Watch all the clips from FOX’s reimagining of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in this handy playlist right here:
Before I dive into this review, I have to say that I come into it with a wee bit of bias. See, I was a Rocky Horror kid from the age of 16 ’til about 20. During those four years, I spent many Saturday nights shouting obscenities at a movie theater screen, throwing toast, rice, and other items into the air, and generally having a great time.
In the long ago era before the internet, going to the Rocky Horror Picture Show was a way of finding your tribe. Whether that was the gay tribe, or the musical theater tribe, or the nerd tribe, this is where we all came together. So despite the fact that it’s been over two decades since I was a Rocky regular, the movie and its culture will always be a piece of my heart. And I will always remember the callback lines, no matter how many years it’s been since I’ve gone. Those lines are hardwired into my brain for all time now.
So with that bias in mind, I was sort of appalled when I first heard there were plans to redo Rocky for television. I still had terrible memories of the Glee tribute episode to Rocky, which sanitized the whole thing to the point of ridiculousness. That said, the producers of the new Rocky gradually won me over to believing that this might not be a totally terrible idea. First with the casting of actress and trans rights activist Laverne Cox as Dr. Frank N. Furter, the mad scientist/alien from the planet Transsexual. And then with the casting of original Frank, Tim Curry, in the role of the narrator. After this, I was at least ready to give it a fair shot.
Ultimately, The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again is neither great nor is it terrible. There’s plenty to enjoy about the show, and at no moment does this tarnish the legacy of the original movie or stage musical in any way. Most surprisingly, they definitely didn’t sanitize the content for broadcast, which shows how far we’ve come culturally that this can even be on at the 8 PM hour on network TV, and feature a transgender woman seducing a wholesome hetero couple.
But for every smart decision director Kenny Ortega and the producers made, there was always another one that was a head-scratcher. Having the Transylvanians wear unique individual costumes instead of all just wearing matching tuxes? Super smart. Having Rocky, the epitome of manly hotness, wear big loose golden boxer shorts instead of tight undies that show off the goods? Seems to miss the point, doesn’t it?
One thing that is absolutely not a head-scratcher is the casting of Cox as Frank N. Furter, which turned out to be the genius move as we all suspected it would be. Sure, her voice might not be as strong as Tim Curry’s was back in the day, but she finds a way to take the part and make it hers. From the moments she first appears singing “Sweet Transvestite,” she chews the scenery and never stops chewing, which is exactly what the part demands. Most interestingly, she channels several different musical icons for different songs. There’s a bit of old school Tina Turner here, a bit of Beyonce there. It’s a smart choice, and helps differentiate her version of Frank from Tim Curry’s completely.
The rest of the cast, however, is a mixed bag, it saddens me to say. They all have amazing voices; our new Brad Majors and Janet Weiss, Ryan McCartan and Victoria Justice, arguably have better vocal range than originals Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon did back in the day. But both of these new actors don’t bring the same campy energy that their predecessors did to their parts. This may be airing on Fox, but both our Brad and our Janet are a bit too CW for my taste. That said, they both have their moments, especially in the finale.
Maybe the biggest offenders among the cast were as Christina Milian as Magenta and Annaleigh Ashford as Columbia. Again, both have great singing voices, but their acting leaves a lot to be desired (some of Columbia’s line readings were truly dreadful). On the flip side, Reeve Carney’s take on Frank’s servant Riff Riff is a perfect imitation of Richard O’ Brien, the original actor, but his singing style always seemed overdone.
As for the rest of the cast, Adam Lambert does a pretty great job with what is essentially an extended cameo as doomed rock ‘n’ roll bad boy Eddie, singing “Hot Patootie.” However, Broadway legend Ben Vereen is really miscast as Eddie’s uncle Dr. Scott, who decided to play the part as a wacky grandpa type instead of a possible former Nazi spy… despite keeping lines of dialogue from the original which suggest he is an ex-Nazi, which now make zero sense.
And as for the titular Rocky himself, well… much like the original, Staz Nair looks good without a lot of clothes on, which is pretty much the extent of what’s demanded of the part in every version of this show. He’s stuck with the most boring song in the movie, “The Sword of Damocles,” and doesn’t have much in the way of dialogue or much singing after that. But he does more than fine with what he’s got to work with.
In the end, the mileage you get out of this new Rocky Horror Picture Show depends on just how much you are into Laverne Cox as Frank N. Furter, because this new version kind of lives and dies on her performance. Without her, it probably wouldn’t be worth your time, but she brings enough new energy to the part as to make this new version worth checking out.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again will air Thursday, Oct. 20 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on Fox.
RATING: 3 OUT OF 5
Images: 20th Century Fox