The Rocky Horror Picture Show reboot (aka Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do The Time Warp Again, aka RHPS: LDTTWA, aka kill me now) aired Friday night, and it definitely looks like we might’ve seen the end of Fox’s foray into TV movie musicals. The Laverne Cox-led production got about 5-million viewers, which is less than half the 12-million total the network saw from Grease: Live in January. By all accounts, that’s dangerously close to a flop for a major TV event. But what went wrong?
The Fox reboot wasn’t terrible, per se, but it was pretty bad. Mostly because it was boring as hell. The original film, about an alien transvestite scientist who holds a convention to celebrate building a man, worked because it was so crazy, unusual, and unique. There wasn’t anything like it before, and there probably won’t be again. The reboot didn’t do anything new- if anything, it relied way too heavily on the original, while simultaneously toning down some of its raunchier elements. You won’t hear anyone shout “Slut” or “Asshole” at our young couple, because, you know, kids are watching.
To be fair, there were a few solid performances, the brightest being Reeve Carney as Riff Raff and Tim Curry as The Criminologist (because of course, it’s Tim Curry). Brad and Janet were dull but harmless, and Cox turned in a mixed performance, looking and sounding amazing but struggling to make the role her own. The sets were sometimes nice, the soundtrack was sometimes fun, and the extras looked like they were having a blast (so many improvised hip gyrations).
The problem was it wasn’t live.
For some reason, Fox decided to nix the “do it live” gimmick that earned Grease: Live an Emmy Award, and instead pre-taped the event in Toronto with the actors lip-syncing their parts. Director Kenny Ortega said it was partially because he didn’t want to choreograph a live show, but I’m guessing it was also financial. Grease: Live cost $16-million to put together.
But here’s the thing: Rocky Horror needed to be live so much more than Grease ever did. It needed that urgency, that drive, that real audience. Grease: Live’s use of an in-person audience felt like an intrusion at times, but Rocky Horror Picture Show isn’t just a show, it’s an experience that thrives on being interactive. That’s why the movie has become such a cult classic- not because people genuinely like it (although I’m sure some do), but because we like being part of it. Rocky Horror midnight screenings are a must-do for every person on this planet. I’m not kidding.
The Fox reboot tried (and failed) to recreate the movie experience by having the main set be a theater. As the movie starts, a God-awful Ivy Levan serves as the “Science Fiction/Double Feature” usher, guiding a bunch of weirdly dressed pseudo-goths to their seats so we can watch them interact with the movie instead of us. Then the movie set becomes Dr. Frank N. Furter’s castle, so we get these weird cuts between the movie and the “movie within a movie.” Like we’ll see dancers running around to “Time Warp,” and then it cuts to these random moviegoers showing us how “into it” they are. But I don’t care about these people, so what’s the point?
Instead, can you imagine if they’d done it with a real audience on the sidelines...lighting candles, throwing toast, and shouting “Get on with it!” The actors could’ve fed off the energy, and it would’ve made the at-home audience feel like a part of the action, even through a television screen. Plus, we love the “anything can happen” vibe from these live musicals. Is there anywhere else we can watch Allison Williams smack into a wall while flying around as Peter Pan?
I understand that live musicals are expensive, but Dammit Janet, if you’re going to do something, do it right. In the end, RHPS: LDTTWA felt like watching that Rocky Horror episode of Glee- no surprise, considering the director was the same guy behind High School Musical. It was too nice, too tame, and way too disconnected. There’s no replacing the classic that is The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but as someone who’s seen it performed live (both poorly and amazingly), I do believe there is always room for more over at the Frankenstein Place.
Do it right next time, Fox, and “do it live.”