Alex Blaze

'Rocky Horror' for Tiny Fools Who Quake With Fear

Filed By Alex Blaze | October 14, 2010 4:00 PM | comments

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Update: Rory in the comments accuses me of "burying the lead," and point well taken. Glee's Frank N. Further will be played by a woman, making the "cross-dressing" just "dressing" and the homosexual pining becomes heterosexual pining.

I'm not the biggest fan of Glee and their quest to conquer and insult anything cool our culture has managed to turn out in the last century, but usually they stick to Disney-fying corporate products like Madonna so I haven't been moved to write about the show. But now they want to take on the Rocky Horror Show.

Dr_Frank-N-Furter.jpgIf you've never the movie, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, based on the play, it's about a po-dunk, straight-laced couple that is forced to spend the night at a castle owned by an alien mad scientist, who also happens to be a jealous, arrogant, pansexual cross-dresser. Rocky isn't about straight people interacting with gay people; it's about the outside world coming into contact with uber-queer subculture. The main character Frank N. Furter can't even be described as "transsexual" or "gay"; he's CD and bisexual/pansexual/queer.

It was a success for a reason - young queers loved going and seeing what it would be like if their families of origin and high school friends came into contact with their current lives, if the prim and proper hypocrites and stoic bullies of our youth were forced to acknowledge their real sexual desires and confront a world that's complicated and messy, if they couldn't just squash anything that challenges them because they hate creativity and difference.

And, unlike in real life, the queers beat the straights in the movie.

The Rocky episode of Glee hasn't shown yet, but the promotional materials don't inspire confidence. It seems they went the route of cleaning up the movie/play for public, family-friendly consumption. If it turns out that the episode is as they promote it, then the straights will beat the queers.

First, here's Glee's Rocky:

rocky-glee-rocky.jpg

Here's the original:

rocky-orig-rocky.png

Notice the wardrobe change? They should have just put him in a golden habit while they were at it.

Now, some might say that the original outfit wasn't appropriate for family-oriented TV, to which I'd respond: you're right, it isn't, so don't do a family-oriented version of Rocky. I also liked The Kansas City Trucking Co., but I don't expect Disney to do an animated version of it either.

Second, here's John Stamos as Eddie:

rocky-glee-eddie.png

Here's Meat Loaf in the movie, who was also in the original Broadway production:

rocky-orig-eddie.png

The goal, they say, was to do a "sexy version of Eddie," but Meat Loaf was already the sexy version of Eddie, with the Phantoms/Transylvanians singing along out of sheer delight for his energy and Columbia throwing herself at him. Obviously, the publicist mis-spoke and said "sexy" when she meant to say "thin," because TV nowadays could never, ever show an overweight person being sexy even though Eddie was just fine being plus-sized a few decades ago. Yeah, there's Mercedes, but she's been celibate or chasing the gay boy.

It's been a bizarre corollary to America's growing obesity epidemic, we've come to hate fat people even more than before. You'd think a show that's supposed to be about social misfits wouldn't want to... well, not really. It's still TV.

Plus Meat Loaf is actually a talented singer, so we'll see how Stamos deals with "Whatever Happened to Saturday Night," a song with a lot of complicated, fast chord progressions. Maybe they'll do a slow version with autotune because doing it as written would just be too hard.

Third, here's an small extract of their version of "Time Warp," sung as if it were a Hannah Montana song:

And here's the original Broadway production's original film's version, sung as if some hippies got together and did an old-fashioned rock and roll song:

While the music is the same, notice how in the original you can hear people with very different styles, the soprano, the male folk singer, the chorus line, etc. It had a community feel to it, with everyone pretty much shouting the lyrics at the top of their lungs as if they're all on coke. It was fun and rough.

Glee's version is the industrialized, meat-grinder version, like they didn't understand the sing-along mood the song was inspired by.... Well, at least they didn't actually get Miley Cyrus to sing it.

Fourth, "Damn it, Janet" became "Dang it, Janet." 'Nuf said. "Sweet Transvestite" also became "Sweet Trans." If the chorus is changed they effectively sucked the transvestitism right out of the song, and if the part is played by a woman they sucked the homosexuality right out of it.

