For the six months following its premiere in 2005, everyone from Jimmy Kimmel ("The Pizza") to "MADtv" ("Trapped in the Cupboard," featuring Jordan Peele demanding cereal while announcing "I'm R. Kelly!") took a run at "Trapped in the Closet." A panel was held in the fall of 2005 at Upright Citizens Brigade, hosted by Eric Appel, that would travel between the coasts discussing the increasingly bizarre chapters. Perhaps the best skewering came solely through implication when South Park ran "Trapped in the Closet," which skewered Scientology and quietly referenced the "down-low" relationship storyline between Rufus (Rolando A. Boyce) and Chuck (Artel Great, in later chapters Kevin Douglass).
While Kelly's lyrics ("She says you're the perfect lover / I said I cant go no futher / Then I flip back the cover / Oh my God, a rubber...") are definitely a major point to the appeal of "Trapped in the Closet" -- New York Comic Con recently had a convention hall solely devoted to karaokeing chapters one through 22 -- Kelly's visuals are just as interesting. The latest chapters, the ones being unveiled tonight, are remarkably different from the preceding ones because of their foreshadowing. They're proof that Kelly is embracing, to steal a line from Chicago's own Ian Svenonius, the serious unserious, from a random green-screened street to the ominous bumpers hinting at a show-within-a-show.
And as if a reward for putting up with that, the final chapter of this arc features a surreal throwback to Issac Hayes and blaxspolitation films, down to the refrain ("Runnin' from bullets! Bullets! Bullets!"). As the chapters have evolved, so has Kelly's plotting. The newest series actually deals a surprising amount of question-and-answer due to fan theories, such as directly addressing what "The Package" (assumed by many to be HIV/AIDS) is and pointing out which characters aren't showing up, even addressing why it's important in mid-song.
The kitsch appeal of "Trapped" feels exactly like what would happen if Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim were told to make a musical drama -- as evidenced late in Chapter 25, when we find out that Pimp Lucius (also played by Kelly) hears the Voice of God, are informed why by the narrator and then cut back to a wide-eyed Sylvester and Twan asking what just happened. And yet, there are moments of genuine emotional drama, such as when one of the new characters (a relationship councilor played, of course, by Kelly) tries to help Cathy/Mary and Pastor Rufus reconcile their marriage following both of their affairs.
Fair warning: once you start watching "Trapped in the Closet," whether out of curiosity or because you think it's a joke, you will find yourself sucked down a hole into something more obsession-friendly than "Arrested Development" when it comes to jokes, plot twists and fan-service. Still not convinced "Trapped" is worth it? The next arc promises a talk show titled "Out of the Closet," one teased via guest confessionals that show Kelly is completely in control of his madcap design, even down to the introduction of a character named Francine, a "blind ho."