Today in Halloween: ‘Mockingbird Lane’

I’m just a wee bit tired of coy TV show titles. I suppose “Smallville” started it all. Here was a TV series – often enjoyable, especially toward the end – that seemed embarrassed to embrace its true nature as a Superboy story.

Other shows with titles that seem too cool for school in some ways included the Aquaman show that was kinda sorta inspired by “Smallville” and carried the title “Mercy Reef.” Sufferin’ Shad, but that sounds like something Aquaman would have exclaimed. It’s probably just as well the show never came to pass. It would be in its sixth season by now and Aquaman, who I’m sure would have had a cooler, subtler name, would have just begun talking to his pet clown fish.

So there’s precedent, title-wise, for “Mockingbird Lane,” the apparently failed NBC pilot that aired tonight as part of the network’s special night of Halloween programing that included an episode of “Grimm” and … a Chris Hansen show about busting would-be Internet hitmen and scam artists?

But, surprisingly, “Mockingbird Lane” was better than could have been expected. Or maybe a high level of competence should have been expected, considering it was co-written and produced by Bryan Fuller (“Wonderfalls”) and directed by Bryan Singer (the first two, good “X-Men” movies).

“Mockingbird Lane” was based on “The Munsters,” that silly sitcom that aired from 1962 to 1966. The show’s premise was that the Munster clan – Frankenstein-like Herman, vampiric wife Lily, son Eddie (a werewolf), Grandpa (a vampire, last name Dracula) and niece Marilyn (a cute, “normal” blonde – was a perfectly normal family, especially compared to the wonderfully twisted Addams clan. The comedy arose from the public’s reaction to the Munsters.

Apparently Fuller and Singer set out to remake the series, but in subtler fashion, and NBC was interested enough to buy an hour-long pilot but hasn’t okayed – and maybe won’t okay – an actual weekly series.

So tonight’s episode served to introduce and maybe bid farewell to the Munsters, who live at 1313 Mockingbird Lane. The plot revolved around the search for a heart for Herman, whose ticker is worn out because of his love for his family, as well as efforts to keep Grandpa from killing too many of the neighbors.

It took me a while to figure out what was missing from “Mockingbird Lane.” It was Fred Gwynne’s boisterous overacting and booming laugh as Herman. Jerry O’Connell was fine, maybe welcome, as a quiet and contemplative Herman.

The entire case was fine, especially Eddie Izzard as Grandpa. It was unimaginable he would follow the endearingly cornball lead of Al Lewis as the original Grandpa. Izzard instead played the old vampire patriarch as quietly menacing.

Random observations:

I liked the use of bits of the original show’s theme music throughout “Mockingbird Lane.”

Since O’Connell didn’t sport a traditional Universal Frankenstein head in the show, I enjoyed how they introduced him. With a lantern hanging behind him, Herman’s silhouette had a decidedly square look.

Izzard looked decrepit during the show, only reverting to his normal appearance at the end. It’s a nice touch.

Likewise the suggestion that niece Marilyn has got … something … going on besides being the boring “normal” girl. Anyone this into the smell of a decaying old mansion has a dark side.

Of course, we may never know for sure.

 

 

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