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October 30, 2012

Mini-review: Mockingbird Lane (NBC)

Posted on October 30, 2012 | Post a comment | 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.

October 12, 2012

Review: Beauty and the Beast 1x1 (The CW/E4)

Posted on October 12, 2012 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Beauty and the Beast

In the US: Thursdays, 9/8c, The CW
In the UK: Acquired by E4
In Canada: Thursday 9:00pm ET/6:00pm PT

You know, if I hadn't just tried to watch Nashville, I would have described this as the most painful new drama on TV this season. But I have, and since Nashville was like having bleach poured into both ears while having my eyeballs scrubbed with an electric sander, I'm going to be relatively charitable to Beauty and the Beast, even though it almost certainly doesn't deserve it.

For those with long memories like me, Beauty and the Beast isn't just a Disney movie*. It's also a 1980s CBS TV series starring Terminator's Linda Hamilton as Catherine (aka The Beauty) and Sons of Anarchy's Ron Perlman as Vincent (aka The Beast). Thorny gender politics to one side for a moment, what was interesting about the series was that it asked the question: can you truly love someone who's just downright ugly? Okay, Vincent looked like a fluffy lion crossed with Jon Bon Jovi - and they'd have been better off leaving Ron Pearlman au naturel if they'd wanted to really go for the beast angle - but bestiality isn't exactly the flavour of the day now any more than it was then:

Beauty and the Beast on CBS

25 years on, CBS is remaking its old show at The CW's behest. Not such an eccentric idea - in fact, ABC was considering making a live action version of the Disney movie this year, too, but eventually decided not to.

But a quarter of a century later, ethics and aesthetics have moved on. Twilight has come and is just about to go. Manscaping has arrived, moisturiser is everywhere and any man who hasn't had a protein shake in the last two days isn't a real man. So the question is, can a show in which a woman falls in love with a man who isn't hunky, smooth and glittering but because he has a nice personality, possibly get off the ground?

The CW asked the computer, the computer said 'No', and lo and behold, for the modern day Beauty and The Beast, we have something a bit more Twilight - a man who turns into a bit of an animal when the adrenaline flows but otherwise is king of the pretty boys beyond a bit of a scar on his cheek. 

Beast? More like an 8, maybe a 9.

Here's a trailer:

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October 11, 2012

Review: Arrow (The CW/Sky1) 1x1

Posted on October 11, 2012 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Arrow

In the US: Wednesdays, 8/7c, The CW
In the UK: Acquired by Sky1. Starts 8pm, October 22
In Canada: Wednesdays, 9pm, CTV2
in Australia: Nine Network. Air date to be confirmed

Can you ever truly make a superhero realistic? It's a tricky proposition. Christopher Nolan just about managed it with Batman, although fundamentally, it was still about a guy trained by ninja to dress up like a giant bat to fight crime. Think about that for too long and it all falls apart.

Nevertheless, while Marvel is enchanting the entire world with escapist fun superheroes, that's the direction DC Comics is taking with Superman in the forthcoming Man of Steel and now on The CW with Arrow. Green Arrow, for those who don't know much about the comic hero, is a sort of Batman/Robin Hood rip-off: a billionaire called Oliver Queen who discovers for himself the true costs of crime and vows to put an end to it using… the mighty power of archery that he's learnt while shipwrecked on an island.

No, I didn't mean to say a Heckler & Koch G36 5.56x45mm assault rifle. Archery. As in a bow and arrow. Hence Green Arrow.

See? It all starts to fall apart right there, doesn't it? Yet that's what The CW, former home of another bit of attempted superhero realism, Smallville, is trying to make realistic. The words 'The Bourne Identity' have even been mentioned in terms of aesthetic and approach.

And you know what? If it weren't for two things, it might actually have managed to pull it off and be a pretty perfect bit of gritty superhero vigilantism. The first is that it looks like Smallville trying to do gritty on a budget of thruppeny halfpence. The second is the voiceover. Every time the hero tells us what's going on, all that effort goes out of the window and you want to laugh yourself silly.

But if you can avoid doing that, this is actually one of the most promising new dramas of the season. Here's a trailer, complete with voiceover:

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