Friday, October 21, 2016

Let There Be Critics : A Review of Fox's Rocky Horror Event

It's my mouth! I used these for my college screening. People had to follow my lips to find the theater.
Tiny bit of backstory before the review. I've been watching Rocky Horror, the film version, since I was a child. My parents used to dress up and go to midnight showings, my family has the the original vinyl LP & a re-release and the CDs, we have the original red VHS cassette, the fan books, the trivia books, the action figures... We're HUGE fans, especially of the masterful Tim Curry and his performance in the 1975 film version. I even dressed up and hosted a Rocky Horror screening at my college campus. So to us, this production was kind of a big deal.  
Since the get-go I was against the idea of a made-for-TV remake, but when it was announced that Tim Curry was going to be the Criminologist, making a rare on-screen appearance since his stroke, we had to tune in just to see him. Don't get us wrong, we love seeing productions of Rocky Horror done locally, and we love Laverne Cox, but can a big budget, shiny, Fox-produced version airing at 8PM on a weeknight really capture the essence of Rocky Horror?
No. It didn't. I live tweeted the event over on Twitter if you want to see my reactions as it happened, but long story short, it wasn't as bad as I was expecting, but the whole thing fell flat. 
 Image ©2016 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Steve Wilkie/FOX
Before I get into the negatives, I want to start with the positives.
This new version featured the Usherette, who was not in the original film version but has been in the stage productions. I thought the casting choice, her costume, her red lipstick, and her voice were definitely on point. The intro features her walking through the theater preparing for the show singing Richard O'Brien's "Science Fiction/Double Feature." Typically that's her job in the stage production, and the original film production replaced her with the iconic signing red lips we all know today. Her performance was fun and campy, but also passionate. It felt l like she was having a lot of fun performing, and the audience members had all kinds of fun little Easter eggs hidden in them for fans. I really wish we had seen more of the Usherette used when audience participation scenes were included later on in the production. She was a strong and underutilized asset. 
When it came to make-up, the department responsible did an absolutely amazing job. I really liked their take on the Usherette, Frank, Riff Raff and Columbia in particular. No complaints there.
The singing voices were, for the most part, wonderful and I was really impressed with the Usherette's performance as well as Lambert.
Tim Curry. It was great to see him on the screen again after his stoke and having him deliver a few lines as the criminologist nearly brought me to tears. It's been a difficult time for him, and he's been working hard doing interviews about Rocky Horror and preparing for this role. They had to limit his speaking parts and movements, due to his health, but what little of him I saw I appreciated and I hope he is doing well. (Although seeing him also made me sad. He is an amazing actor with an amazing voice who's played such iconic roles and to see his health causing him so much pain is brutal. But he's a fighter and I wish him all the best!)  
I also really liked the ending credits with both sets of singing lips.  
A re-working of my event poster, now called Unconventional Conventionists, available on Red Bubble
Okay, so there was most of the good. Now here's the bad. 
The biggest issue I had was the acting. Campy is good, and fun, but everything was too inconsistent. It kept shifting tones from semi-serious acting to over the top parody films like Scary Movie. If they had picked one path and stuck with it I would have enjoyed this a lot more. Every time there was a tonal shift I was taken out of the experience, like wait, how am I supposed to feel right now? Especially with Columbia. Normally she's my favorite, but with her ultra dry delivery, over the top comedic lollipop gags, and super campy screaming, her acting left me feeling just as blasÄ— about her all-over-the-place performance as her apathetic character felt in her scenes. There were times when Brad breaks the 4th wall and looks at the camera confused, which I found really funny and very Scary Movie-esque, but then there were more serious times like when Janet was getting shoved around like a rag doll which felt more aggressive than I would have liked. I don't get why Fox is okay with aggression, but positive sexuality? NOPE.  
