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Peter Pan Live! Recap: It’s a Gender Studies Field Day

10 minute read

Welcome to the wonderful world of Peter Pan Live! where NBC tries to recapture the magic of Sound of Music Live!

For their second live prime time musical, NBC chose to work with a lead who has already proven both her acting and singing chops — Allison Williams (the would-be singer Marnie on Girls). We know her father Brian Williams is proud.

The show kicks off at the well-appointed London home of the Darling Family. The family have hired a dog as their nanny, but when the hard-working canine gets hair on the waistcoat of Mr. Darling (Christian Borle), he wants her to sleep outside. Mrs. Darling (Kelli O’Hara) tries to talk some sense and compassion into her buttoned-up husband, but when she mentions that she saw a mysterious boy and a ball of light lurking outside their window, and that the dog saved them, Mr. Darling rolls his eyes. And then, in the long tradition of uptight patriarchs (see also: Mary Poppins), he ignores his wife and children and chucks the poor dog outside anyway.

As soon as the dog and Darlings are gone, Allison Williams — and her wig and British accent (we weren’t told there would be accents!) — comes flying though the window as Peter Pan, clad in green capri pants, a mesh shirt and gold-trimmed vest. Peter heads straight to the dresser to retrieve his lost shadow from a drawer, waking Wendy (Taylor Louderman) as he struggles to reattach it. Wendy isn’t bothered by the intrusion of what looks like a gawky teen who swung by Sherwood Forest for some fashion tips before embarking on a life of crime and home invasions. Instead she takes him for a tour of the house.

They retreat to the bedroom where Wendy helps Peter reattach his shadow and he sings at the top of his lungs in gratitude, yet somehow fails to wake up Wendy’s brothers Michael (John Allyn) and John (Jake Lucas). Wendy thanks Peter with a G-rated kiss, but Tinker Bell takes umbrage and pulls Wendy’s hair, setting off a supernatural love triangle that will take a lot of pixie dust to cure.

When Wendy starts peppering Peter with questions about his origins, he paints a lovely picture of his island home. Wendy decides to run away with him to see the magical world, even though Peter informs her that he plans to put her to work darning clothes, “making pockets,” and cleaning up after his band of boys. For some reason she thinks that sounds like a good time and she wakes her little brothers for the adventure. (What tween girl takes their little brothers anywhere willingly?) Peter gamely teaches everyone to fly and Peter and the Darling kids float off into the night on wire technology that seemingly has not improved since the early ’90s.

Everyone is tweeting about seeing the wires like they’ve been robbed. You knew she wasn’t *actually* going to fly, right? — Jessica Goldstein (@jessicagolds) December 5, 2014

Next stop Neverland! No, not Michael Jackson’s ranch, but the home of the Lost Boys, Tiger Lily and Captain Hook, done up in iridescent colors last seen at the Rainforest Cafe. During his first moment on screen, Christopher Walken does an alluring soft shoe routine as Captain Hook, clad in red velvet pants, a low cut v-neck ruffled shirt and knee-length red duster with gold trim that manages to not clash with his hook. While the pirates are all clearly well-trained professional dancers who look like they’ve raided the leftover wardrobes from some hair metal video, it would be easy just to watch Walken lackadaisically tap dance on his own.

The pirates start bombarding Neverland just as the Lost Boys are dancing and prancing and playing leap frog while they wait for the return of their leader Peter Pan. (It’s important to note that the average age of a Lost Boy seems to be about 29.) The Lost Boys scatter as the pirates’ cannon fire nears. Soon the leather-and-velvet clad buccaneers invade. With Peter still absent and the Lost Boys hiding, they use the time to set forth on another none-too-scintillating dance routine.

Peter finally shows up in Neverland, but it’s too late. Tinker Bell has ordered a hit on Wendy. A Lost Boy shoots Wendy out of the sky just as Peter is announcing her arrival. Luckily the Lost Boy is a bad shot and she recovers quickly, awakening to find that she is now the adoptive mother of 9 to 12 overgrown man-boys and not even one of them is clever enough to figure out how to sew. Peter sings about how excited he is to have someone to tell them stories, cook them dinner, tuck them into bed, fix their clothes and make those pockets. (Jeez, guys, she was just struck in the chest with an arrow, give her a second before putting her to work, eh?) Wendy tells all the boys to take a bath while she obligingly cooks them dinner. This is less finding a mom and more human trafficking.

As the pirates hatch their nefarious plans, Wendy sets about parenting the unruly boys. As she tries to teach them manners and diplomacy and school lessons, Peter undermines her efforts and sings the most famous song from the musical, “I Won’t Grow Up.” The pirates track the Lost Boys through Neverland and soon Tiger Lily (Alanna Saunders) and her Native American band (that, reportedly, the producers took pains not to stereotype) realize what is happening. When Tiger Lily comes to warn Peter about the danger, Wendy gets all Mama Bear and jealous Jocasta rolled into one and orders the Boys to take a nap. Peter insists he doesn’t nap, because he is too hepped up on fairy dust. While Peter and Wendy are engaged in their domestic dispute, Hook kidnaps Tiger Lily — not that Peter notices.

