House of the Rising Moon




Last Friday NBC ran the pilot for Mockingbird Lane, Bryan Fuller's revamp of The Munsters. At this writing you can still watch it via that link.

I took in the hour-long episode as a Halloween treat after hearing that it was good — already intrigued by the premise and the talent involved, 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. While I'm unsure that a 1.5 rating / 5 share in the 18-49 demo (5.47 million viewers overall) is enough to do the trick, this was a Friday and this is the tentatively resurgent NBC.

I'd like to see more.

The original 1964-66 Munsters was a childhood staple in syndicated reruns, but I never watched any of the spinoff movies or series. 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 have to relocate thanks to the unfortunate side effects of young Eddie going through puberty: During the full moon he becomes a werewolf and 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 famously by Boris Karloff in Universal's Frankenstein movies.

I found O'Connell as Herman to be the pilot's weak link. Perhaps because of 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 himself and retained 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 (with Todd Holland) of the too-short-lived Wonderfalls. The 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?

8 comments:

Arben said...

During the full moon he becomes a werewolf and wreaks havoc on a scout-troop camping trip

I think you mean that Eddie becomes a wolf. He's a werewolf even when he's not changing during a full moon.

You're right about Jerry O'Connell. He's supposed to be the sensitive guy, yeah, but he was just too bland. And I agree that the pilot was a bit of a letdown. I wanted it to have more of the pop surreality of Pushing Daisies or good Tim Burton. Still, I'd like to see more, too; the show definitely had potential.

While I watched The Munsters, I have no idea if I really enjoyed it or if it was just a goofy show with a cool premise that had no real competition in those VHF days of sitcom repeats, game shows, and soap operas in the afternoon. I do remember being shocked as an adult first to find that The Addams Family was considered a superior product to The Munsters, because I clearly preferred The Munsters as a kid, and then to find that The Addams Family was in fact a superior product.

Bryan Singer is directing X-Men: Days of Future Past. I'm excited and worried.

Arben said...

PS: I just want to tell you again that your post titles always, always rock.

Blam said...


I think you mean that Eddie becomes a wolf. He's a werewolf even when he's not changing during a full moon.

Funny story there: Not only did I notice that during proofreading and decide to keep it, I realized when I saw it that I had mentally taken the show to task while watching for saying the same thing, so I also silently apologized. Your point is well taken, but it just doesn't quite drive the point home properly to simply say he becomes a wolf. I could rewrite the whole sentence if it nags at me; I don't want to change it right now, though.

Teebore said...

I took in the hour-long episode as a Halloween treat

As did I! I considered writing about it in my "Last Week in TV" post last week, but ran out of time. All the better than that you posted about it as well.

Per usual, my feeling for it ran similar to yours; the pilot was far from flawless, but intriguing and interesting enough that I wish it had gone to series, because I'd like to see more.

I'm parroting other TV critics by saying this, but you have to wonder what NBC was expecting when they hired Bryan Fuller to revamp The Munsters; this was pretty much exactly what I would have expected Bryan Fuller's Munsters to be like, so it isn't like NBC didn't get what they asked for. Is this wasn't what they wanted, why ask for it in the first place?

For me the big surprise was a certain indescribable tartness brought to the role of Marilyn by unknown Charity Wakefield.

Ditto. Agreed as well with your thoughts on the rest of the case, though I was a little more forgiving of O'Connell, though he certainly didn't wow me in the role (as much as I love her in Arrested Development and even moreso Better Off Ted, Portia de Rossi's Lily left the least impression on me, with her angst over Eddie's desire to not be like her feeling very underdeveloped, likely because it was something subsequent episodes would explore).

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.

That was my reaction in a nutshell as well.

Blam said...


@Teebore: you have to wonder what NBC was expecting when they hired Bryan Fuller to revamp The Munsters

I'm a bit inclined to suspect that it really, truly was a matter of not having a slot on the schedule rather than dissatisfaction with the product, as the pilot did get aired with some promotion. But then I find it weird that it wasn't ordered for mid-season.

I can't disagree about Portia de Rossi. She coasted a bit, and the part was undeveloped; I was also a bit surprised that Lily was the flightier one and Herman was more grounded. Like you say, though, we surely would've had things fleshed out (as it were; geez, it's always hard to avoid an unintentional vampire or zombie joke when writing about supernatural stuff). Unfortunately I never got to try Better Off Ted until it was basically too late and still haven't caught up on the bulk of it.

I've read somewhere that the principal cast members are under contract through next July, so it's possible that a spring or summer run is still in the cards. With Community now pushed back until February and possibly airing on Thursday when 30 Rock is done rather than on Friday as previously scheduled, maybe there's room in the ever-changing landscape yet.

Blam said...


@Arben: I just want to tell you again that your post titles always, always rock.

Thanks!

@Arben: I do remember being shocked as an adult first to find that The Addams Family was considered a superior product to The Munsters, because I clearly preferred The Munsters as a kid, and then to find that The Addams Family was in fact a superior product.

Same here... I don't know if The Addams Family was too creepy, kooky, and altogether oozy or what, but something about it was offputting to me as a kid and The Musters was definitely more tradition, comfort-food sitcom material (of the sort that I generally avoid like the plague now, but when you're a kid TV is TV and often the cheesier the better).

Blam said...


@Arben: Bryan Singer is directing X-Men: Days of Future Past. I'm excited and worried.

With you on both counts, buddy! I tend to think that between the nice job he did with the first two X-Men films and the pleasant surprise that was First Class (which he wasn't entirely uninvolved with and from which Days of Future Past will be springboarding at least as much as the earlier present-day movies) we have reason to be optimistic. How cool would it be, within the film continuity's decidedly different timeline, to see the 1960s First Class era and the 2000s X-Men and some dystopic future as per the original comics incarnation of Days of Future Past? I don't love that Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman, and Angel weren't in the founding generation, and it kind-of irked me on principle that First Class was set a year before the series even debuted in print, 1962 vs. 1963, but if you take those and other more random changes in stride it's still fun stuff. Also neat is the fact that the new movie has a chance of seeing release in 2013, which is the then-future year that the original "Days of Future Past" was set in 1980's X-Men #141-142.

El Qué said...

@Arben: I wanted it to have more of the pop surreality of Pushing Daisies or good Tim Burton

I'm totally with you there. Just overall I wanted it to be spookier, too, even though thinking back that's maybe an odd thing to say about a show with blood baked into cookies and a Frankensteinian heart transplant. I'd have watched more though for sure.