I don’t often go down this road but I’d like to point something out to the executives at NBC… give weird a chance. As often as I espouse the need for new, fresh creative ideas in film and television, and I have been know at times to bemoan the lack of intelligent options on North American boob tube, I’m going to stand up for a recent reboot. In Mockingbird Lane, a transmuted version of the 1960′s show The Munsters, I have seen the argument for remakes gain valid ground. It’s in this mutated take on the original I finally allowed for some leniency in the remakes department I will admit that sometimes the new can even outpace the original.
I first came across Bryan Fuller‘s work when someone has left season one and two of Pushing Daisies and Dead Like Me in a box of DVDs up for grabs in our front hall. Lola Frost brought these little foundlings in, and told me about how charming they were, and she was right. His oeuvre of saturated palettes and cheery visuals paired with often gloomy/borderline morose studies of our relationships with death (or undead, or the dead, or the was-dead-but-now-living) often balances each side out. His distinct dichotomy of style makes one wish that there was more whimsy in the world. Indeed, after Pushing Daisies I found myself suspiciously eating more pies. Either he’s that good at subliminal messages, or I’m just highly suggestible. So it was a tiny ray of hope to me when I heard that he was at the helm for Mockingbird Lane, with notable director Bryan Singer onboard.
I was interested to note the varied casting choices, since when we think of remakes, we’re all guilty of making up our own ‘dream cast’. When I saw the role call on ML, I was a little, shall we say, hesitant when it came to Jerry O’Connell playing Herman and Portia De Rossi as Lily. While I was never as big a fan of the Munsters, as I was the Addams Family, but the fact remains that all the characters are fairly iconic in pop culture (not to mention that the original Lily Munster was portrayed by Vancouver actress Yvonne De Carlo and as loved by horror fans as the Addams’ Morticia). I’m old enough to still remember Jerry O’Connell from My Secret Identity his more recent stuff of Piranha and voice work as Captain Marvel and Nightwing gave me some hope he could leave his mark on this character. I also heard wind of Eddie Izzard to play Grandpa Munster, whom I expected nothing but the best from, and to offer a very different take on the traditionally bumbling vampire inventor of Al Lewis’ portrayal. The man’s dry delivery and wit so sharp you could prick your finger on would be a breath of fresh air for traditional North American television fare, and if you doubt me, watch the Lego-animated video of one of his best comedic bits here. I admit that I wasn’t au fait with either Charity Wakefield or Mason Cook‘s work until now, but I was open to seeing what they brought to the table.
So I took the plunge and located it on iTunes. You can watch it here if you like. I went in trepidatious. I displayed caution. I was prepared to hate it. What I wasn’t prepared for was to find a dark comedy that displayed strength and conviction of character. I felt like writing Mr.Fuller and saying, “I was a pompous little twerp to have doubted you, sir.” The cheery colours have been exchanged for richer, darker tones, the cast exceeded expectation, and I was left at the end of the pilot wanting more. It took $10 million to make, with a mix of digital and practical effects (Herman’s open heart surgery is amazing) but was well worth it, though had it gotten picked up for series it may have had to be scaled back. 5.44 million viewers tuned in and of those number at least 1.5 million fell into the important advertiser-friendly 18-49 demographic. If the NBC execs didn’t understand some of the wit, then the ‘dolla dolla bill, yo!’ purchase power may remind them that cheaply made reality television isn’t the future of programming, if the viewers buy into the advertising slot’s products…The story is a simple one: young Eddie is reluctant to develop into the Munster family way, but hitting puberty it’s a case of nature vs. nurture as at his Cub Scout camping trip he becomes a werewolf and accidentally terrorizes members of his troupe in a lycanthrope haze, so the family has to move. Seemingly-normal cousin Marilyn finds the perfect home for the family – 1313 Mockingbird Lane, the site of some grisly hobo murders. The family moves in and settles in, and make themselves at home with Grandpa roguishly trying to eat the neighbours, sensitive Eddie is worried about growing up as a monster in a human’s world and his potentially disappearing humanity, and Herman’s need to replace his heart, worried that doing so will alter his love for Lily. While the old series played the theme of the outsiders trying to fit in, this show found the characters comfortable with their own skins and find their place in the world, without having to be apologetic about who they are.
While there were some places I felt we could see more strength, it’s important to remember this was made with it being a pilot in mind, and not a stand-alone item. Were there a chance for the show to develop, I’d say this was perfect as a pilot. It was well-executed, left me wanting to see what road this could take for it’s characters, and see what life it could take on it’s own. While the NBC brass likely balked at continuing the show due to the 10M price tag, one should bear in mind much of that went to wardrobe, sets, etc that are a start-up cost, and now they have them may as well utilize them. It would also be nice to break the Fuller curse and see where this man’s imagination would lead us to, with Dead Like Me getting the plug pulled due to creative disagreements with MGM, and Pushing Daisies fell prey to the writer’s strike of ’08. Such a unique sense of humour could outpace even Joss Whedon’s following, and net back for NBC it’s original investment with DVD sales, merchandising, and fan base if allowed to grow.
Which leads me to believe that the NBC brass should give Mockingbird Lane a chance to flourish, refresh the network, and see how, like a grave, the public can dig it. It seems a shame to dig up a corpse, bring it back to life only to kill it all over again.
Little Miss Risk