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Mockingbird Lane: Meet the New Munsters
October 26, 2012Posted by on
Tonight, NBC aired Mockingbird Lane as a Halloween special. Developed by Bryan Fuller (Heroes, Pushing Daisies) and directed by Bryan Singer (X-Men, Superman Returns), the special is a modernized version of the classic 1960s sitcom The Munsters. Needless to say, the project had some controversy surrounding it because it was remaking a beloved television series, and, more damming, updating it to be ultra-modern, dark, and edgy. Criticism stemmed largely from the fact that the Munster family were incredibly toned down in the makeup department (for example, Herman no longer looked like Frankenstein’s Monster), and the fact that Fuller was not titling the show The Munsters.
While it had a good creative team behind it, skepticism was everywhere concerning this project. Not helping matters was that the pilot was removed from the fall 2012 schedule, the show had a high price tag attached to it, and Fuller was already working on other projects. Things looked grim, but NBC decided to air it earlier tonight (the Friday before Halloween) as a special (either to simply burn it off or to gauge interest for a potential series – you be the judge). So, after a year of Fuller and Singer putting this thing together, how was Mockingbird Lane?
To be honest, it was fun, but maybe not as fun as I would have liked it to be. I do not consider myself to be a fan of the original Munsters. I watched it in reruns when I was a kid, but I never really got into it. Part of the charm was that they were to do mundane sitcom things, but they happened to be monsters. Herman was really the Homer Simpson of his day. Mockingbird Lane was anything, but broad. It had a dark sensibility to it which largely worked though it took some time to adjust to. The writing and direction largely worked and was clever, but there were times I felt it was trying to be too clever for its own good. I suppose that is one of the pitfalls when developing a new series, so I cannot really hold that against it.
Despite the toned down visual appearances, all the character interactions are still there and are the same as it was in the 1960s. Grandpa (a very droll Eddie Izzard) and Herman (an inspiring Jerry O’Connell) do not see eye-to-eye, but cannot help but get into a crazy scheme. Lily (a somewhat bland Portia de Rossi) is still the devoted wife and daughter, but is not above calling out her father and husband on their crap. Probably the highlight of the cast is Mason Cook as Eddie Munster whose evolution into a warewolf provides the narrative arc of the episode. Cook (previously seen in Spy Kids 4) is surprisingly solid as a child actor. Maybe I am too critical, but many child TV actors in a somewhat serious leading role rarely work for me. He hit all the right beats and all the right times.
The production design was fantastic. Say what you will about Bryan Fuller, but his shows always look terrific and have a unique style about them. I can buy this show is expensive to produce. The set design is meticulously detailed, and the special effects, while not revolutionary by any means, are very top-of-the-line for a television series. If the high price tag is to be believed, I can see why NBC might be nervous ordering it to series.
I have to say that I did enjoy what I saw. There still is a lot of room for improvement (obviously, doing more episodes would even out the rough edges). While I liked that they used Eddie’s transformation as the hook for the episode (it really gave the show some genuine heart), I wish it focused a bit more on Marilyn Munster’s (Charity Wakefield) plight as being the only normal one of the group (they briefly touch on it, but never delve in). I hope this show did well in the ratings enough for NBC to bring it to series. There is a lot of potential here, and I would like to see where it goes.
I also want to see Jerry O’Connell stomp his foot in a tantrum.