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Mini-review: Mockingbird Lane (NBC)

Posted on October 30, 2012 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Mockingbird Lane

In the US: Friday 26 October, 8/7c, NBC

Well, it was a backdoor pilot but its ratings weren't very good, so I don't think Mockingbird Lane - Bryan Fuller's 'reimagining' of CBS's The Munsters for NBC - warrants a full review.

For those of you who don't remember the original, it essentially saw the Universal Pictures' ideas of Dracula, the Wolfman, the Bride of Dracula and Frankenstein's Monster all living in a house together with a relatively normal woman as an everyday blue collar US family called the Munsters. Herman the monster is the bumbling father, Lily the bride is the practical mother, Grandpa the vampire is a cooky old man and Eddie the werewolf is an average kid. The humour came largely from the juxtaposition of their standard horror film appearances and powers with their normal behaviour and activities.

Here's the original pilot, so you have an idea of what it was like, even if they recast Phoebe Munster and made her Lily afterwards:

The show was popular in syndication, popular enough to have reunion movies and even an updated series made in the 80s called The Munsters Today. Now, we have Mockingbird Lane - named after the road the original Munsters used to live on. And, to coin a phrase, Mockingbird Lane is a very different beast.

For starters, all the Universal Pictures iconography has gone, replaced in favour of more modern horror films: Eddie Munster turns into a proper CGI wolf, Herman Munster (Jerry O'Connell) is intelligent and handsome but a patchwork of parts à la Ken Branagh's Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; Lily (Portia di Rossi) looks normal but can become mist, control insects and spiders, and bewitch men; while Grandpa Munster (Eddie Izzard) is a full on Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula, able to change into a man-bat, dissolve into rats and enslave others with his blood.

More than that, it's actually surprisingly horrific. While there is the same sort of humour as the original's in the background, the only people really trying to fit in are the new Eddie Munster, who doesn't know that he's a werewolf, and Lily who just wants to raise her son. Meanwhile, Grandpa wants to drain the local population of its blood; and Herman needs his heart replacing using neighbours' spare parts. And you get to see all of this, from Grandpa ripping apart mountain lions with his teeth to neighbours having their hearts ripped out.

In keeping with this new vibe, the show's main point of difference from the original is that there aren't that many jokes, and what there are seem to come mostly from Eddie Izzard's occasionally James Mason-esque delivery and more frequent ad libbing. As a result, there's not much drama and not much comedy, so the pilot feels like it's just there to exist and to give us some nice visuals and nice ideas, without really giving us much by way of story. We don't really know why the Munsters have moved into town, beyond the fact they had to leave the last one; we don't really know what their motivations are, particularly Lily's; we just know they're here and creepy.

To be honest, despite Fuller's pedigree on Heroes and Pushing Daisies, it was only okay, lovely to look at thanks to Bryan Singer's directorial skills, but hampered by a lack of clarity in what it was trying to achieve. As a pilot, it serves up some visual treats, but doesn't give you much of a reason to watch the hypothetical next episode that would have come.

All the same, it's actually not bad. Jerry O'Connell has never been better or more likeable than he is here; Eddie Izzard gives a great performance and is entertaining, even when the script isn't; and it looks great. It's just a shame there wasn't more meat on its bones. Here's a trailer so you can see what you missed:

And if you're in the US, you can still watch it on the NBC site or below.

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  • tobyob

    All the time I was thinking this isn't so bad, I was also thinking this is so wrong. I think it would have worked much better if they just detached themselves from the Munsters tags and presented these "people" as different characters in a similar situation.
    What I did like was having Marilyn be accidentally responsible for the death of the scoutmaster rather than Grandpa deliberately killing him. (Even though it was his attempt that led to the death. He may have opened the trap door in the stairs, but she gave the fateful push.) I'm not sure the general audience could have accepted that much of a difference from the original concept.
    So it was an interesting experiment, but I wouldn't have invested my viewing time in it had it gone to series.......

  • Yes. No plot at all. Just a series of semi-horrific ideas and nice visuals strung together

  • I think it's at the point where he slips into it accidentally without realising it

  • Stuart Nathan

    Eddie Izzard really loves his James Mason impression, doesn't he?

  • snworf

    After watching the pilot, it's obvious why the network passed on this one. Unfortunate, as the production quality was there -- just needed a plot.

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