By now, you are probably well aware that NBC has opted not to turn Mockingbird Lane, Bryan Fuller’s re-imagining of the 1960s sitcom ‘The Munsters,’ into a full-fledged series. However, in what feels like a nod to a time when television pilots would be given one brief moment to shine and live on in our hearts and minds as a made-for-TV-movie or holiday special, the peacock network has decided to air the Mockingbird Lane pilot – and possibly recoup some of the reported $10 million it took to make the episode in the first place.
Then again, if audiences really pull together and embrace this Mockingbird Lane Halloween special, NBC might see some value in putting the series into production – but you’d best not hold your breath.
At any rate, the first thing audiences will likely notice is Mockingbird Lane isn’t some slavish reproduction of the ’60s sitcom, nor is it a serious update, stuffed to the gills with gothic-looking appurtenances in an attempt to Burton-ize the proceedings into a more palatable experience for the viewers. Instead, it’s quite simply a glimpse into a horror-meets-fantasy world brought to life by the rather fertile imagination of Bryan Fuller. Though there are plenty of sly throwbacks to the original series (the silhouette of Jerry O’Connell as he’s introduced), the pilot doesn’t shy away from showcasing the more monstrous (albeit, family-friendly) aspects of each Munster family member, or the classic horror icons they bring to mind. But in that special Fuller way, it’s all sort of sweet and charming while still being abnormal and unquestionably macabre. Here, hearts are quite literally broken; “the talk” means explaining to a young boy he’s a werewolf; and the circle of life includes suicidal deer.
In short, it’s all played for fun. And Fuller, along with the episode’s director, Bryan Singer, manage to get the whole cast in on the joke without turning the pilot into a complete farce. The end result becomes something that is both charming and flawed.
After a scout troop is terrorized in the woods by a “baby bear” that turns out to be Eddie Munster (Mason Cook) running amok under the effects of a full moon, the Munster family embarks on their latest relocation effort intended to shield the sensitive boy from his true nature. Eddie, as it turns out, is under the impression he’s normal, like his cousin Marilyn (Charity Wakefield), and even though his Grandpa (Eddie Izzard) is constantly harassing her about that fact, normal is something Eddie desperately wants to be. Meanwhile, his parents Herman (Jerry O’Connell) and Lily (Portia de Rossi) are struggling to find the right way to break it to their son that he is, in fact, quite the opposite of normal.
But what is really going on is the Munster clan attempting to carve out a special place where they don’t have to run away from who (and what) they truly are. That means taking the long road around breaking the news to Eddie, which is handled primarily through a series of discussions that end with Herman needing his ticker jump started, and eventually replaced. As far as plots go, it feels run-of-the-mill, but once the Eddie Munster identity crisis is resolved, there seems to be some real potential for more entertaining stories set around the kind of oddball world Fuller has imagined.
While there are some shortcomings, the high point would be the way the pilot handles the darkly comic dialogue. Fuller is, if nothing else, very clever and quite talented when it comes to endowing nearly all of his characters with the gift of gab. Moreover, nearly all of the exchanges involving Grandpa are quite good, as Izzard is particularly well suited to delivering the sweetly macabre dialogue with his rather distinguishable intonation. But as good as Izzard is, he works as an addition to the proceedings, rather than letting his comedic talent outshine everyone else in the scene. This, somehow, makes everyone seem sharper and funnier. The dinner sequence, in which Eddie, Grandpa and Marilyn discuss whether or not Steve (Cheyenne Jackson), the scout leader with heart, would wind up on the menu, is a particularly good example of this.
Additionally, the pilot’s special effects were (though distinctly of the television variety) decent and certainly in line with the tone Fuller was laying out for the series. Herman’s uneven body and chest-zipper – for easy access to his fragile heart – felt like a nice update and decent alternative to the Boris Karloff look that almost certainly would have sent audiences running. The real eye-catcher of the episode, however, was the set design. The Munsters’ new house at 1313 Mockingbird Lane – not so lovingly dubbed a “hobo murder home,” by its Mockingbird Heights neighbors – is a nice piece of work that would almost certainly have yielded plenty of spooky passageways and creepy rooms to look in on had the series progressed.
What’s unclear is just who this series would have been aimed at. How many people that watched Mockingbird Lane even remember The Munsters, let alone have seen it recently? While the image of Fred Gwynne as Herman Munster will forever be locked in my brain, I can’t recall having seen a rerun of the show airing anywhere in years, so it’s not like some consensus was reached that the people were clamoring for more Munster. To that end, not having a clear picture of who the intended audience was, in addition to what must have been a fairly hefty per-episode price tag, may have been at the root of its undoing with the NBC brass.
Most surprisingly, though, is how this pilot feels like Fuller is holding something back. There’s some genuinely funny and potentially intriguing elements at play, but they just didn’t seem to be as distorted and ghoulish (in a good way) as we had been led to believe they would be. Maybe it was working from source material that was holding him back, but, while enjoyable, Mockingbird Lane just didn’t feel like the kind of work we’ve come to expect from a unique talent like Fuller. It’s as if he was saving the more resonant stories for further down the line – which sometimes is all you can ask for in a pilot that delivers more on potential than anything else. As it stands, we won’t be seeing where that potential was headed.
This may not have been the return to television Fuller fans had imagined, but at least they still have Hannibal to look forward to.
Mockingbird Lane isn’t currently in production, but Screen Rant will keep you posted should things change.