Friday, October 26, 2012

Mockingbird Lane

I have a confession to make. While I loved The Munsters as a child,  I cannot say that I have been a fan of the show as an adult. At some point when I was a young adult I realised that while the show had a good concept, except for some of the bits performed by Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis in the second season, the show really wasn't that funny. Still, I have always had a soft spot for the show as part of my childhood. It was for that reason that I felt a bit of concern when I heard last year that The Munsters was being revived under the name Mockingbird Lane. Even the fact that Bryan Fuller, creator of one of my favourite shows of all time, Pushing Daisies, did little to ease my fears.

Let's face it. More often than not revivals of television shows do not go well. In fact, the failures far outnumber the successes when it comes to resurrecting old TV series. A perfect example of this is The Munsters itself. In 1988 The Munsters was revived as The Munsters Today. While I did not find The Munsters funny as an adult, I imagine even children would have found The Munsters Today to be a terrible show.  Not only was it horribly unfunny (neither Fred Gwynne nor Al Lewis were there to liven things up), but its production values were strictly bargain basement. Despite this The Munsters Today actually had a longer run than the original show. It ran for three years and produced 72 episodes (two more episodes than the original). Despite this, The Munsters Today has not been repeated very often, nor has it been released on DVD. I suspect the only people who remember The Munsters Today are Munsters fans, who seem to have universally hated it.

Given that many television show revivals are often much, much worse than the originals and that one of the worst offenders in this regard was a revival of The Munsters, my hopes for Mockingbird Lane were not particularly high. Regardless, having fond memories of the original show and being a fan of Bryan Fuller's Pushing Daisies, I just had to watch the pilot tonight, aired as a one hour Halloween special. To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement. Although fans of the original Munsters might disagree with me, I think the pilot for Mockingbird Lane was better than any single episode of The Munsters. It is a far cry from The Munsters Today.

While Mockingbird Lane takes its inspiration from The Munsters, fans of the original show should not expect Mockingbird Lane to be similar except in the most superficial ways. While The Munsters was a straight forward situation comedy, Mockingbird Lane is a drama with comedic overtones (or perhaps a comedy with dramatic overtones). And The Munsters of Mockingbird Lane differ from the Munsters of, well, The Munsters beyond simply looking more human. The Munsters of the original show thought they were normal and even wanted to be normal. The Munsters of Mockingbird Lane know that they are not normal and, especially in the case of Grandpa (Eddie Izzard), have no particular desire to be normal.

Indeed, while Al Lewis as Grandpa in the original series was much more funny than scary, Grandpa on Mockingbird Lane is much more scary than funny. He actually takes pride in being a vampire who has lived hundreds of years, and finds nothing wrong in drinking the blood of mortals or turning his neighbours into "blood slaves." Fortunately, his daughter Lily (Portia de Rossi) is a bit more restrained. While she also takes pride in being a vampire, she does not drink human blood and seems to want her son Eddie (Mason Cook) to have a somewhat normal childhood. Perhaps the character who differs the most from the original is Herman (Jerry O'Connell). While the Herman of Mockingbird Lane is kind hearted like the original, loves his family like the original, and wants to be normal like the original, he is also a fairly intelligent character. The Herman of Mockingbird Lane is hardly the bumbling father that Hermann was (a sitcom archetype that was old by the time the original Munsters aired). Perhaps the one character on Mockingbird Lane who most resembles the original is Marilyn (Charity Wakefield). On Mockingbird Lane Marilyn is a bubbly, curvy blonde with a definite retro sense of fashion (like the original Marilyn she does not seem to realise that the Fifties never ended). That having been said, the Marilyn of Mockingbird Lane realises the Munsters are hardly a normal family and has no desire for them to be, beyond disapproving of Grandpa's various, vampiric habits.

While I had my doubts that a more serious take on The Munsters would work, even in the hands of someone as talented as Bryan Fuller, I must say that the pilot to Mockingbird Lane proved me wrong. The pilot was very well written, with a fairly good balance of comedy and drama. There is also some very good bits of direction, little wonder as the pilot was directed by executive producer Bryan Singer (director of such feature films as Apt Pupil and X-Men). With a $10 million budget, Mockingbird Lane has incredible production design, with a much more lavish version of The Munsters' mansion from the original series. The special effects also look very good, quite literally feature film quality. Over all, Mockingbird Lane comes off as The Munsters filtered through The Addams Family and Pushing Daisies. It sounds like it wouldn't work, but it very much does.

Indeed, I am rather shocked that NBC didn't pick up Mockingbird Lane, given they picked up the far inferior Revolution. I am hoping that, between the over all positive reception it received on Twitter from what I have seen, and with any luck some good ratings, NBC will pick Mockingbird Lane up for a run later in the season. Given the pilot, it certainly deserves a chance, certainly more of one than many shows NBC currently has on the air.

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