I used to play the latest episodes of Trapped in the Closet on a laptop, on a school bus, with three or four friends leering over my shoulder and shoving their knuckleheads to my speakers. This was before YouTube, mind you, with the episodes debuting on BET and ripping, eventually, to Limewire. At 17 years old, I was hooked on the interminable drama of R. Kelly's "hip hopera," his magnum opus, 12-Play withstanding. All the groundbreaking narrative techniques that critics attribute to David Simon's The Wire, in fact, predate to Trapped in the Closet, right down to Michael Kenneth Williams' recurring role as a police officer who's introduced in Episode 6 of R. Kelly's barrio opera. The series chronicles the sprawling infidelity of a dozen spouses, lovers, brothers, friends, and neighbors who weave a rather tangled web.
Trapped in the Closet launched in 2005; the first five episodes are included on R. Kelly's TP.3 Reloaded, for which Chapter 1 was the lead single. In the series' seven-year run, from 2005 through 2012, Trapped in the Closet weaved three distinct narrative arcs, with shifts in tone throughout the series. Chapters 1 through 7 are rock opera realism. Chapters 8 through 22 are soap opera surrealism a la Passions. Chapters 23 through 33 are a chitlin' circuit sort of blaxploitation. In the course of the narrative, our sole protagonist is Sylvester who negotiates various treachery with his wife, Gwendolyn, his one-night-stand, Cathy, pastor Rufus, and his secret lover, Chuck. By the 10th episode, we've also met James the Police Officer, his wife, Bridget, her lover, Big Man the Midget, Rosie the Nosy Neighbor, the Reverend Mosley James Evans, and Pimp Lucius.
Spoiler: Everyone has AIDS.
Fans of the series have all got their own preferences for Trapped's absurdity levels, with most folks agreeing that the series fell off beyond episode 12, at episode 22 at the latest. I love this entire series enough, however, to rank all the episodes, from first to 33rd. Like Nas on "Rewind," we'll be starting from the story's end, for the most part, and working our way backward to an ominous beginning, in which our protagonist, Sylvester, wakes to smells of sex, gunpowder, and dread.