Which leads right into my last concern. While they haven't released photos yet of Glee's Dr. Frank N. Furter, they did say who'd be playing the role: Mercedes. They just didn't have the balls to have a dude appear in fishnets while redoing a play most known for its transvestitism, and they turned the main sex interest effectively straight (the other couple in Rocky, Brad and Janet, will remain straight). John Stamos said as much:

As for that other big Glee stunt episode, the Rocky Horror installment, which is set to air around Halloween, "I was initially going to do the Dr. Frank N. Furter role, the Tim Curry role, but I think the network freaked out and said we don't want to see Stamos in fishnets...again. So I play another role."

Sometimes if you don't want to do something right you just shouldn't do it at all. The lead role is a man in fishnets who built himself another man, with strong arms and tan, and who's good for relieving his tension. And, no, they don't get edgy, gender-bending points by having a woman play a man's role when the most remarkable feature of the male role is his cross-dressing and homosexual desires and activities. That's just chickening out.

One of my favorite moments of the movie is when Frank N. Furter traps Dr. Scott (or should I say, Dr. von Scott!), Janet, and Brad and is about to force them to dress in fishnets with make-up, and Frank N. Furter shouts at them: "So quake with fear, you tiny fools!"

It's not just that Tim Curry is an amazing actor who can deliver such a campy line as if it were a real threat, dripping with disdain for his victims, but that it's pretty much the point of the whole movie. Janet and Brad (and to a lesser degree Dr. Scott) are innocent and straight and he's about to make them transgress, make them violate their neat little world they didn't even know they'd constructed around themselves (in the language of the 90's, he's going to queer them), and he just hates them for having lived as hypocrites without even knowing it and he's contemptuous knowing that they are, really, tiny fools, but they're the tiny fools who control everything outside his castle and are now trying to take what he has inside the castle.

I'll be sure to watch this episode when it airs, but from the promotional materials it looks like it's the version of Rocky if the tiny fools produced it. Perhaps they just should have done The Lion King.


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Ugh. I'm officially disgusted with Glee now.

Uhh...ok, last week I finally said that I like Glee. Now I think I'm gonna puke.... (get back! This may splash!)

Seriously! The bible thumpers will be screaming that the show is trying to force "the homosexual agenda' down their throats, the GLBT community will be saying the show's a cop-out to the community.

Who thought this up? Obama?

Not surprising that they'd tone down Rocky Horror. They wouldn't even say "I'm a freak bitch" when they did "Bad Romance".

Honestly, I think most high schools in America wouldn't allow some of the hip thrusts they do when they perform in front of the school.

They Wouldn't? More like they couldn't. Don't get mad at a show for acting exactly the way you expect them to. Of course glee is going to do PG versions of..everything.

RHPS screwed with my head when young.

You see, there are some girls who really are Janet Weiss. Not hypocrisy, that's who they really are, deep down.

And that really, really sucks when you have a boy body.

When you're Janet in that situation - you appear to have a choice: seem like Brad, or seem like Frank'N'Furter. Neither is you.

Some of us aren't "transgressive" or "out'n'proud". That's OK for others, more than OK, it's who they are. But it's not who we are, and being coerced into that role is just as bad as coercing those who are genderqueer, gender outlaws, into living like Stepford Wives.

So if you think I'm stodgy, prim etc - you're right. But it's not an act, not a reaction to social coercion, and not something I want to force on others. Not even something I think is "right". Just me being me.

Getting back on topic... this "Glee" thing is an abomination. Moby Dick without the whale.

I know you're stodgy and prim, and you're right: not everyone who's straight-laced is a tiny fool in real life. That's the problem with anger, it steam-rolls over nuance. But Rocky is really the only movie I've ever seen that represents that particular anger.

Betty White is another example -- she's everyone's beloved grandmother, yet it's obvious she's hardly taken aback by anything. No wonder why America loves her so!

did you ever do a "compare and contrast" between the dr. scott character and the dr. strangelove character?

You buried the lead, Alex. All you had to say was 'female Frank N. Furter' and that would have been the ball game. If FNF isn't queer in every sense of the word, there is no story. A woman wearing sexy women's clothes, lasciviously pining for a man, isn't queer at all.

If a HS wants to put a tank top on a kid instead of being bare-chested, whatever. Trunks are the fashion now rather than briefs, although for the life of me, I have no idea why.

