Saturday, 27 October 2012


Saturday, 27 October 2012
written by Bryan Fuller / directed by Bryan Singer

The Munsters was always trapped in the shadow of The Addams Family during its original TV broadcast in the 1960s, and hasn't enjoyed its rival's continuing pop-culture interest—which received a substantial rejuvenation thanks to two witty movies in the 1990s from director Barry Sonnenfeld. Ironically, Sonnenfeld would later become a producer of Bryan Fuller's Pushing Daisies television series, and Fuller was recently given the chance to update The Munsters for a new generation. Unfortunately, NBC decided against turning Mockingbird Lane into a full-blown TV series, but have instead re-marketed its pilot as a Halloween special—most likely to recoup some of the $10 million development cost. Was this decision wise or premature?

In case you don't know, Mockingbird Lane sets up the original premise of The Munsters during its pilot—as a family of monsters move into a dilapidated suburban house on the titular street: father Herman Munster, a Frankenstein's Monster now re-imagined sans the original's Boris Karloff look (Jerry O'Connell); his beautiful vampire wife Lily (Portia de Rossi); murderous vampire father-in-law Grandpa (Eddie Izzard); young son and unknowing werewolf Eddie (Mason Cook); and blonde teenage daughter Marilyn (Charity Wakefield), who's perfectly normal.

If you've enjoyed Bryan Fuller's previous shows (Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies) then you'll know what to expect from his take on The Munsters' brand. It's quirky and dark, but mostly in a cartoonish way—although there were a few sequences and moments that felt surprisingly hardcore for a show you imagine would be aimed at families. A sequence with Herman undergoing a heart transplant was pretty disgusting, while a late appearance of Grandpa as a hairless albino man-bat was probably too much for most under-10s. Maybe the reason Mockingbird Lane didn't get picked up is because NBC were surprised by the level of gore and scary prosthetics of the show, although surely a compromise could have been reached between network and showrunner about adjusting the tone. Onset reports suggest the real issue was between the show's two Bryan's—as the pilot's director Bryan Singer (X-Men, Superman Returns) had a different approach to what Fuller had intended with the script, and the clout as co-executive producer to push his ideas through.

I enjoyed much of Mockingbird Lane, although not as much as I expected to. The cast were the best thing about it—although it was noticeable how much was put on the shoulders of Eddie Izzard, who plays the only character with any notable desire to frighten the neighbours and get up to mischief. In comparison, Portia de Rossi was practically reduced to a few sequences walking into an off-camera wind machine in various dresses. Charity Wakefield actually had a meatier role as Marilyn, a character you'd imagine would be shoved into the background because she represents normality, so that was good to see. Mason Cook (Spy Kids 4) was also really good as little Eddie Munster, the boy scout yet to be told he'll transform into a bloodthirsty wolf every Full Moon now he's hit puberty. The biggest issue I have is with Jerry O'Connell as Herman—who understandably has been toned down from Fred Gwynne's in terms of make-up, but doesn't compensate with a beefy personality. He's just an affable sitcom-style dad, and that's monumentally boring for a show of this nature. A few scars on his neck and chest just don't cut it, and O'Connell just melted off the screen. There wasn't even any enjoyable chemistry between himself and de Rossi. Imagine how much better Mockingbird Lane would have been if an actor like Ron Perlman had been given the role. What a shame he's tied up with Sons of Anarchy because this would have been perfect for him.

The special effects and production design was fine, but I'm guessing most of that mooted $10m went on producer fees and constructing 1313 Mockingbird Lane's exterior and interiors, because there wasn't too much else that made you marvel at the screen. It looked good and was competently directed, but there was no real wow-factor at work here. Ditto for the script, which was mostly concerned with two storylines: Herman and Lily realising they'll have to tell their son he's a monster, and Grandpa planning to kill a neighbour for an urgent heart transplant for his son-in-law. Both were decent ways to keep the show rolling along, while introducing us to the characters and this universe, but it always felt like the show was missing something more invigorating. Maybe it didn't help that Fuller likes to create off-kilter worlds, so in many ways The Munsters fitted in quite well to their surroundings—whereas the whole point of the show is that they're supposed to be extremely weird creatures in a very normal town. This is where much of the comedy came from with The Addams Family, too, but there was far less of it here—which is odd, because I'd have enjoyed seeing the Munster family interacting more with everyday people who don't feel like typical Fuller-created oddballs themselves.

Overall, this was an average pilot that has some obvious problem areas—and a rather significant one unless they chose to recast O'Connell. It was mild fun and amusing at times (I enjoyed the nods to the original show throughout), but I can't say it lived up to expectations considering the potential of this concept in Fuller and Singer's creative hands. I guess we'll have to stick with the real modernisation of The Munsters instead: Being Human, a cohabiting monsters comedy-drama that has a better handle on the present world we're living in.

26 October 2012 / NBC