To make up for arguing, Peter takes Wendy for a moonlit boat ride, and she shows off her vocals with a new song, “Only Pretend,” that fulfills the same function “Kiss the Girl” does in The Little Mermaid. But it’s unlike the Disney movie in one respect: Wendy is a tween mom and Peter is played by a woman in a drag acting like a boy who won’t grow up, and who willingly answers when Wendy calls him “father” and/or treats him like a son. Peter Pan is worthy fodder for a gender studies doctoral dissertation.

I’m having an impossible time seeing this as anything but a fabulous tale of lesbian discovery. #PeterPanLive #pixiecut — Lindsay Ellis (@thelindsayellis) December 5, 2014

While on their adventure (and before they kiss), Peter and Wendy run into Hook’s crew. Hook whacks Peter on the rear, which may not have been in J.M .Barrie’s book. Then Peter flies around Hook’s head as they hurl threats at each other. The encounter is cut short by the ticking of a clock that haunts Hook. It’s not a misplaced watch, but the crocodile who ate Hook’s hand.

The pirates flee, but Peter is injured in the fight and only Tiger Lily can save him. She does and the two tribes are united as one, which, despite efforts, requires a dance rife with cliche if now absent slurs.

Back in the Lost Boys loft, Peter mulls over the fact that three women (well, two women and a fairy) are all in love with him despite his questionable fashion choices and off-putting wig. Wendy tells him that she wants more, but Peter is just not emotionally available right now. (Girl, we’ve all been there.)

Wendy and her brothers suddenly realize they want to go home so Wendy can wash her hair (or something like that). The Lost Boys all decide to go with her, but Peter won’t go, because he’s just not that into her. Unfortunately, right as Wendy finds her backbone, Hook attacks. He lures the Lost Boys and Wendy out and captures them all to set a trap for Peter.

Tinker Bell, who has been on the Time Out Stair for hours due to the whole ordering-a-hit-on-Wendy thing, comes to alert Peter to what has befallen the Lost Boys and Tiger Lily and the Darlings. Peter wants to rush to their rescue, but when he goes to take his medicine, which has been poisoned by Hook, Tinker Bell drinks it all to save him. As Tinkerbell’s light fades, Peter stares directly into the camera and orders all the children around the world to clap their hands if they want to save Tinkerbell’s life. Unfortunately it’s past 10 pm on a school night and all the children are tucked in bed, so perhaps think-pieces on whether Tink deserves to be saved despite her appalling behavior will have to suffice.

Instead of waiting until #SaveTinkerbell starts trending on Twitter, production cuts to another song by Captain Hook and his crew gloating over their hopes of poisoning Peter and capturing the rest of the island’s inhabitants. After Hook threatens to kill everyone but for two soon-to-be cabin boys, Peter comes to the rescue. Everyone fights and Wendy grabs a sword and takes down the flamboyant Smee (also played by Christian Borle), or strongly suggests that he takes himself down, which he does. Peter and Hook battle it out on the bridge of the ship and Peter finally wins, rubbing it in by yelling, “I am youth! I am joy! I am freedom!” which seems like unnecessary millennial mudslinging. After Hook ravages Michael’s beloved teddy bear, Peter feeds Hook to the creepy iridescent crocodile and all the burgeoning psychopaths cheer. Peter flies to the top of the crow’s nest and crows a few times, which will certainly be a GIF by morning.

At the end of the battle, Wendy charters the Tinker Bell Express, packs up her brothers and the Lost Boys and heads back to London. They land in the nursery, just as their poor mother’s heart is breaking and their father is cursing the infernal racket. Wendy begs her parents to adopt all the Lost Boys, because what’s a dozen more strapping young lads around the house? It works for Angelina Jolie! As Mr. Darling relents, everyone goes to celebrate except for Wendy, who whispers to the night sky that she promises to never forget Peter and to never the lock window.

The narrator announces the passage of time and when the lights come on, Wendy has turned into Minnie Driver (playing Wendy’s older self). Peter arrives as now grown-up Wendy is tucking her own child into bed. After Peter balks at Wendy’s grotesque grown-upness, Wendy decides to send her own daughter to Neverland, living by proxy through some deep psychological drama best handled by Sophocles.

I love how Wendy is like sure, take my daughter to go clean your house and serve you. She learned nothing. — Roxane Gay (@rgay) December 5, 2014

No word on whether Peter ever got a pocket made.

Read next: Why You Should Be Ashamed of Yourself for Hate Watching ‘Peter Pan Live!’

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