Of all the new shows hitting the airwaves this fall, the "Munsters" remake "Mockingbird Lane" was the one I was most looking forward to. Thus, I was more than a little disappointed to hear NBC ordered the pilot - and only the pilot - to air on Halloween weekend. Still, despite an uncertain road ahead plagued with a few pot-holes here and there, "Mockingbird Lane" is worthy of both the "Munster" pedigree and that of its creators - Bryan Fuller of "Pushing Daisies" fame and Bryan Singer of the "X-Men" franchise.
After a "baby bear attack" traumatizes his Wilderness Explorer scout troop, Eddie Munster (Mason Cook) is forced to move to a new town with his oddball family. Eddie's father Herman (Jerry O'Connell) is literally a man of many talents, since he's made of several different people. His mother Lily (Portia de Rossi) is a literally misty vampire, while his Grandfather D (Eddie Izzard) is an Old Country hold-out whose eager to set up shop in this new "village" in the suburbs. And of course, there's the black sheep of the family, Marilyn (Charity Wakefield), the completely normal (if utterly beautiful) member of the Munster blood.
It's the cast of "Mockingbird Lane" which makes the premise work so well. Jerry O'Connell may bear very little in common with Fred Gwynne, but shares the same likability as the Munster family patriarch. Herman has a quality which is both tragic and magical - he loves too much for his transplanted heart to hear. de Rossi's Lily comes off as quite a bit warmer than her 1960's counterpart. Mason Cook doesn't have Butch Patrick's hair, but he does have a very sympathetic perspective which anchors the entire pilot. Wakefield plays Marilyn almost exactly the same as her 1960's counterparts (both of them), but there's a more spirited quality about her than can go toe-to-toe with Grandpa. And speaking of Grandpa, Eddie Izzard is the masterstroke of the cast, coming off as somewhere between Anthony Hopkins in "Bram Stoker's Dracula" and Anthony Hopkins in "The Wolfman".
The plot of two-fold: on one hand, Herman struggles to tell Eddie there's more to the "baby bear attack" which brought them here, and they'll be seeing of this "baby bear" on the next full moon. Unfortunately, this puts straight on his heart, leading Grandpa to try to find a suitable replacement for Herman. He founds one such candidate - Steve, Eddie's scout master - but the rest of the family isn't about to let Grandpa Munster eat one of the few role models in Eddie's life.
"Mockingbird Lane" is really the tale of two "Munsters" - one dark fantasy and one black comedy. The dark fantasy elements work the best. When Grandpa and Lily emerge from their coffins, they are both naked. Thousands of tiny spiders then fall onto Lily, weaving a dress all around her body in one of the coolest sequences on recent television. On the other hand, the black comedy aspects solely work because of Eddie Izzard's Grandpa, whose rapid fire banter with his family and double entendre with everyone else contain some of the best one-liners of the show. The problem is, once the black comedy part reaches its logically conclusion, the results are, well, bleak. Thus, it's easy to have dramatically mixed feelings about the end of the pilot, which cut straight down the middle between fantastically sweet and darkly bitter.
It's hard to know where "Mockingbird Lane" goes from here, but it doesn't look good. Despite a lot of hype and good reviews, "Mockingbird Lane" will need high ratings to get a series pick-up. With NBC putting a lot of eggs in the basket of "Revolution", they might drive right past "Mockingbird Lane". But I'm not sure a full season pick-up is what "Mockingbird Lane" needs. It's obvious this story is strongest at Halloween, and with Bryan Fuller busy with his new "Hannibal" series and Bryan Singer possibly directing the next "X-Men: First Class", it might work better if NBC plan several made-for-TV movies shot during the holidays, similar to what BBC did for "Doctor Who" during the end of David Tenant's run. Whatever NBC decides, "Mockingbird Lane" is a surreal and supernatural hit that NBC should choose to ignore at their own (and Grandpa's) peril.
(That's it for this rant. Check out a new Blue Yonder Wednesday)