[Review] - Mockingbird Lane

Courtesy of NBCUniversal

Let me start by saying I've always been more of an Addams Family guy then a Munsters fan. No particular reason, but it meant I was coming into Mockingbird Lane largely fresh, as I'm sure much of the 18-26 demographic NBC covets so much was as well. While I was familiar with the characters in the abstract, this was an opportunity for the show to really impress me, to get me hooked, as any and every pilot should.

And it didn't. It didn't feel like it was everybody's full effort on display, and by the end of the hour, not only was I not interested in seeing any further adventures of the Munsters, but I actually had to give NBC a bit of credit. Certainly it was a massive waste of $10 million, but nothing in the pilot was worthy of being picked up for series. If only they had been a little more conservative in their spending, they wouldn't have felt the need to burn the pilot off in an attempt to recoup their losses, and Mockingbird Lane would have remained one of the thousands of pilots that never see the light of day.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that have started to notice their body is going through some changes.

Let me start by saying that I've heard reports that Mockingbird Lane wasn't available in all areas, and that either NBC or some providers blocked out the broadcast, which didn't hurt their ratings apparently (5.5 million viewers, which isn't bad considering it was a Friday), but seems a bit suspect.

I've been a fan of Bryan Fuller's since his first series was cancelled. And I've always looked forward to his involvement in a program, as it usually means we're in for something original, something odd and something fun. Add to that the involvement of director Bryan Singer, who also once demonstrated all of those same characteristics, and you would think you'd have a winner.

Except, in execution, Mockingbird Lane felt tepid. Not at first, not with a cold open like they had, with a troupe of scouts being mauled (apparently not to death) by a werewolf, created with a combination of practical effects and hand drawn animation. I was immediately excited. But as the plot unravelled at an excruciating pace, the show seemed to take the safe road. Perhaps a sign of NBC interference, but it seemed to be setting on the very edge of being bold and unique, and kept restraining itself. There were flashes of the Fuller brilliance, but a reigned in, watered down version.

Singer was, I think, the wrong man to helm the pilot. The actors seemed ill-at-ease. The camera seemed to never find the right place to sit. Scenes like the neighbour painting the house, or the scout master being hunted by Grandpa seemed to be filmed at the wrong angles, away from either the effective, or the playful, options. Instead, the episode was filled with a standard repertoire of close ups, short pans, and nothing else that showed an imagination.

The tone was uncertain throughout. While the original show was a sitcom, this series clearly had an eye more on drama. Yet Fuller has proven quite deft at managing both simultaneously, often with the end result being dubbed "quirky." Which was what I was expecting, and really, what the Munsters screams for. They are a family of the undead, they need to be quirky. Maybe NBC ordered the quirk quotient lowered, or maybe Fuller was oddly trepidatious, but the show never hit the laughs, or the heart, in a way that it seemed like it wanted to. It played, as I said, everything safe.

In terms of characters, there wasn't much there. The show lacked a clear protagonist, presumably meant to be Herman, but settling more on Eddie in the first half, and Grandpa in the second. And Eddie Izzard seemed to be the only one on set having any amount of fun. Jerry O'Connell was absent from his own performance, though maybe he purposefully played the role as Frankenstein's monster as stiff. Portia De Rossi was the biggest waste, which makes me wonder why they bothered hiring a comedic actress of her talent and calibre for a role that provided her nothing to do for an hour. She had nothing to work with, and certainly nothing resembling a joke in the entire hour. The only character that displayed any of the standard Fuller charm was Marilyn, and Charity Wakefield was a highlight of the show, able to keep up and go toe-to-toe with Izzard. I'd be content to watch those two bicker for half an hour every week.

The show had potential. Loads of it. The animated title card, the deer-lion-Grandpa scene, the blend of different effects styles (it was easy to see where the $10 million went, though they never would have been able to keep up that level of effect). The show wanted so much to be more then it ended up being. And had it went to series, I suspect we would have chalked it up to early instalment weirdness - the awkward footing finding that most series go through. But if this single episode was meant to inspire the accountants into green lighting more, based on what they got, then NBC made the right call.

Having seen how many people are willing to tune in, NBC can reevaluate their decision now. I don't see them changing their minds, and I suspect the Munsters are dead. But if it did get picked up, they would need to make some changes. Either NBC needs to back off and let Fuller be himself, cranking up the crazy and the absurd, or they need to replace Fuller and redevelop the show into something cheaper, and as pedestrian as Grimm. More then anything, it needs to find a tone and a style, and embrace it fully, without taking a step back every time they get close to doing something interesting.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


  1. Thank you for reviewing the Mockingbird Lane pilot, Mr. Clark. I was talking about remakes, reboots, and reimaginings with a few of my coworkers from DISH today, when Mockingbird Lane came up. I generally don’t like it when Hollywood messes with beloved characters from my childhood, but I had to check out Mockingbird Lane out of simple curiosity. I went home and began searching my DISH Hopper DVR for the Mockingbird Lane pilot. I am bad about setting DVR timers, so I have the DVR’s Primetime Anytime function enabled to record all of the primetime content from ABC, NBC, FOX and CBS; I knew Mockingbird Lane was on there somewhere. I didn’t expect a lot going in, and I didn’t get much in the end. While the show was visually striking, there were big issues with tone and writing. I hate to say that a reboot has any potential, but this show did. It’s sad that they couldn’t live up to it.