Speaking of sexuality...ROCKY'S FREAKING SHORTS! What the @#$@ was that? Baggy Rocky Balboa boxer shorts? Really? I get that it's made for TV, and it's airing during a prime-time slot, but why do we get baggy shorts when Victoria Justice is running around in a bra and mini-skirt-slip getting slammed into walls and dragged by her hair? So lady bodies getting beaten up are okay, but gold booty shorts on men is a no-no? Not buying it.  
Image ©2016 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Steve Wilkie/FOX
Since I'm on the subject, let's talk a little about wardrobe and hair. I felt like they weren't as strong as the make-up team. For the most part I liked the updated changes they made, but some choices seemed really bizarre. What was that Don King looking mess on Dr. Scott's head? The actor playing Dr. Scott had some great comedic timing and physical comedy, he didn't need the clownish looking hair to push him over the edge into ridiculousness. Columbia's rainbow Cyndi Lauper hair and her punk-rock look were a lot of fun, but the one tutu was far too long. I get what they were going for, but it made her appear so much shorter than she was and the bold blue color distracted me from the rest of her wardrobe. Then there's Laverne Cox, who could normally wear a trash bag and make it look amazing. I felt like the emphasis on red for her wardrobe really hurt the character. Normally Frank n' Furter's red lips and make-up really stand out, but here Laverne's lips were drowned out by all the red wardrobe. Red garments, red hair, red make-up and accessories. I would have preferred seeing her as a blonde, similar to the original production, or pretty much anything but red. I want those lips to POP! Towards the end her wardrobe changes to darker shades and contrasting colors, and she dons a swimming cap which helped amp up her facial features, but initially she was lost in a sea of bright color and red. It takes a lot to drown such an iconic character. 
In this image Laverne barely stands out! Her height and raised arms help, but with all this color she's overwhelmed.
Image ©2016 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Steve Wilkie/FOX 
Rather than write a novel, here are a few more points
  • Whole opening was pretty strong, up until the flat tire I was somewhat impressed 
  • Music was too pop-rock, not as gritty
  • Janet tearing her glove off with her teeth was really cute
  • Eddie had all his brains & No Freezer Eddie, boo
  • Laverne's lips and exaggerated annunciations were captivating, very nice
  • Frank didn't love Eddie or seem to really love or obsess over Rocky either 
  • I want Columbia's Rocky Horror Warhol PJ's
  • Columbia's Meatloaf comment was a great snarky nod! 
  • Danger Sign and the Transylvanian Party Banner were both sights for sore eyes
  • It didn't feel like Columbia loved Eddie, or Frank, or anybody really
  • Janet seemed to like Rocky and mourn him more than anyone's cared about anyone else
  • Overall I feel like this performance just lacked feeling and passion
  • If you had never seen the original you'd never understand the complex relationships and feelings between characters occurring on screen.
I know I tore it apart for a minute there, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it'd be. I went in with SUPER low expectations, and was slightly impressed by certain aspects while others just reinforced my initial gut feelings. 
I felt like the floor show let Laverne really shine, until I'm Going Home, which felt hollow
Image © 2016 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Steve Wilkie/FOX
It's not awful, and I feel like the actors did a decent job with what they were given, the true issue lies in the network that aired it. Fox cleaned Rocky Horror up and made it less LGBTQIA and misfit friendly because...IT'S FOX! This free expression, liberal, sexually-explorative and well beloved production should have been done elsewhere. If it were an FX production (like my friend Brian suggested) and not mainstream Fox it could have been a little more true to the original as far as acceptance and pushing the envelope was concerned. If Fox wanted to make a BIG family friendly and toned-down Halloween event, why not go with something more like Hocus Pocus? 
As is, this is a squeaky clean version that lacks the misfit-nature and emotional connection of the original and the typical stage productions. This is not a remake, but a companion-piece, more like Harry Potter Puppet Pals is to the real Films and books...but with a HUGE shiny budget and stage. I can't say I truly hated it, and I can't say I loved it, but I can say that I don't hate that it exists. So that's something. 
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