Dammit, Janet: Rocky Horror Live Falls Flat

Following the success of Grease Live earlier this year, Fox has re-created another musical for television. This time, they chose to recreate the 1975 cult classic Rocky Horror Picture Show. Overall, it’s not a bad recreation, but it just feels a little unnecessary to remake such a beloved film.

Rocky Horror Picture Show follows a young couple, Brad and Janet (played by Ryan McCartan and Victoria Justice in the remake), who find themselves stranded at the mansion of Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a mentally unstable, cross-dressing scientist. Frank-N-Furter is played by Laverne Cox, a prominent transgender actress of color, whose assumption of a role typically played by a white man sparked some controversy. In the mansion are also the Doctor's servants, Riff Raff (Reeve Carney), Magenta (Christina Milian) and Columbia (Annaleigh Ashford).

Much of the plot revolves around the reveal of Frank-N-Furter’s latest “creation,” the golden, muscular Rocky (Staz Nair), literally created for the purpose of sex. The rest of the plot is very weird and revolves a lot around sex and ends with the reveal that Frank-N-Furter, Riff Raff and Magenta are actually aliens from the transvestite planet Transylvania and the mansion is a spaceship. I’m not particularly clear on that part.

Now, I’m no Rocky Horror expert – sure, I’m a fan; I’ve seen the movie a couple of times and heard the soundtrack quite a bunch, but I feel like this new version didn’t really add anything for me. It feels like an exact copy of the original film in many ways, except somewhat better singing. It follows everything the movie does with nothing else to say and the same outdated, somewhat offensive language. This is especially surprising as Cox, a huge figure in transgender advocacy, is in the lead role of a movie that seems to encourage transphobia in its language of “transvestite” and “transsexual”. She is also playing a role that is normally played by a man, which only seems to encourage the transphobic idea that all transwomen are just men playing women. 

The only really new part of the show was the opening, which was set in a movie theater where Rocky Horror Picture Show is being shown, which is, I’m assuming, a shoutout to the fans and the interactive showings that they hold and attend. This theory is further justified by the inclusion of the original Frank-N-Furter, Tim Curry, as the Criminologist/Narrator.

I’m very split on the acting, as I can’t tell if Brad and Janet are overacted or just generally unlikable. They are both supposed to be somewhat naïve, but their innocence and optimism becomes irritating to the point that you stop caring about them throughout most of the show, until they become less innocent and they stop actually being main characters. When they first enter the castle, Janet is shocked by literally everything and screams all the time–which gets old very quickly–and Brad’s oblivious determination to find a phone is actually embarrassing. It’s very possible that the original has this same fault. I haven’t seen it in a while, but it gets excused as it is a low-budget film from the 1970s, so the expectations are a lot lower.

It wasn’t all bad, though. The portrayals of Magenta, Columbia, and Rocky were all really good, even if there were some weird and unnecessary accents. A definite high point was Adam Lambert’s cameo appearance as Eddie, a character who shows up for all of five minutes and sings a song and was played by Meat Loaf in the original movie. But then again, you can’t really go wrong there.

All in all, it might be worth for diehard fans to give the new Rocky Horror a watch, if not to bemoan its perversion of the classic. 

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