Friday, December 07, 2012

Not Your Frankenstein's Munsters

Following up on our you-heard-it-first-here news from more than a year ago about Pushing Daisies creator Bryan Fuller’s new reimagining of The Munsters, CBS released the one-episode season of Mockingbird Lane in late October. The idea was if the pilot did well enough, the network could order a full season. Spoiler alert: don’t get your hopes up.

The show didn’t do terribly in terms of viewership; more people watched Mockingbird Lane than watched 30 Rock, if that tells you anything. Unfortunately, that’s where the similarities end. Mockingbird Lane just wasn't that great.

Sad trombone.

The entire episode had a very rushed feel, as if several plot lines had to be introduced, discussed and resolved all in one episode. (They very may well have had to.) What should have been a much more straightforward exploration turned into something rambling and disconnected. We’re still introduced to all the familiar characters, Frankenstein-ish Herman, vampire Lily, Eddie, Marilyn and Grandpa, but we’re also sped through several different character builders without any real reason to connect to them. We get that Herman is a loving and affectionate father, that Marilyn is the “freak” for being normal, that Lily is a devoted mother who worries about her own ability to care for a child. Eddie and Grandpa get the most attention, and thus are the only ones we can really get to know after a scant 48 minutes.

Those 48 minutes do give a really imaginative take on those two characters, however. Eddie is portrayed, slightly preciously, as the precocious child advanced beyond his years if his vocabulary is any indication. It is Grandpa (a very droll Eddie Izzard) gets the most extreme make-over though. Instead of Al Lewis’s avuncular if sarcastic vampire, this version of Grandpa is literally bloodthirsty and eager to get back to “drinking again” now that young Eddie has learned he is a werewolf and the family no longer has to pretend to be raising a traditional child.

So... "family friendly"?

I would have loved for this show to have had more of a chance. Bryan Fuller’s writing, often wistful and quirky, comes through even in this stilted manner. It’s more macabre than earlier efforts Pushing Daisies or Wonderfalls, hewing closer to the occasional terror that crept into Dead Like Me more often that Showtime knew what to do with it during that show’s life. The unfortunate news is that, while potentially promising, what we got to see out of this effort just didn’t really rise up that far. It’s a problem that could easily be fixed with more time, something that is certainly unlikely to come.

Alternate history side note: Though Mockingbird Lane is significantly grittier and darker than The Munsters, it could have been even scarier. Earlier concept designs give the show more of a horror feel. I can’t say that going full bore scary would have improved or harmed the show, but it would certainly have given it a different life.

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