You're right. That is kinda the biggest point, even though, in my defense, my reasons 1-3 were actually going to be the post originally because their interpretation of "Time Warp" bothered me that much. Then I found the list of characters and then the Stamos interview and knew I had to include that, then I found the song list and just cringed.

Updated because, yeah. That's the difference between real writing and blogging: almost no major editing.

Well, in your defense Alex, you didn't really need a defense. ;-) They were all very good points. It's just that the one about FNF was the most important one.

I do like John Stamos, although I have no idea if he can sing. But it's only an hour show. So they can't do all of Rocky Horror.

That's just wrong, and on so many levels.

It's not an homage, it's become pandering to sensationalism.

I agree with you completely, Alex -- why do they even bother?

I was a big fan of the original RHPS fad and cult. My friends and I would go down to the Hilbert Theatre on Monument Circle here in Indianapolis, where RHPS would show every Saturday night at midnight.

It is sad that the role of Frank N. Furter eclipsed the rest of Tim Curry's acting career -- the ultimate example of type-casting.

By the way, the stodgey detective narrator ... he's obviously another of the "tiny fools" the entire show parodies ... does he even make it into the GLEE version?

I think we'd better expect nothing --- and probably we shall receive it in abundance.

I saw an interview with Curry where he said he gained a bunch of weight to get out of the role and try to get another big part... Really a shame because he's a great actor.

I just saw Curry in a guest role on Criminal Minds. He looked horrendous; just awful. Part of it was because of the role he played - a hideous crack-addicted serial killer. But some of it had to have been him. I was stunned.

dharmapupil | October 15, 2010 3:13 AM

I saw RHPS 39 times, the first as a sneak preview in Santa Barbara, the rest at the Strand on Market in San Francisco. It was the start of a lifelong gay crush on Susan Sarandon...
This sounds like a travesty. They need to cancel this episode or grow some. Or get Drew Carey to show them how to do it right!

At least tell me "Kurt" gets Little Nell's role as Stamos' boyfriend?

(BTW, Meat Loaf had lapband and is skinny now...)

I've seen, and that's probably healthier for him.

As for Drew Carey, here's the link where Oswald dressed up in a garter and fishnets on prime time TV, back in the day, if people want to see that:

http://www.bilerico.com/2010/08/rocky_vs_priscilla.php

As far as I can tell from the promo... Kurt's going to be Riff Raff, Santana will be Magenta, and Brittany is Columbia.

Later, we got a partial list of “Glee” characters and their “Rocky Horror” parts: Rachel is Janet; Finn is Brad; Mercedes, Frank-N-Furter; Kurt, Riff Raff; Quinn, Partygoer/Magenta; Tina, Partygoer/Columbia; Brittany, Columbia; Santana, Magenta; Mike, Eddie; Dr. Carl, Eddie; Sam, Partygoer, and Artie plays Partygoer/The Commentator/Dr. Scott.

http://showbizandstyle.inquirer.net/entertainment/entertainment/view/20101008-296726/What-Lea-Michele-thinks-of-Charice

Tell us about Susan Sarandon, Janet! ... Yeah, as Kinsey-6 queer as I am, Janet/Susan Sarandon presses what tiny hetero buttons I have ... she's the only one who truly sizzles during the floorshow, and I love her sultry stare into the audience at the very end of her dance ...

And let's not get started raving about The Hunger, that's a whole 'nother post ... GLEE, keep your sweaty little hands off!.

gregorybrown | October 15, 2010 9:15 AM

I watched 11 minutes of GLEE once and was all twinked out. And having been to Lima, I'm not buying the fantasy. Adaptations and imitations of RHPS are old by now, nothing can beat the real thing, and I think this travesty--even worse than I imagined, apparently-- shows big lack of imagination.
The point of the stage play and film was the necessity of being yourself, anarchic transgression and freedom, with the understanding that you accept the consequences of standing up and standing out. That's why I was so amazed at all the participatory midnight shows being run by bitchy little taskmasters who made sure the ritual was done right.

Do you think there'll be an Easter GLEE, with an adaptation of THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST?

