In recent weeks, NBC bombarded its programming (well, ‘Grimm’ anyway, which is one of the few shows I watch on the network at the moment) with commercials for ‘Mockingbird Lane’. What the ads failed to clarify is whether this expensive reboot of ‘The Munsters’ was meant to be a new series, a made-for-TV movie, a Halloween special, or something else. That’s because NBC doesn’t know what to do with it. Produced as the pilot episode for a series, the network decided to pass on the show, but couldn’t justify letting its $10 million budget go completely to waste. Thus, the hour-long episode aired on Friday with such a confused promotional campaign. It’s too short and obviously episodic to be a TV movie, but the network has no plans to continue it further. That’s a shame, damn it, because this thing turns out to be a lot of fun.
Created by eccentric genius Bryan Fuller (‘Dead Like Me’, ‘Pushing Daisies’) and directed by Bryan Singer (‘The Usual Suspects’, ‘X-Men’), the show follows the same basic premise and makes plenty of fan-service nods to the original ‘Munsters’, but updates the story to the modern day with enough of a unique spin to stand apart as its own entity. For one thing, despite the casting of Jerry O’Connell, Herman isn’t a lunkhead in this version. He’s fairly bright, and a caring dad who just wants to do right by his family. Although comedic, ‘Mockingbird Lane’ is much less sitcom-y than the old show, and has a much darker and more twisted sense of humor. In fact, the opening scene, in which a werewolf (that we’ll later learn is young Eddie Munster) terrorizes a scout troup in the woods, is actually kind of scary. The episode even ends with a major supporting character getting killed off.
The plot of what was to be the pilot episode finds the Munster clan moving into an old dilapidated mansion on the title street. The house used to be the home of a serial killer who murdered hobos, a fact that pleases everyone. Portia de Rossi plays sexy vampiress wife Lily, and Eddie Izzard is a riot as the troublemaking grandpa “D” (for Dracula, presumably), who would very much like to drain all of their new neighbors’ blood. Young son Eddie doesn’t know that he’s a werewolf (he blacks out during the change and has no memories afterwards) and would prefer to be normal, like the family’s black sheep, cousin Marilyn. This greatly displeases his grandfather, but Herman has a surprisingly touching heart-to-heart with the boy about the changes he’s going through.
The episode is filled with witty dialogue and is consistently clever. The production design and costumes are terrific, the visual effects are pretty good (if not feature film quality, they’re far better than ‘Grimm’). Basically, if you liked Fuller’s previous quirky shows, this one fits in very nicely. I’m sad that we won’t get the chance to see more of it.