Not saying that this is comprehensive, but it's not not comprehensive.
The original episode of Trapped In The Closet came out in 2005 if you can believe it, so you'd be forgiven for letting a few key plot details have slipped your brain. Now spanning twenty-two chapters, R. Kelly's R&B soap opera is one of the funniest, most expansive, intertextual and downright bizarre things to happen to pop music in the past fifteen years. Trapped In The Closet is special because it takes the idea that a story can and should be told through hip-hop (something anyone who's ever seen that terrible adaptation of Carmen starring Beyoncé knows) and blows it up conceptually while scaling it back musically. R. Kelly realized that by going off the same basic beat for the entire thing and using his own voice for every single character, he could foreground the stuff that really mattered, which includes his insane levels of talent and creativity as well as his insane level of insanity. To celebrate tonight's triumphant return of Trapped at 9PM on IFC, here's our handy guide to some of the key characters and plot points in the series.
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS FROM THE FIRST TWO SEASONS OF TRAPPED IN THE CLOSET ARE TO BE HAD HERE. YOU CAN'T SAY WE DIDN'T WARN YOU IF YOU FIND OUT SOME SHIT YOU DIDN'T WANT TO FIND OUT. WE'RE EVEN THROWING A GIGANTIC GRAPHIC BELOW THIS DISCLAIMER SO THAT YOU HAVE TO SCROLL DOWN A BUNCH BEFORE READING THE REST OF THIS.
Played by none other than R. Kelly himself, Sylvester is the hero and the main catalyst for most of the story's action. In other words, he's the dude who gets hidden in the titular closet in the very first episode. You know Sylvester well, you put up with his superfluous suit changes, chuckle at his love of smokable tobacco products and guffaw at his hatred of smokable marijuana products. It's hinted that Sylvester's got a dark past, with five years in the penitentiary under his belt and connections to various members of the Chicago crime underworld. He has a really nice house and tends to be level-headed and diplomatic until he gets stressed out. His main method of conflict resolution is drawing his gun on whoever confuses him.
This is where shit gets weird. This is a guy who looks, acts, sings and probably smells exactly like Sylvester, but he's not Sylvester. He first makes his appearance in a different closet altogether, pausing the action and popping out to ramp up the tension for when we find out that Bridget's been sleeping with Big Man the midget. Every once and a while he'll sing, "Oh shit!" at exactly the right time. He's important because we eventually find out that Sylvester is something of an unreliable narrator. More on that below.
Cathy/Rufus/Chuck/That Weird Plot Inconsistency That's Never Really Discussed
It is Cathy's closet that Sylvester is trapped in, because Cathy took him home from a club when he was wasted, and then the next morning her husband Rufus comes home only finds Sylvester all up in his shit. The plot thickens when Chuck comes upstairs and it turns out that he and Rufus are secret boyfriends with each other. Cathy's pissed, and it's potentially scandalous because Rufus is a pastor. In Season Two however, it's revealed that Cathy paid Sylvester to be caught with her because she was sad that Rufus had been cheating on her with Chuck for so long, which is a contradiction of the actions depicted in TITC's first episode but whatever. The only thing that's maintained here is that Sylvester didn't know Cathy's real name. At the end of Season Two, it's hinted that Chuck has AIDS or some other dread disease that would cause him to be hooked up to a bunch of machines in a hospital two or three days after seeming totally fine. Oh, and the other thing about Cathy? Her best friend is...
Gwen-A-Palooza is Sylvester's wife and best friend. They cheat on each other every once and a while, but so far it's only been so that other, more important events in the plot could be set up. Her main function as a character is to call Sylvester every once and a while and to drink a lot of wine.
The main reason that Gwendolyn is so boring is because she's way less interesting than her brother Twan. Twan is fresh out of a three-year jail sentence he caught from drunk-driving a car full of drugs down to Atlanta and then instigating a high-speed chase involving a police helicopter. I'm sort of assuming he only got three years because he had the best lawyer of all time. Twan is fiercely loyal to Sylvester and more often than not serves as a hot-headed foil to Sylvester's smooth operator. He kind of looks like LL Cool J, and despite rarely getting to be the one with the gun, threatens to kill people a lot. Twan is everyone's favorite character because he is essentially a psychopath with A.D.H.D.
James The Cop
Remember when I said that Gwendolyn cheated on Sylvester in order to set some of the plot in motion? Well, she cheated on Sylvester with James, a crooked cop who smokes a bunch of cigarettes and is played by Omar from The Wire. I know his actual actor name is Michael K. Williams, but there's no way you don't look at James The Cop and think about , or whatever else your favorite Omar line is, because James The Cop is Omar. Only this time around he's a cop. Who doesn't rob drug dealers. Who's voiced by R. Kelly. Okay, fine, James The Cop is played by Michael K. Williams.