It should be noted that the original Glee Rocky costume is a bit more risque:
http://www.afterelton.com/sites/www.afterelton.com/files/chord-tight-lame.jpg

But it sucks that Kurt is Riff Raff, not Frank-N-Furter, even if it might make more sense vocally...

It seems like he's in that for a few seconds and then he puts on the more conservative outfit, although you still can't see any bulge.

Also notice in that picture that Columbia doesn't get an ultra-mini but is instead wearing a Catholic school girl skirt. We'll see how this turns out.

The linked version of Time Warp above is the original film cast recording, not the Broadway cast recording.

Before this thread disappears in that Transylvania in the sky, I compulsively add a historical footnote that I find essential: The original stage production, I believe, was in London, and upon its success, it went to Broadway-NYC; then came the film, which I believe was shot on a soundstage in London, again.

I find this note important because the show is so much about propriety to the point of stultification and self-disownment -- and the only Western civilization more stodgy and sexually repressed than America is Great Britain.

And Alex, I commend you on your superb analysis of what RHPS is all about and how it manages to work so brilliantly. I had always known that it was about mediocre people being shocked by outrageousness, but I've never read it analyzed quite as succinctly yet deeply as you have here.

the only Western civilization more stodgy and sexually repressed than America is Great Britain.
And my parents came from the part of the UK where they expelled the Puritans for their lascivious sexual mores. No, I'm not joking. "You may now kiss the bride" meant what it said - that was forbidden until marriage. They were OK with dancing round the maypole etc though.

"the only Western civilization more stodgy and sexually repressed than America is Great Britain."

Sorry, I think you have a very steretypical Americanized view of the UK. They (England and Wales, at least) are way beyond us in sexual liberty, and self-indulgement. LGBTQs are more widely accepted, and sex scenes that would be considered soft-core porn in the states are shown on regular channels (BBC3 and BBC4) after 9 o clock. Programs like Skins, Misfits, Torchwood, etc. all have either gay characters, excessive use of vulgar language, or drug use, and all of them have sex scenes that would not even be shown here.
Again, sorry, as an American that lived in London for a year, I always feel the need to correct wrong assumptions about the UK.

Ummm... it's really not my intent to antagonize soooooo many folks all at once here, but... To all of you who are agonizing, over-analyzing, and attacking a silly tween tv show that has a very pro-gay message? Well; I'm left to ask - 'feeling a bit peckish, are we?'

In the episode the other night they had Kurt do a song from Victor/Victoria wearing what was supposed to be a split male/female costume. The female costume consisted of a gold lame with big fringe on the arms. No, he didn't wear any kind of female/drag makeup. Weenie City, all the way.

And this is the same show which used calling someone a "shemale" as a joke.

As someone else pointed out - they do have Chord in the gold shorts, albeit briefly. The show regularly features boys in the shower, homosexual plot points and even cross dressing. In fact cross dressing was the big pop at the end of the Lady Gaga episode when Fin showed up in that red latex number. Given that, and given that Fox has aired the actual Rocky Horror before, I can't imagine what the network would actually be freaking out over.

As far as fat acceptance? There just aren't really fat dudes in Glee. And if there were. someone would roll their eyes and say "Well of course you cast him as Eddie - he's fat like Meatloaf". (Kinda like how Artie is playing Dr Scott, despite that an integral part of the role is being able to move your legs for floorshow.) Honestly I would have put Puck in as Eddie. The character most closely aligns with Eddie and he can sing.

It seems like they are going for the angle of how difficult it is to get something like Rocky Horror going in small town middle america as a plot device. I am going to reserve judgement until I see the final result but one way or another I am excited about it.

I for one would have loved to see Stamos as Frank.

They might go that route and try to explain some of the plot changes within the episode by blaming crazy christians, but from my understanding of the show's business model they think first about who's going to sing what in order to make a splash in their highly-publicized episodes and then they make up the plot second. That's why their album sales are so big.

The working title of Rocky Horror before it was produced in London was They Came from Denton High, meaning that it was making fun of the horror film genre and making a statement by casting Janet and Brad as the "monsters." It's hard to make it palatable for the Brads and Janets of the world because it's a critique of them, not something fun for them to watch.

Wow! A fascinating historical point of your own! Thanks, Alex!

