Monday, November 12th, 2012

Should NBC Have Given 'Mockingbird Lane' a Full Season?

Sometimes TV shows drag their unfunny, uninteresting, yet highly rated feet across our living rooms for years. “Who let this happen?” we ponder, as our foreheads turn red from frequent smacks. Other times, the powers that be get things right. That’s where “Brilliantly Canceled” comes in, looking at the shows that didn’t pass their pilot and saved us all a ton of grief.

Remaking The Munsters is a rite of passage for many working within network television, with the show facing reevaluation every time NBC can’t fill a time slot. Though they found success in the show’s golden age run and a surprisingly long-lasting sequel, The Munsters Today, the first family of being actual monsters was subject of five made-for-TV movies, three of which contained some original cast members, and none of them succeeding in putting the show back on the air for good.

While the torch is passed from generation to generation, The Munsters rarely breaks away from its formula. And why should it? A family featuring a Frankenstein, two vampires, a werewolf boy — just shy of his werewolf Bar Mitzvah — and a beautiful girl engaging in a comedy of errors, stumbling from faux pas to faux pas when attempting to eat their neighbors is pretty consistently awesome, especially in fast motion.

Look, NBC is down for all that. They are looking for an authentic re-imagining of The Munsters. No sparkling vampires. No directors talking about how The Dark Knight changed what these characters could be. No musical numbers. Just straight Munsters, like the last forty years. So it’s no wonder they weren’t too hot on Pushing Daisies’ creator Bryan Fuller’s decision to re-imagine the show to his own contemporary, entertaining, and promising specifications.

Bryan Fuller’s Mockingbird Lane is a rare beast for Brilliantly Canceled in that it was foolishly canceled. As directed by Bryan Singer, Mockingbird Lane marries and acknowledges the show’s past and present with humor, heart, and whole lot of potential. The show dares to be funny, scary, moody, and poignant, something that may have had a better payoff had the show continued.

The show’s introduction plays to almost all of those styles, when Eddie (Mason Cook), who sits at the center of the show, turns a camping trip into ravenous display of violence by transforming into a werewolf and attacking the scouts. Eddie’s turn from innocent child to murderous hound is commonplace for the character. In the sixties, his lycanthropy was used as a scared off bullies and defended his use of the resourceful, yet woefully antiquated book belt. Here, it’s used as a metaphor for growing up Munster.

Herman (Jerry O’Connell) and Lily (Portia de La Rossi) decide the best thing to do is uproot and move the family to another town. With Eddie’s changing becoming more commonplace, they wonder what to tell the boy who just wants to be a vegetarian. Yet, Grandpa, as played by a very Hannibal-Lectorian Eddie Izzard, thinks the truth is the only option. Grandpa Munster takes on the ultimate symbol of change in the world of Mockingbird Lane. Singer, Fuller, and Izzard go to the source for the portrayal of Grandpa, making him far more Max Schreck than Bela Lugosi. It's campy, yes, but it's a level of camp that reflects the darkness of the character. Rather than Al Lewis’ harmless old kook, Izzard’s Grandpa is a deceitful murderer who savagely drinks the blood of his victims.

The show’s handling of vampiric violence and a modern Prometheus is explicit, keeping the mythology of these monsters in mind. Lily Munster, in her talk with Eddie about the family's heritage, describes her addiction to blood, but also the biological desire to continue. She is a vampire after all. Herman gets a more human characteristic, as well, despite being mostly Frankensteined together. Though, like Lily’s violent explanation, the focus of Herman’s body issues remain on his desire to love too much, which breaks his heart. Fuller injects these characters with far more humanity than the Addams or even their even more clownish former iterations. This is very much a family drama with monsters, rather than a parody of one.

Mockingbird Lane is far from a realistic portrayal of the characters and rightfully so. Obviously, the world that Fuller creates is not our own. But what he does ascribe to that universe is a set of order, a logic. Given the lessons they attempt to impart to their child, and the way they hope to be perceived by the community, that logic creates an originality not often found in remakes. Fuller remembers the rules of vampires and werewolves when creating his family-oriented show, which puts a spin on the characters that’s both classical and revisionary.

But it might be the show's originality that made it so unsavory to executives. Despite the tight scripting and frequently beautiful staging, the show’s tone is consistently dark. The first scene alone, while being genuinely scary, also implies that a troop of campers were nearly eaten alive by one of their own. Not necessarily the type of move the struggling NBC is interested in presenting viewers. They're a family cooperation after all.

Strangely enough, the risks that Fuller takes with Mockingbird Lane might have been risks worth taking. By the end of the episode, when Eddie finds out he's a werewolf, all of it seemed to work. The more human looking, less bumbling Herman works well as a patchwork version of man. Grandpa, now more resentful, darkly humorous, and with the power to transform into a horrendous man bat, carries the shows humor, with Izzard making the character very much his own, especially alongside Charity Wakefield’s equally game Marilyn. The split between letting Eddie choose between outright Munster-hood and sensitive child, making for an affective example of their family dynamics.

