Mockingbird Lane: The Munsters that should have been
I have seen everything featuring the
original Munsters: All 72
episodes of the tv series, the color pilot,
and the two movies: Munster, Go Home!
(1966) and The Munsters' Revenge
(1981). Pat Priest who played Marilyn for most of the
met her. Got her autograph. Have pictures of her with my
even dressed up as Herman, Lily, and Eddie for Halloween the year
Mockingbird Lane premiered. Still, I wouldn't say I'm a
fan. I love
the look of the show. I love that they're all based on the
Monsters. But the humor is very low-brow, and the characters are
two-dimensional and cartoonish. The writing was never clever in
of plotting or wordplay. Sure, it was ostensibly a kid's show,
was its contemporary, The Addams
Family, and that series managed to
incorporate much more sophisticated humor and subtext. In fact,
people I ask will say they prefer the latter precisely for this
reason. They just weren't as dumb.
Almost 50 years later, we
finally had a chance to update the series so that it took the best
elements of a supernaturally-inspired series and wove snarky humor that
The Munsters lacked.
Written by Bryan Fuller and directed by Bryan Singer, Mockingbird Lane
is absolutely genius.
So what happened?
The sequence of events seems to be as follows:
- NBC announced they were updating The Munsters. They described
it as an hour-long comedy/drama.
- Bloggers decided (sight-unseen) they
hated it. They objected to the fact that it wasn't going to be
slapstick like the original. They objected to making it an
hour. They objected to messing with classic tv. Most of
all, they objected to casting Jerry O'Connell as Herman Munster and (to
a lesser extent) the relatively unknown Charity Wakefield as Marilyn.
- NBC started reading public reaction
and got cold feet. They did minimal promotion for the show, and
worst of all, buried it in their schedule. It was treated as a
Friday-night Halloween special (10/26/12). As expected (under the
circumstances), it got tepid ratings.
A noteworthy event I'm leaving out of the
above timeline is the post-broadcast reaction of the bloggers: They
loved it! I've read blogs that pulled a complete 180. Mockingbird
was a complete departure from the silliness of the original, which
appeal to me either. We laughed at the old show when we were
enough to enjoy that kind of humor, but this was modern and
of the Halloween/monster blogs I read had a whole series of diatribes
(four of them!) about the show leading up to its airing. After it
premiered? Total turn-around. They recanted every
objection and admitted the creators got it right.
- The network was silent on the
(months later) matter-of-factly stated they weren't going to make the
series. It was dead.
I think we were all in a state of cognitive dissonance about how they
were going to take a show that grounded in its era and make something
fresh out of it. We couldn't imagine a "gritty" version of The Munsters anymore than we could
imagine watching Adam West as Batman and reading that Christopher Nolan
was going to do a "gritty" update of the superhero. In that case
we had several other versions in between (including the Burton movies,
Frank Miller's comic books, and several well-executed animated series),
but even then I remember the reaction when they announced that
heart-throb Heath Ledger was going to be the Joker. There was a
collective "WTF?" at the time, and we were proven so very, very wrong
with the very first trailer.
The same thing should have happened here, but how many promos did NBC
air? There was nothing to silence the critics in the run-up to
What they fixed
Herman isn't stupid. This was
generally the most grating thing about the original, and the update
solved this by turning the character into something the original
lacked: an everyman, albeit one that was made out of spare parts.
He's much easier to identify with this time around. We're
actually sympathetic when he is hurt, emotionally or physically.
has a purpose. In the original series, she was little more
than a sounding board for Lily's character. Sure, there was the
running joke about how she was "the ugly duckling" of the family, but
that wore thin after the second telling. In the update, she
served as the family's liaison with the rest of the world.
Seemingly "normal," she was just as dark as the rest of the family
(perhaps darker even than all but Grandpa), in spite of her summer
dresses and blonde exterior.
a plot unto himself. The McGuffin of the would-be pilot
was that Eddie was maturing into a werewolf... and didn't know
it. He was central to the story.
is fucking evil. While the corniness of the original
series has its appeal, this update of Grandpa hit the spot. Eddie
Izzard is, of course, a talented performer, but it was clever writing
that reinvented him this diabolical.
So what about Lily? There
really was nothing wrong with her to begin with. My only
criticisms of the pilot were that her outfits never equaled the
timeless design of the original (nor were quite as sexy) , and her
character was under-utilized. Had this been a series, I'm sure we
would have seen a lot more of her, but the best lines went to Marilyn,
and she was only incidental to the plot so far. But at least the
potential was there.
The score. The original Munsters theme was present, but it
was updated to an orchestral arrangement. It was very effective
and used sparingly.
makes fabulous use of computer graphics to give evidence
that the family is supernatural after all. Grandpa materializes
from a pack of rodents. Lily's dress is woven out of spider silk
from the spiders themselves as we watch. We actually get to see
Spot for the first time!
writing. It's witty. There's a rhythm to it.
There's snark and subtext, all the things lacking in the original
series. This is geared for a post-internet generation that can
multi-task within the same conversation.
a worthy successor to the original. Not quite so obviously
gothic, and yet all the elements are there and then some.
Consider this exchange, and you'll get a taste of the writing:
What about that one?
Real Estate Agent: It's a very emotional
property for entirely different reasons. The former owner was a
notorious serial killer who poisoned hobos.
Marilyn: I'll take it.
Real Estate Agent: It's not for sale.
They're tearing it down.
Marilyn: But they haven't yet.
Real Estate Agent: That's a horrible
place. Horrible things happened there. They found dozens of grave in
Real Estate Agent: Uh, maybe you can buy
the lot once the grounds have been cleansed.
Marilyn: My aunt and uncle prefer
Real Estate Agent: Miss, there maybe dead
homeless people in the walls.
Marilyn: Then they found a home after all.
Speaking of undisturbed remains, I think this proves it isn't
disrespectful tamper with a classic show if you get it this
right. But it's this perceived desecration that seems to be
bothering folks. As of this writing, here are the Recent Posts on
the message boards of the IMDb:
Reasons Why This Failed
What is keeping NBC from picking this
A terrible terrible re-imagining of the
classic TV series.
Superb. Why hasn't NBC picked it up?
What is the truth on the ratings, and was
I really don't understand the hate
In other words, some people felt like you shouldn't mess with a
classic. The rest of us loved it. If you were young enough
to have lived through this, you might recall who had the biggest
objection to Paramount producing Star
The Next Generation. That's right: The
Trekkies. Thankfully, the "you shouldn't mess with a classic"
crowd was over-ruled, and the series went on to eclipse the limited
popularity of the original. Mockingbird
Lane was a case that
would have dwarfed even that example. Think about it this way: The Munsters was never as good as
you remember it. The Addams
Family, however, was better than you remember it, and yet it
spawned a film that was even better than the source material. Mockingbird Lane was an excellent
opportunity that was squandered by a bunch of inept stuffed suits.
This was a cleverly-written show that successfully managed to straddle
comedy and dramatic tension. NBC missed a huge opportunity.
It's a sign of abysmal management that they sunk TEN MILLION DOLLARS
into this pilot and then listened to critics BEFORE the show aired
instead of its viewers AFTER the fact. Idiots, dolts, fools, and
COWARDS! It's stupidity on the highest order when management
sinks $10 million into a pilot they hide away and fail to develop into
a series. The show was a success. NBC continues to be a
p.s. If you want to further ridicule NBC (last-place network for many
years precisely because of bullshit like this), drop them a line here:
Or just send them a link to this page if you agree.