And on a totally serious note, we are seeing anew that there truly is something monstrous about brittle, rigid propriety and how society enforces it -- if it weren't monstrous, we would not have young LGBT people commiting suicide.

it does not bother me. it's only a television show. and a family show at that. i like glee, even with it's idiosyncrasies.

I dont know about your link to the tracks, but on iTunes (and the link that Glee sent out to people) the tracks are indeed called "Damn it, Janet" (not dang it) and "Sweet Transvestite" (not simply trans). Plus, I'm secure enough in my big gayness that I'm not threatened by a black woman playing Frank, in fact, I kinda dig it.

plus, and let's be honest, last week glee had a subtle comment about two women scissoring. i hardly think it's trying to be safe, rather subverting within it's genre. everyone on this site is so anti-glee when kids are loving it and its about the most interesting and queer thing on tv.

Having grown up in a small town, being forced to blend in with the "tiny fools", I feel grateful for small blessings. Somewhere out there some kid is going to see that episode of "Glee" and wonder about the original film/play. And when they find it and see it? Their world is going to open up a little more. For that I am grateful.

It's flat-out wrong that they are editing the film/play so much in order to keep the right-wing happy, but it (along with these type of blog posts that get the word out about the "real story") can still do some good for the LGBT teens who are questioning and feeling alone. This one silly episode could lead to something bigger and better. It was a badly edited version on VH1 one Halloween night that did it for me, though, granted, this Glee episode is beyond edited.

Just like how Brad and Janet had no idea what they were getting into when they knocked on that castle door, the viewers who tune in to "Glee" that night may (eventually) get more than they expected.

My thoughts on this exactly. Is Glee as subversive as Rocky? No. Can they be? No. Has Glee consistently pushed to the very edge of what's acceptable for Prime Time Family viewing? Absolutely.

Perhaps a pill made of chill might be in order. As the comment below says, its not a remake, its a theme. Be fair. This may not be as pinpoint accurate as die-hard fans wish it was, but I've seen some pretty un-sexed versions of RHPS done in community theater, and we still all go, and sing to our hearts content, and cheer on our friends.

The fact that this is going to even exist on TV is going to be an incredible relief for some kid somewhere who had no idea that life wasn't so miserable. If they had to make it accessible to many to reach that one little kid, then I say, bravo!

This might bother me if it was an actual remake, like the rumored MTV remake a few years ago: http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117989391.html?categoryid=13&cs=1

But because it's only a themed episode on a TV show, I think it will be fun. No, it's not the original. But it could be a gateway drug for those in the audience who've never been a part of the Rocky Horror experience before.

I don't think it's some attack on queer identity.

ShipofFools | October 16, 2010 8:30 AM

On a sidenote:
Here's the link to what the Buffy cast did with RHPS:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zo5LAqjEU_w

They're also changing the chorus to "Sensational" Transylvania (instead of Transsexual Transylvania).

And, Rocky is wearing way too much.

I understand everyone's frustrations, and I share some of them myself. Yes, the biggest one being Mercedes as Frank N Furter. However, just the fact that they are taking on Rocky Horror says something (and I do mean something positive). In real life, you'd never have a high school allow their students to put on this musical. Most of what happens in Glee wouldn't go on in a real high school--it is far too sexy. I should say, I watch Glee and enjoy it, though I wouldn't consider myself a fan exactly. I am a fan of Rocky Horror. So, I feel a bit torn. On the one hand, as one person mentioned recently, once young Glee fans see this show (or maybe even before) many of them will check out the original Rocky Horror. They may like it, they may not, but they will be exposed to it. Without Glee, they might not encounter it. On the other hand, it could make going to shows and screen viewings less fun as the crowd grows younger and less sophisticated. That sucks. But then again, if we want the shows to keep going, we need new recruits. So all in all, I find it to be a mixed bag. Let's just try to focus on the positive aspects and at least reserve judgment until the show actually airs. And if you like Glee but feel too strongly about messing with a classic, just skip that episode. They'll be back to Britney, Madonna, and GaGa in no time, I'm sure.

The real irony here? The fact that everyone's upset about how Glee is making Rocky Horror Picture Show too accessible, and therefore reducing the Show's original purpose. However, Ryan Murphy, much like Riff Raff inviting a wet Janet and Brad inside, will be inviting thousands of unsuspecting viewers to, unawares, bring themselves into the uberqueer world RHPS originally created when they rent the movie/go see a show because of Glee. Those poor tiny fools afterall...

