Trapped in the Closet With R. Kelly

This Thanksgiving, my family and I took part in a new type of a tradition -- one I wouldn't expect to be so popular, but what do I know? We watched the entire Trapped in the Closet marathon on IFC, which led up to the premiere of the hour-long third part in the series titled Trapped in the Closet: The Next Installment.

If you are unfamiliar with the series, as my unsuspecting in-laws were prior to viewing, it is like nothing you can imagine. The series was created by R&B singer R. Kelly (yes, that R. Kelly) and it tells the tale of a strange, intertwined group of friends and lovers. Kelly, who takes on numerous roles, sometimes in different accents and genders, sings the entire series.

Originally, the series was a studio recording appearing on Kelly's album TP.3 Reloaded. The tracks were such a hit that Kelly recorded a DVD of the tracks, eventually recording a total of 22 chapters of the series. The entire collection was released on DVD in 2007 and had also been streamed on IFC's Web site. Earlier this year, fans got a treat when Kelly announced there would be several new chapters, some of which would be released Thanksgiving weekend on IFC.

To say the series is weird does not do it justice. It starts off somewhat simply: Kelly is sleeping with a married woman and hides himself in the closet when her husband comes home. Easy enough for a plot, but it only gets crazier from there. The husband of the woman Kelly's character, named Sylvester, is sleeping with is a pastor and, oh yeah, he is also cheating on his wife, but with a dude.

Kelly's character eventually finds himself in a web of lies and infidelities, but with each cheating spouse, the story gets more and more bizarre, eventually leading to midget love. It is so convoluted that a flow chart was created to attempt to explain the characters' relationships.

Kelly's method of storytelling is also unique. The series has been called a "hip hopera," but its lyrics are more narrative than expository and this adds to its weird brilliance. Lines such as "and now he's at the closet; now he's opening the closet," are scattered throughout as if he is narrating to blind people. Kelly also employs numerous "and then he said..." "and then she said..." again, as if we don't see the actors' mouths saying these words. The end result is hilarious.

You wouldn't expect Kelly to be a master of comedic timing, but seemingly he is, or maybe he is not and it just so happened to become funny. It's difficult to tell. Whether his original intention was absurdist humor doesn't matter now; he has fully embraced it, adding in more slapstick and obvious sight gags. Even the characters got funnier as the series progressed, such as Pimp Lucius the stuttering pimp.

When the second chapter ended, we found the network of adulterers and criminals all realizing that their six degrees of sexperation had potentially led them all to be infected with HIV/AIDS. I pondered if the entire series was nothing more than an anti-AIDS public service announcement, a brilliant anti-AIDS PSA.

Friday, November 23, the newest chapter in the series aired to much anticipation. What would happen to all of these crazy-ass people and their nutty relationships? Well, sadly, not much. The Next Installment was incredibly disappointing.

Unlike Kelly's previous chapters, which all ended with cliffhangers, this most recent collection did not leave you on the edge of your seat. Sure, there were moments of genius; at one point Kelly sings out directional markers as he and his brother-in-law Twan walk through a warehouse ("we took a left, then a right, then another left, then we went straight"), but as a whole the Kierkegaardian nature of Kelly's creation was lost (yes, I just compared R. Kelly to Kierkegaard). And the whole thing was melodramatic in a boring way. The AIDS epidemic that plagued the entire cast of characters was forgotten (although I am sure it will come back) and the series' typical slow build of bizarreness never entered the picture.

Kelly has said that he has many, many more chapters and will be releasing them eventually. Hopefully the whole thing hasn't gotten too big and thus lost some of its charm. I look forward to the next installment, but I think Kelly needs to get himself back in the closet and remember where it all began.

If you haven't seen any of the series, get your headphones out now and turn it on while your boss isn't watching.

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