First things first, I have to make an admission. I’ve never been a huge fan of The Munsters. I know, I know…I’m supposed to love it. There are certainly things about it I do love: the set and prop design, the use of Universal monster designs for characters (though there’s only two examples I can think of where they really took advantage of that—Herman’s Frankenstein monster and Uncle Gilbert, who is the Gill-Man from The Creature from the Black Lagoon), the theme song and the dynamic between Al “Grandpa” Lewis and Fred “Herman” Gwynne. But the humor has never really worked for me, and moreover, I’ve never liked that the show is largely centered around conformity (with the Munsters, who look different from everyone else, trying to fit into mainstream, middle-class suburbia). I’ve always been an Addams Family man, myself. It’s about of people who superficially look like everyone else around them (aside from how they choose to look different), yet are intrinsically weird. And they don’t care. They like being odd, and if nobody else can get on board with that, then fine.
Okay, so I had to get that out of the way first, so you can get where I’m coming from when I say that I really didn’t care what Bryan Fuller planned to do when it was announced that he was helming a “gritty reboot” of The Munsters for NBC titled Mockingbird Lane. I’m not sentimental for the old show and remakes/reboots/re-imaginings in general don’t bother me (it’s not like the DVDs of The Munsters were suddenly going to disappear).
But jeez, this went south.
Let’s start with the fact that the new character designs didn’t make the Munsters look much different from anyone else. Aside from Jerry O’Connell’s scars as Herman, and some questionably baroque costume choices on the parts of Lily (Portia de Rossi) and Grandpa (Eddie Izzard), the new Munsters look pretty much like everyone else. In this, it seems that Fuller and co. were borrowing too heavily from The Addams Family, when the two series are almost completely incompatible. By conflating The Munsters’ focus on conformity with The Addams Family’s focus on subversion of the norm, it waters down both approaches to the point that you wonder what the point is.
Then, let’s look at the fact that Bryan Fuller planted the Munster family in the middle of a Bryan Fuller world. In The Munsters (and The Addams Family), the point of the show is the contrast between the titular family and the ultra-normal public they deal with. In all of Bryan Fuller’s series (Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies), the entire world is quirky. Every character is weird in his or her own way, and the entire atmosphere is pitched just slightly above normal. For example, in the episode aired, we’re introduced to a character named Steve, the leader of Eddie Munster’s scout troop. His devotion to the organization extends to the point that he wears merit badges on his dinner jacket and tie. See, in Mockingbird Lane, there’s simply not enough friction between the “real” world of Mockingbird Heights and the “unreal” world that the Munster family seems to inhabit. When the Munsters are really only slightly weirder than their neighbors, then there’s something wrong with the premise from the get-go.
Then there’s this particular bit of revised character dynamic. In The Munsters, Herman and Lily’s neice, Marilyn, is the only normal-looking member, and though the family takes pity on her for being the “ugly duckling,” they treat her with love and respect. In Mockingbird Lane, it seems like everyone hates Marilyn (who is now the daughter of Herman and Lily). Herman states that he loves her less than Lily and Eddie (but more than Grandpa), Grandpa can’t stand her, and he even reveals that Lily wanted to eat her at birth, but he talked her out of it. There’s no reason for any of this. It’s all just artificially-created conflict (which isn’t helped by the fact that Lily is just as poorly developed as a character in Mockingbird Lane as she was in The Munsters).
In fact, the only thing that really works in the show is Eddie Izzard as Grandpa. While his character isn’t the jovial character remembered from the original series, his sardonic line readings and comic timing are welcome among the largely bland and relatively forgettable portrayals offered by O’Connell and de Rossi. It’s not much of a stretch for Izzard, as he doesn’t really venture out of the delivery familiar to anyone who’s seen his standup work, but it does (ironically, considering) provide some needed life to the proceedings.
It’s probably for the best that this wasn’t picked up for a full series. It’s possible that some of the complaints mentioned above could have been worked out during the course of a full season’s run, but it just seemed too fundamentally flawed out of the gate.