LOL, I skipped right over this post originally because my feelings about Glee are about the same as my feelings about Lady Gaga. I'm trying people.

I grew up in small town New England. It is not as if Rocky Horror has never been on TV before. They played it regularly on VH1, MTV and USA in the 1990s. And while that may not be network TV, it is basic cable...which is practically a necessity for TV viewing if you're living out somewhere where you barely get broadcast TV. This Glee ep doesn't seem much like progress to me.

I dressed up as Dr. Franke N. Furter one year when I was a teenager. Although I'm female, the transgression was still there because, ha, I was also a baby butch and hated wearing dresses and makeup. Feminine clothing always made me feel incredibly self conscious. But for some crazy reason I was comfortable dressing as male dressing as a female. Maybe because it was for performance as opposed to expressing an identity.

I have no idea what effect Mercedes dressing as Furter will have.

People age like that (actors included)... nothing special there.

Thank you for writing this; very well articulated and clear. I couldn't agree more!

I don't completely buy this argument which hindges on Rocky Horror being shocking or not main-stream. I am sure it'll be a dumbed down version but it's also a using a cast that was already in place.

Rocky Horror already has a huge mainstream audience as THE cult film, THE midnight show. Hell, my Southern Baptist grandma has seen Rocky Horror live as part of her subscription to a theater company in suburban Detroit more than once... most likely Sunday matinees. She liked it.

Every time I've ever written about Murphy's show Nip/Tuck and how it demeaned and pathologized trans women, I would always get people explaining how queer positive and blah, blah, blah Ryan Murphy (its producer) is. Same thing when he had an incredibly transphobic episode of Nip/Tuck with Candis Cayne. When the word 'shemale' was thrown around on GLEE for a cheap laugh, it was defended by people saying "Ryan is a proud queer man, he would never do that."

I agree Rocky Horror Show is pretty milquetoast rebellion, but it says a lot about Ryan Murphy that he would rather do a non-transgender version of it than not do it at all.

While I sympathize with your concerns and agree that it would have been much better had they cast a male character as Frank N. Furter, you have some factual errors in this article.

They did not shorten "Transvestite" to "Trans" in "Sweet Transvestite and they do say "Damn it, Janet." The songs are up on iTunes, I'd say that's a definitive source.

As I said, I agree with you, but your argument would be much stronger if it were 100% factual.

In the GLEE version on ITUNES, 'Frank-n-Further' sings "I'm just a sweet Transvestite from SENSATIONAL Transylvania." Dumber than shortening transvestite to 'trans' (which wouldn't scan anyway). And she sings the song so blandly...ugh.

Hi Alex -

I came back to this article to post another comment, and I just noticed for the first time that you put the update on the top of it with my name. Thanks !

Anyway, I just saw that according to TV.com, Barry Bostwick and Meatloaf have cameos in the episode.

crescentdave crescentdave | October 25, 2010 2:03 AM

Alex: this is great post. It's an important reality check. I'm happy and relieved there's push-back here. Over at Salon (not too terribly known for reactionary reflection), Matt Seitz simply gushes over the wonderfulness that is "Glee." His bottom line: "But all-in-all, the show is a remarkably enthusiastic weekly affirmation of the "Rocky Horror" ethos of "Don't dream it, be it."

Uh huh. As long as the dream is neutered, airbrushed, pasteurized and sanitized, you can "dream." Of the myth of progress and inclusion.

So many other people have so eloquently expanded on what I wanted to say when I read this. For me it boiled down to a simple "WTF???"
A female Frankie? A skinny Eddie? It just ain't right!
I'm a straight woman, as vanilla as they come, with a few (ok a lot of) extra pounds on my frame, and I am horrified by all the hate that I see in the world, whether it be hatred of big people, hatred of homosexuals, hatred of cross-dressers, or hatred of whatever race.
I love the original Rocky Horror film and am disgusted that the spark was taken out of it. If someone had asked me to do a send-up of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, it would have looked nothing like this travesty! Shame on the producers/writers of Glee for doing this.