing Creature of the Nite…very little showing Columbia and Magenta’s relationship [which pretty much cemented the fact that everyone in the castle was doing everyone else in the castle]
I think its missing on getting across the indulgence of a wide variety of sexual relationships…presentation may not be overt enough
commercials. back to not really being interested in watching the rest.
Ben Vereen is ridiculous as Dr Scott [loved him in All That Jazz]
ow did they get back in the cooler?
dinner makes no sense…Eddie song…meh
no Columbia nipples
Eddies’ reveal shows nothing that would lead one to believe the roast was from Eddie [no, “oh, and they’re cannibals too – except they’re aliens so its ok….]
mental mind game…should have just left out game and implied the fuck [“a mental mind fuck can be nice” – another nod to BDSM]
Floor show has some of the old fire
omg they broke between don’t dream it and wild untamed thing aaarg…it was finally getting into a rocky flow…
wild untamed not the same without horns
Riffs costume looks like a cross between Kiss and the Average Joes unifoms at their first tournament game in Dodgeball [the Average Joes team is forced to wear BDSM outfits]
commercial frequency increased at the end
no RKO radio tower boo boo boo [that was one of te visuals that tied the whole film together. Maybe Fox couldn’t get the rights?]