Horror-themed television programming is all the rage right now, with shows like The Walking Dead, Hannibal, Bates Motel and American Horror Story paving the way for many more in the near future, including small screen adaptations of The People Under the Stairs, The Evil Dead and Scream, as well as brand new original shows like Scream Queens and Wes Craven’s We Are All Completely Fine.
Back in 2011, however, the horror-on-TV landscape was a bit different, as the only real horror shows at the time were The Walking Dead and American Horror Story – both of which were in their infancy. It was in November of 2011 that NBC announced they would be getting in on the fun, confirming that the pilot episode of a Munsters reboot series had been ordered – titled Mockingbird Lane.
The title of course a reference to the Munster family’s iconic street address, Mockingbird Lane was developed for the network by Bryan Fuller, who would just two years later go on to create NBC’s Hannibal. At the time of writing this, Hannibal is set to soon begin its third season, though unfortunately Fuller’s previous attempt to bring a little horror to NBC wasn’t quite as successful.
Fuller’s bold new vision for the classic TV series cast actors like Jerry O’Connell, Portia de Rossi and Eddie Izzard in the lead roles, and the pilot episode was shot in the summer of 2012. Unsure if they wanted to commit to an entire season, NBC aired the pilot as a one-hour Halloween special on October 26th of that year, introducing America to the new Munsters and hoping they would be well received.
Nearly six million viewers tuned in to NBC on that night to catch the potential series premiere of Mockingbird Lane, though the number simply wasn’t high enough to warrant the network proceeding any further. In December of 2012, NBC announced that Mockingbird Lane had been cancelled, leaving behind the one-hour special as the only memory of the failed show’s existence.
Directed by Bryan Singer, the pilot episode of Mockingbird Lane served as an origin story of the titular home, with the Munsters buying the property in the wake of Eddie attacking a Boy Scouts camp in their previous town. Whereas Eddie Munster merely had a werewolf doll in the original series, he actually was a werewolf in Fuller’s re-imagining of events, forcing the family to continually be on the move.
Mockingbird Lane immediately set itself apart from the 1960s series with its opening sequence, showing werewolf Eddie going on an uncontrollable rampage. With kids being brutalized right out of the gate, it was clear that the show was going for a much darker tone, and the biggest difference between the new show and the original show is that it was set to be more reality-based.
Though the characters remained monsters, they were much more visually human in Mockingbird Lane, as opposed to colorful and cartoonish. Herman in particular underwent a major makeover, with Jerry O’Connell’s version of the character looking much like, well, Jerry O’Connell. Though able to blend into society, the new Herman retained his Frankenstein inspirations, stitched together from various parts.
And then there’s Marilyn Munster, the only true human of the bunch, as well as Lily and her father Grandpa, both of whom were depicted as vampires. A far cry from Al Lewis’ loveable portrayal, the new Grandpa was more of a sinister monster, intent on feeding on the entire town and turning them into his ‘blood slaves.’ And oh yea, he also turned into a massive gargoyle-like creature, when ready to drink.
It was Grandpa who created Herman in Mockingbird Lane, for the purposes of giving his daughter the perfect husband. At the start of the pilot, Herman’s heart is literally dying, setting Grandpa forth on a quest to find a new one – and he finds it in Eddie’s new pack leader. The other main conflict of the pilot was whether or not to tell Eddie what he is, with Herman and Grandpa disagreeing on the approach.
At the end of the pilot, Grandpa went full monster and attacked Eddie’s pack leader, removing his heart and drinking his blood in a particularly sadistic scene, while Herman finally sat his son down and revealed to him that he’s a werewolf. Afterwards, Herman and Lily gifted Eddie with a pet ‘dog’ to help quell his urges, which actually turned out to be a massive, fire-breathing dragon.
Though I admit to initially being turned off by the idea of The Munsters getting a slick new reboot, I was surprised to find on that October night in 2012 that I quite liked Fuller’s take on the source material. Fresh and new while still retaining the basic DNA of the original series – of which I’m a huge fan – Mockingbird Lane‘s pilot showed a lot of promise, leaving me hungry for more.
What I liked most about Fuller’s vision is that the characters were humanized yet at the same time much more monstrous than the Munsters we originally fell in love with, and Izzard was a particular delight in the pilot as the insatiably hungry Grandpa. Despite being dark, the pilot was a whole lot of fun, and in it Fuller really got to flex that visual style that has become synonymous with the exceptional Hannibal.
It’s of course impossible to say whether or not the series would’ve kept me entertained had it been given a full run, but based solely on the premiere episode, I can’t help but be bummed that Fuller was never given the chance to really play around in that world a bit more. But alas, the NBC executives just didn’t have much faith in what he was trying to do, and that was the final nail in that coffin.
As a one-shot Halloween special, Mockingbird Lane is a treat for fans of the original series – that is, fans who can look past the fact that it’s a different Munsters than the one we all fell in love with so many years ago – and I’m glad that the show was at least given the chance to find its way in front of cameras and make its way out there in the world.
Unfortunately, the pilot is still not available on DVD, though it can be watched on Daily Motion. Check it out below, if you missed it when it premiered.
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