SciFi/Syfy’s Battlestar Galactica gave me hope that anything could be remade, updated or reimagined for a new or more current audience. That’s not to say every attempt will be a winner. But the idea of taking classic stories and taking for a fresh spin has always interested me.
When NBC first announced Mockingbird Lane as a modern retelling of The Munsters and later with Bryan Fuller at the helm, I couldn’t be any more excited. Being a huge fan of Fuller’s late, great Pushing Daisies, I knew if anyone could handle a task as big as this, it’d be him.
After the long, bumpy road that was the development of Mockingbird Lane, it seems more likely than not that we won’t be getting weekly visits with the Munster Family. If not, at the very least we got to see what could have been with NBC’s decision to air the produced pilot episode as a pre-Grimm Halloween special.
Getting to see the pilot episode is definitely a treat, but after seeing it, it makes it even more regretful that it won’t go to series.
Talk of the show’s huge budget, creative differences between Fuller and director Bryan Singer and the fact that the series seems incredibly dark for family fare are being pointed to as the reason NBC has decided not to move forward with the project.
All are valid concerns, but also seem to be what makes Mockingbird Lane such a unique concept that we should have more of on network TV.
First, there is no question the pilot cost a pretty penny. The visuals were spectacular. While Pushing Daisies was a very stylized world, full of vibrant color, Mockingbird Lane does the same, but the opposite. A darker, brooding and ominous tone set in what apparently is the bright, coastal highlands of the San Francisco Bay Area (yay!). 1313 Mockingbird Lane itself looks like incredibly expensive. The set is lavish, yet dark, making for an incredibly kinetic setting that pops out while being subdued.
Add to that the special effects and now as a network exec, you’ll have to think for the show to maintain this high level of visual quality (which would certainly require a high budget), the show would need to be a huge ratings hit. A sub-2.0 demo rating on a Friday paired with Grimm would not justify what looks to be a very expensive production.
The cast was fine. Jerry O’Connell, though an unexpected casting at first because of comparisons to the great Fred Gwynne as the original Herman, fit very well with Fuller’s version of Herman. Portia de Rossi didn’t get much material as Lily in the pilot, but also seems like a good fit as the Munster matriarch who is both compassionate, but tough as well.
Eddie is one of those “wise beyond their years” kids that’ve been prevalent on TV for many years and Mason Cook does a great job with that as well as being a regular, normal kid who has to come to terms with who he is. Charity Wakefield does okay with what they’ve given Marilyn so far, being the happy and positive different-looking one of the family, almost an outcast (more than in the original) based on Grandpa’s wanting her to leave in the pilot.
And speaking of Grandpa, Eddie Izzard is an inspired choice. The main source of scares and camp for the series, Izzard definitely commands each scene he is in whether it’s feeding blood cookies to the neighbors or drinking blood staright out of a corpse. Definitely a different take than the original, but in line with the overall darker tone to this reimagination.
Bryan Fuller’s creative and imaginative mind definitely shines through here. He’s got an epic vision for this series that likely can’t be contained or sustained in a Friday timeslot.
Now the story itself is definitely a modern take on the original series. Again, it’s got that Pushing Daisies sensibility that Fuller did so well on that show; dark comedy that’s full of heart. You can take that literally on Mockingbird Lane, but Fuller focuses the most on family in the pilot. The relationships between Herman, Lily, Eddie, Marilyn and Grandpa took center stage.
Fuller has pointed out how Eddie’s coming of age and realization that he is a werewolf will be at the center of the show starting out, allowing that journey be our door into their world. Indeed, it did help establish Herman’s love for his son and wife and Grandpa’s protective nature of his family. Both universal traits that humans and monsters alike can relate to.
The writing in the pilot wasn’t perfect. It felt fast moving without going anywhere at points. Overall though, it did lay solid groundwork for a would-be series.
It also definitely had that darker tone than your average broadcast network primetime drama. There was no skimping on the blood, maybe even more than either Supernatural or Grimm could handle with their monsters. But it also had an ominous undercurrent that would slice through genuinely heartwarming or emotional moments as well as the more comedic moments too.
I don’t know how that kind of balance might, not only sustain itself over the course of the series, but also how it would go over with the greater viewing audience.
Still, Mockingbird Lane offered a glimpse into what the series could be. And Bryan Fuller certainly has proven here and in many of his projects that he’s got the chops to navigate through realistic, yet fantastical worlds.
If Mockingbird Lane does gangbusters with the ratings and NBC decides to continue working on it, then awesome. If it’ll forever be a one-time Halloween special, then it was a nice litte treat that showed a lot of series potential, but with noticeable risks that NBC would have to weigh.