Mockingbird Lane is not the traditional Munster reboot we've seen time and time again. By removing some of the bolts and flattops, but hanging onto some key set pieces (the secret dungeon staircase) and heightening some character models to better fit modern trends, the show creates something none of us could have expected: a show that's equal parts funny, scary, and heartfelt. File this one under "Brilliant but canceled" because The Munsters still have some life in them.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.michaels2 Jonathan Michaels

    I loved it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jimmy-Callaway/688820056 Jimmy Callaway

    Such a super bummer. It had some rough edges, but it was so full of promise. I hate TV sometimes.

  • http://twitter.com/russiansurf al o

    It was a brilliant episode of TV with true drama, that took seasons for Parks and Recreation and the Office (US) to develop, within the first episode. Whitney comes back and this is left in the crypt? Bad choice.

  • http://www.facebook.com/devon.wright.501 Devon Wright

    I loved it but it did have some rough edges. I liked it because I loved Pushing Daisies and I get the same feeling with this show. The dialogue and the general atmosphere was pretty great.

  • http://twitter.com/thelambandtea The Lamb

    I adored it. It would've been amazing to have Eddie Izzard on a network TV show every week.

  • http://twitter.com/elliotsharron Elliot

    "The show dares to be funny, scary, moody, and poignant"

    In other words, completely scattershot and tonally unsure of itself. This show was straight up wack. Overproduced, overwritten, terribly cast. Do a Google Image search for "Herman Munster". Look at that goddamn mug. It's still hilarious. Now look at that goober Jerry O'Connell. He hasn't been funny to look at since he lost the Stand By Me weight.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002502634143 David Tillman

    It sounded promising but it was waaaay too violent and bloody. I don't think the producers could decide if they were making a straight up horror show or a fantasy-comedy. Ellot nailed it. Also whoever wrote this article is grammatically challenged…that might be a clue as to why he thought Mocking Bird Lane was a good show undeserving of cancellation.

    "In the sixties, his lycanthropy was used as a scared off bullies and defended his use of the resourceful, yet woefully antiquated book belt."

    It was used as a scared off bullies? Really? I guess they've started to outsource editing too.


    i enjoyed it, with some good writers, could have been a hit

  • Baba Ganoush

    Brilliant execution through and through, this could be a *Great* show. Much less rough than most pilots. So much potential for great family / social story arcs. The plain fact is, the show would've cost a fortune to make and NBC doesn't have the moxie anymore (especially compared with programming being aired by AMC / FX / Showtime / HBO). Netflix, Hulu, Starz, etc should try to pick this up right now!

  • cmacattack

    I heard about the show and thought it couldn't work. Then i watched it and instantly loved it. It was great and not only much better then anticipated but as someone who grew up on and is a fan of the original series, i must say this is adaptation is actually better then the first. I don't understand why NBC would tease us like this if they knew they weren't picking it up before it even aired. The show had high ratings and i know for myself it has been watched again multiple times in my household on Hulu+. So why wont they pick it up? It makes no sense!

  • Tim Cook

    That would make a great new series, I really wish they would consider it. I've been a long time fan of the original also.

  • DirglFlurgenzane

    It was a great program, and to such an extent not a stand-alone program that it was just silly to air it. The costs incurred to make the one episode must have been so high there must be more script ready, sets stored, effects cached; because of 30 Rock I find NBC so endearing as a brand, I'm still holding out hope for a new Halloween tradition of more Mockingbird Lane.

  • Very Disappointed

    So so so DISAPPOINTED, this show had potential. I found myself saying wow a show that I will actually schedule to record and then the disappointing news that it was cancelled. These stations keep shows like "Whitney?" on air and cancel the good ones.

  • munsterlovin

    Man that show definitely had promise! Meanwhile we are suffering thru season 407 of American idol ugh

  • http://www.facebook.com/rockindice Stuart Rockindice

    Wot a waste. mockingbird lane is one of the best things iv seen on tv for a long time. i loved it the original series was bril to.l i have all the episodes including the films. this was a great pilot you always. Get rid of something good. And keep the crap was does not deserve air time

  • http://www.facebook.com/Beta.Breaker B Black McDonald

    We simply adored this remake and have been poking around to see what's going on, only to find that it has been canceled.

    One question WHY?

    This show has much that would interest and intrigue many ages and should find a home on a braver and more intelligent network!

    WTG Mockingbird Lane…please find a home…

  • http://www.facebook.com/tiarose.weaver Tia Rose Weaver

    My entire family loved it and so we recorded the only one episode, now we watch it whenever we want! I should have continued!!!!

  • Stephano Soober

    I must say, I'm kind of shocked that people are actually praising this. Initially I thought it looked interesting and could have had potential. However after watching the pilot I just couldn't get into it. The script and the acting just put me off. It was however visually appetizing on HD.

  • eltacka

    Im upgset my 8 year old was excited for something dark and gorry to be on tv. Take it to abc i bet their air it

  • iain

    Best thing I've seen in a long time. Love dark comedy this is superb. NBC is daft

  • http://www.facebook.com/Matty40220 Mathew King

    I watched it a couple times because I missed a little here and there and I am sad that NBC is passing on it because I found it a very delightful show it didn't have as much of the goofy stuff the original had with their show.

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