Depending on who you ask, Bridget is either the most annoying character in Trapped In The Closet or the best. Either way, she's married to James The Cop and R. Kelly decided she ought to have a southern accent. She's allergic to cherries and is secretly fucking a midget gigalo named Big Man.
Big Man! Big Man Big Man BIG MAN! Big Man is a midget stripper who apparently has a large penis. We never get to see it, but either way he definitely passes out whenever he's scared. Bridget alleges that he's the father of her child, which is problematic because she is (again) married to James.
Rosie & Randolph
Rosie is Sylvester and Gwendolyn's elderly neighbor. She's a gossip and is a lot less cool than her husband Randolph, who is played by R. Kelly wearing a bunch of prosthetics. Randolph is an alcoholic who works as a janitor at a church and has not been able to develop an erection in five years. He's low-key the reason we get a third season of Trapped In The Closet, but more on that later.
Tina & Roxanne
When Sylvester meets Cathy in a diner and the Weird Plot Inconsistency is brought in, we also are introduced to Tina and Roxanne, who were in the car with Twan when he got sent to jail. Roxanne was pregnant with Twan's child at the time and couldn't stand to snitch on him to the fuzz, but Tina had no problems with throwing Twan under the bus and keeping it moving. Now the pair work in a diner and date, and one time Kellz-As-Sylvester pulled a gun on them for no reason while Kellz-As-Narrator watched.
Yet another R. Kelly joint. Pimp Lucius functions mostly as an entertaining side plot meant to ramp up tension while Rufus finds out that Chuck has some sort of terrible disease. Pimp Lucius comes to church one day and the reverend (also played by R. Kelly because don't worry about it) decides that he should be saved from his sins. Pimp Lucius doesn't really want to be saved, however, so only he pretends to accept Jesus into his life. He has a stuttering problem. I'm mainly including him in here because I hope against hope that even though he seemed pretty peripheral, R. Kelly decided to bring Pimp Lucius back for another round of p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-pimpin'.
Joey The Mobster
Hey, you know how some Italian people feel kind of conflicted about The Godfather because while it's a great film it also kind of perpetuates the stereotype that Italians are mobsters? Well, Joey is an Italian mobster who likes to eat spaghetti. Sylvester goes to visit him because his father knew Joey and this means that Joey now owes him. They then make a deal. Nobody knows that the deal entails exactly but in a dream Twan--who was there waiting in the other room--gets a vision that it's going to be some sort of thing that Joey The Mobster can do to get himself enough money to buy a spaghetti factory. I don't really care if Joey The Mobster returns, but since he and Sylvester have that secret deal it seems like he probably will.
This is what ties the whole thing together. We're introduced to The Package when Randolph, taking a quick Gin Break while cleaning Rufus's office, overhears Pastor Rufus talking to Chuck on the phone. So, naturally, he hides in the closet while Rufus and Chuck talk about "The Package" and then Rufus overhears Chuck reveal that he's really sick and in the hospital. Randolph then tells this information Rosie who in turn tells the entire fucking world about it (never even give Rosie your recipe for sweet potato pie if you don't want that shit getting out, seriously), which then sets everything up for the next season of TITC. Context suggests that "The Package" is AIDS or whatever other deadly disease that Chuck has, but that's way too unoriginal for R. Kelly. It might have something to do with whatever deal Joey The Mobster made with Sylvester, or it might have something to do with Tina and Roxanne, because they tend to get relatively high amount of mentions in the series despite not having much screen time. Or it could be a box of more wigs for Cathy to wear. Nobody knows.
Honestly, I kind of doubt The Package is just AIDS, because Kelly is more creative than that and also such a Package would kill off a large chunk of the principle cast. (The chart at the top of this article is something I borrowed from Wikipedia that speculates on which TITC might be infected if The Package were a sexually transmitted disease of any sort.) No matter what The Package ends up being, it's comforting to know that it's probably just a MacGuffin so that R. Kelly can keep cranking out more volumes of this hilarious, wonderful series. The thing that's really overwhelming about Trapped In The Closet is that R. Kelly hasn't really tried to meaningfully resolve any part of the story; he's still widening the scope, thickening already existing plots as well as introducing new ones. Trapped In The Closet might never die, and that thought makes me aggressively happy. It's been reported that Kellz has 85 more episodes in the works, which warms our hearts to no end. Trapped In The Closet is messy, confusing, chaotic and damn near perfect because of the totality with which Kelly throws himself into the material. It's an American treasure that should never die, and if you think otherwise I'll see you in hell.