Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Special Recap: "Mockingbird Lane"

“You're not being open and honest. You're being weird and confusing. You ate a lion while naked.”

Usually for Halloween, I do a write-up of a classic Halloween episode of television. This year, however, I’m switching it up a bit for quite a good reason. NBC aired a little thing this past Friday that Alan Sepinwall likes to call “Busted Pilot Theatre.” It’s related to what I like to call Summer Burnoff Theatre, only there’s just a pilot to air and no other episodes. The pilot in question is a very special one to me because it was written and produced by one of my all-time favorite television auteurs, Bryan Fuller. I’ve featured him here on the blog before, but in short, Fuller brings whimsy, a love for horror and the macabre, and kick-ass female characters to all of his work. He has a gift for putting the macabre in colorful candy coating (most evident in my all-time favorite television series, “Pushing Daisies”), and that gift is definitely on display in “Mockingbird Lane.” “Mockingbird Lane” is nominally a dramedy update of the 1960’s sitcom “The Munsters.” This sounds like a horrible tag line, but because Bryan Fuller was attached, I trusted that I’d enjoy it. And enjoy it I did. It was pretty much exactly what you’d expect to get when you hear that Bryan Fuller is creating a dramedy about a supernatural family.

Overall, “Mockingbird Lane” is most reminiscent of Fuller’s most recent show, “Pushing Daisies,” both in the dialogue patter and the heightened, colorful, semi-old-fashioned look of the show. The opening of the pilot, however, reminds me most of Fuller’s first show, “Dead Like Me.” It’s very macabre with a little less of the candy coating. It still has all the usual Bryan Fuller snark, though. We see a group of faux boy scouts around a camp fire, having a serious discussion about who among them stole all the breakfast food. The fat kid in the group is getting blamed for the theft when the proceedings are broken up by a “baby bear attack.” The “baby bear” is actually Eddie Munster, who is a werewolf, but Eddie doesn’t know that bit about himself just yet. None of the scouts are seriously injured, but they’re all pretty traumatized.

Worried that Eddie’s condition will be found out, the Munsters move to Mockingbird Heights in Northern California. The Munsters overall are no ordinary family. There’s Grandpa (aka “D”), his vampire daughter Lily, Lily’s patched together husband Herman, Lily and Herman’s niece (the one “normal” of the bunch) Marilyn, and Eddie, of course, who is Herman and Lily’s son. The crew moves in to 1313 Mockingbird Lane, the creepiest house on the block, recently vacated by a convicted “hobo murderer.” They love the creepy vibe, though, and the set is absolutely gorgeous and detailed. It would really be a tragedy if the house sets are never used again. The whole Mocking Bird lane neighborhood is exquisite, really, and is what reminds me most strongly of “Pushing Daisies.”

In an attempt to make nice with the neighbors, Grandpa makes some cookies infused with his blood. His and Marilyn’s first stop is the house across the street, where they are greeted by none other than Maryanne Marie Beetle, now just going by “Marie.” Marie has appeared in both “Wonderfalls” and “Pushing Daisies” as the quirky, kind of ruthless entrepreneur behind the Muffin Buffalo muffin company. Marie’s husband eats one of the cookies, and essentially becomes one of Grandpa’s blood slaves for a little while. That ends when he falls off a ladder while painting the Munster house. Herman goes soft and calls an ambulance to deal with the situation. Grandpa wanted to drain Marie’s husband of blood and transplant the heart into Herman. Herman’s heart is on its last legs, you see, because he “loves too much.” Grandpa had wanted to replace it with n artificial heart, but Herman refused because it was his last original organ left, and he was afraid that without his heart, he wouldn’t feel the same about Lily.

A new potential donor becomes apparent when Herman and Grandpa take Eddie to check out the nearby faux boy scout troop. The scoutmaster is a widower, and the scouts are pretty much his entire life. Which is more than a little sad. Anyway, the scoutmaster is very suspicious that the Munsers are reluctant to reveal Eddie’s old pack number. When he finds out it’s the pack that experienced the “baby bear attack,” he starts to be a little more accepting, and then when Lily breezes in looking gorgeous, he’s completely convinced to allow Eddie to join the pack. Grandpa’s got ulterior motives, of course. He now wants to exsanguinate/take the heart of the packmaster. He convinces the packmaster to come to dinner, and he implies that Herman will probably die soon and Lily will need a new wife. Lily doesn’t really want all this death and destruction to go down in their dining room, but it turns out to be a fall down the basement stairs that eventually does the packmaster in.

An interesting theme that ran through the pilot was Eddie’s road to learning about and maybe accepting his true nature. He’s a sweet kid who doesn’t want to hurt a fly, and he’s repulsed by the true nature of his family members. He’s especially disappointed that his mom only “tries her best” not to hurt people. When his parents finally get up the courage to tell him that he’s a werewolf and caused the destruction at the faux boy scouts outing, he engages in a bit of self-loathing and tells Herman that he wants to be a vegetarian. By the end of the episode (with his new heart in his chest), Herman tells Eddie that Eddie can be a vegetarian when he can be, and when he can’t they’ll figure it out together. That’s another theme that carries through much of Bryan Fuller’s work- characters working through their problems together instead of problems driving wedges between them.

I think that the creative team really put together a fantastic cast. Jerry O’Connell plays Herman, and he gets his mouth around the Bryan Fuller dialogue patter perfectly. It almost feels like this dialogue was written for Lee Pace (the patter is so close to his character of Ned on “Pushing Daisies”), but O’Connell pulls it off. Portia DeRossi is Lily, and she pulls of the combination of danger and beauty effortlessly. The other notable performance is Eddie Izzard as Grandpa. He just owns every scene where he appears, which is important considering Grandpa’s power and the influence he holds over the rest of his family.

So I’m sad that we’ve probably said goodbye to this imagining of the Munsters world. Bryan Fuller has said that he wanted to create a drama with monsters as characters, and the Munsters were a convenient frame for that idea, and it’s a shame that, bar some kind of huge schedule bomb at NBC, we’ll never see where he could have gone with it. “Mockingbird Lane” paired with “Grimm” was a wonderfully spooky treat for the Friday before Halloween, though, so I’m definitely glad NBC made the decision to air it. For those of you who are huge Bryan Fuller fans like me, take heart. He’s got another pilot that he shot for NBC called “Hannibal,” and it’s been picked up for mid-season. It stars the incomparable Caroline Dhavernas, and to make it a real “Wonderfalls” reunion, Chelan Simmons will be reprising her role as “Christmas and Easter Jew” Gretchen Speck-Horowitz.

No comments:

Post a Comment