House of the Rising Moon
NBC ran the pilot for Mockingbird Lane, Bryan Fuller’s revamp of The Munsters, last Friday. At this writing you can still watch it via that link.
I took in the hour-long episode as a Halloween treat after hearing positive word. The premise and talent involved definitely had me curious, despite rebooting or reimagining a familiar property for TV being a dicey prospect (Battlestar Galactica at one recent extreme, Wonder Woman at the other). Even after it was passed over for this season, Lane apparently had an outside shot at being picked up for 2013 if it turned out to be an October surprise. I’m not sure that a 1.5 rating/5 share in the 18-49 demo, 5.47 million viewers overall, is enough to do the trick but this was a Friday on a tentatively resurgent network.
Anyway, I’d like to see more.
While the original 1964-66 Munsters was a childhood staple in reruns, I’ve never watched the various spinoffs or revivals. Mockingbird Lane not only recast the parts; unlike the 1988-91 sequel series The Munsters Today it reworked the nuances within the familiar broad strokes of the concept. Its pilot introduces the Munster family as if for the first time, with Marilyn finding the perfect residence for herself, cousin Eddie, his mom Lily, his father Herman, and Grandpa in the form of a condemned mansion at 1313 Mockingbird Lane in Mockingbird Heights, California (I think). The Munsters need to relocate thanks to the unfortunate side effects of Eddie, unaware that he’s a werewolf, going through puberty: During the full moon he wreaks havoc on a scout-troop camping trip.
Grandpa is slightly desiccated thanks to no longer “drinking” — a habit that he threatens to resume — and Herman does have visible scars, yet the family otherwise nearly looks as normal as Marilyn, the non-supernatural black sheep. Mason Cook’s Eddie doesn’t have the fangs, pointed ears, or widow’s peak of jet-black hair sported by Butch Patrick; Jerry O’Connell’s Herman lacks the flat head and neck bolts worn by Fred Gwynne in parody of the creature played by Boris Karloff in Universal’s Frankenstein movies.
I found O’Connell as Herman to be the pilot’s weak link. Perhaps due to O’Connell’s passing resemblance to Jason Bateman and the presence of the divine Portia de Rossi (so perfect a foil of Bateman’s in Arrested Development) gone brunette as Lily Munster, I kept expecting O’Connell to have Bateman’s subtle charisma and bite. The show would’ve done better to cast the pilot’s pivotal guest star Cheyenne Jackson as Herman and retain a smidgen of the galumphing puppy-dog feel that Gwynne brought to the original Munsters. Eddie Izzard as Grandpa was similarly poles apart from the beloved Al Lewis, but in ways that worked. For me the big surprise was a certain indescribable tartness brought to the role of Marilyn by unknown Charity Wakefield.
Mockingbird Lane came with a pedigree that frankly outclassed its source material. Bryan Fuller, who developed it and wrote the pilot, is the creator of Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies as well as the co-creator of the too-short-lived Wonderfalls. This pilot was directed by Bryan Singer, famous for The Usual Suspects and the first two X-Men films, infamous for Superman Returns. Guillermo Navarro, frequent collaborator of Guillermo del Toro (including on Pan’s Labyrinth, a personal favorite), served as the pilot’s cinematographer. I wish that I could say that the pilot was at least the sum of its impressive parts, but honestly I was underwhelmed. And yet the pilot did its job, because I genuinely want to see where the series would go from here and I’m sorry
that I probably won’t get to.
Did you watch Mockingbird Lane, and if so, what did you think?
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