Saturday, October 27, 2012

"Mockingbird Lane"...Ho-hum...

(New cast starting at top and going clockwise:  Eddie Izzard as "Grandpa (Sam Dracula)"; Portia de Rossi as "Lily"; Jerry O'Connell as "Herman"; Mason Cook as "Eddie"; and Charity Wakefield as "Marilyn"'

Inset- Old Cast starting at top right and moving clockwise: Al Lewis as "Grandpa"; Yvonne De Carlo as "Lily"; Fred Gwynne as "Herman"; Butch Patrick as "Eddie"; Pat Priest as "Marilyn")

For the past few months I have been waiting patiently for a premiere. The pilot episode of “Mockingbird Lane”.

I read the growing buzz about this latest reboot with a smidge of interest, born out of curiosity more than anything else. To say that I am tired of the reboot mill would be an understatement. Isn’t there anyone in Hollywood who can generate anything original? Yes, every once in a while there is a ‘reboot’ of a successful show or film that works for the most part (i.e. the Addams Family productions). On a number of levels these remakes, re-imaginings, reboots (whatever you wish to call them) feel like cheating. Especially when the original was great to begin with. The muckety-mucks who gravitate to these re-workings are probably thinking that enough time has passed for the younger people among us to not be familiar with the original productions, so they can get away with it. Whatever their reasoning, the least they could do is…and I have said this time and time again…the least they could do is rework something that bombed and make it better. There are plenty of failed projects that have had a great premise/story line, but lacked in execution. Producers need to go for those, and stay away from beloved shows with solid fan bases/cult followings like “The Munsters”.

Okay…now for ”Mockingbird Lane”. I will start my personal critique by saying that I didn’t have high hopes going in. The effort was made to retain an open mind, but I’m a fan of the original. Maybe I would be pleasantly surprised? That was the mind-set I tried to have. Don’t finalize my opinion before I even see the episode. Could be difficult, but…okay.

(1313 Mockingbird lane)
The show opens with a camp site filled with Scouts and their Scout masters. Its night and they are sitting around the camp fire. Terror enters the mix as a scout is plucked off the stump he is sitting on by a beast of some sort. The chaos continues until we learn that they are being attacked and terrorized by a werewolf. Cut to a car filled to the brim with scouts and a scout master. Where’s Eddie? A perplexed and naked Eddie Munster steps out of the bushes.

Next up: The house at 1313 Mockingbird Lane has a rather infamous history, once belonging to a serial killer who murdered hoboes. Marilyn finds the structure while house hunting with a realtor. He tells her the gruesome tale which of course attracts her to the place. Of course.

The Munsters of “Mockingbird Lane” look like you and I, for the most part. No green skin. No flat head and neck bolts (although there is a nod to the flat-headed Herman as the new Herman enters the house). No flowing black hair with white streak. No black cape, and…well, okay, grandpa does have pointy teeth. He is Sam Dracula, so he is appropriately ‘fangy’. Marilyn looks like a regular human, but then she always has…no shocker there. These Munsters want to fit in. They want to blend. To be like everyone else.

(Herman's heart gets a tune-up)
This element of wanting to look like everyone else and blend in misses the mark that the original made. One of the things that I dug about Herman, Lily, and the rest of the Munster clan was the fact that they looked different from everyone else (aside from Marilyn), but didn’t think anything of it. They were themselves. The 1960’s Munsters were filmed in black and white, but they were in fact green.  So when a door to door salesman screamed and jumped over the fence at seeing their green visages, the Munsters chalked it up to any mundane reason other than them having a shocking appearance. To them they were normal, they did fit in.

Back to the reboot. Eddie Izzard as Grandpa is really the main standout in the cast. The overall tone of this new version is quite darker than the old, and Grandpa is by far the darkest of the family members. He is ‘the’ Dracula, and father to Lily (Portia de Rossi), who is also a vamp. Herman (Jerry O’Connell) is the handsome man of the house who, aside from a collection of scars across his neck and chest and a zippered flap of skin over his heart, looks like everyone else in the “normal” world. Cousin Marilyn (Charity Wakefield) is the bleach blond misfit toy of the clan, just like in the original. However, this time Marilyn has a dark streak that shows through in some of the more entertaining parts of this pilot episode that pair her with Izzard. Last there’s son Eddie (Mason Cook), who is entering into puberty and starting to show his hairy and howly side. Only Herman and Lily are keeping these developments from their son who remembers nothing after he’s gone through one of his ‘changes’.

(Lily and Eddie)
Herman Munster is made of spare parts. We know this from the ‘60s. He even looked like Frankenstein back then. O’Connell’s handsome Herman is also pieced together, and his parts have a tendency to go bad, specifically his heart. The last replacement was procured from one of Eddie’s scout masters with his old troop (which is the reason they moved to their new home). Grandpa performs the necessary ‘parts maintenance’ for Herman. He has a mechanical heart that he keeps trying to get Herman to use, but Herman wants a real heart. A real heart that will help him feel his love for Lily.

So Herman’s heart is failing…it’s time for a replacement. Grandpa has also decided to start feeding again. Eddie’s new scout master is fingered as the intended victim. Herman gets his heart, and grandpa gets his bloody meal (which makes him look much younger). Herman and Lily also decide to tell Eddie that he’s a werewolf (they had lied to him before, telling him that a bear had attacked his old scout troop).

 “Mockingbird Lane” is more stylized than “The Munsters”, which is to be expected. Make-up and effects have progressed by leaps and bounds since the 1960’s. There are some cool effect moments like when Grandpa forms out of a growing pile of rats, or when a bunch of spiders spin a dress onto Lily’s body. Watching Grandpa jam hearts into Herman’s zippered chest cavity is kind of gross, but this is a much bloodier show.

A couple of other characters in the hood are their neighbors, the Grants. They might as well be named the Kravitz’s because I immediately thought of Mrs. Kravitz when Mrs. Grant opened her door. Marilyn and grandpa show up on their doorstep with cookies that grandpa made. He filled the centers with his blood, so when Mr. Grant eats one he falls in thrall with him. (We later see Mr. Grant painting the Munsters’ house.)

Did I expect “Mockingbird Lane” to be exactly like “The Munsters”? No. This one episode supposedly cost $10 million to make. Initially, the buzz was that the series would premiere in 2013, but it appears that the network decided to show the pilot as more of a Halloween special. During the interminable commercial breaks, they also were promoting other network shows (Grimm, Revolution) like it was sweeps week, the promos on top of the commercials really took what little steam “Mockingbird Lane” generated out of the picture. I felt that the episode got a little better as it went on, but overall I was not impressed. I do realize it is a darker show (I do dig the dark), but it would help if I as a viewer felt something for the characters. The original Munsters were so lovable. I’m not saying the “Mockingbird Lane” Munsters need to be lovable, but at the end I didn’t really care if there are any more episodes. If they were to shave off some family fluff and do something with just grandpa and Marilyn then maybe (big maybe) that would be a decent show. It would definitely be an improvement, but it’s not likely to happen. I don’t like this version of the Munsters where they are striving to “be a part of”…I liked the old version where the Munsters “WERE a part of”…


  1. Thanks for this review - I never knew this was about. I'd have been very wary of it too...

    1. Yeah, I tried to be open minded about it, but I wasn't hopeful...there are just too many 'reboot' attempts being made, and of good shows.