In the purely objective, not-at-all biased opinion of AfterEllen.com’s entire staff, there is no such thing as too much Ellen DeGeneres and/or Portia de Rossi on our TVs. If Bravo produced a series dedicated solely to watching the two of them eat toast, we’d never miss an episode. So when Ellen kicked off the tenth season of her talk show while Portia was filming the new season of Arrested Development and the the Mockingbird Lane pilot, we were in lezzer heaven. Unfortunately, even after NBC dropped ten million bucks on the first episode of The Munsters remake, they weren’t convinced it could succeed. So they aired the pilot as mini-movie — an old trick networks once used to recoup money from abandoned projects before reality TV took over the summer air waves — on Friday night and called it a Halloween special.
Mockingbird Lane boosted NBC’s ratings big time, destroying all the other networks and providing a lead-in to Grimm that made it the second most-viewed episode of the entire series. Almost as encouraging: It was actually pretty great. And I don’t just mean this:
It’s not hard to guess what NBC saw in Mockingbird Lane‘s premise. Nostalgia for classic TV shows is at an all-time high and under the critically beloved pen of Bryan Fuller — whose other half-goofy/half-macabre works include Wonderfalls, Dead Like Me, and Pushing Daisies — they hoped the show could find its groove somewhere between Once Upon a Time and True Blood. And that’s exactly the sweet spot that Fuller hit.
The original Munsters was a sitcom based on the life of a multi-generational family of monsters living in a suburban neighborhood. In Fuller’s incarnation, Grandpa (Eddie Izzard) and Lily (de Rossi) are still vampires, little Eddie is still a baby werewolf, Herman (Jerry O’Connell) is still pieced together like Frankenstein’s monster, and cousin Marilyn (Charity Wakefield) is still the normal one. And while there’s a lot of talk about death and dismemberment, and a couple of mildly gory scenes to backup the chit-chat, Mockingbird Lane is, at its heart, a household comedy. Modern Family with a ghoulish bent.
Besides (re-)introducing The Munsters with sharp visuals and plenty of classic throwbacks, the pilot episode centers mostly around the pitfalls of raising a son who is coming of age in a family of monsters. Eddie keeps going on camping trips with his scout troop and waking up naked in the bushes while the rest of his team cowers behind their leader after being terrorized all night by a “baby bear.” See, because Eddie’s mom and dad haven’t let him in on the secret that he’s actually a werewolf. Herman and Lily spend most of the episode trying to decide how (or if) to tell the little guy that he’s a murderous shape-shifter. Fuller is a master of whip-smart dialogue and surprisingly heartfelt moments in bizarre and creepy places, and he really shines in his new setting.
Portia, of course, brought it with the laughs and the sexiness. I would have liked to see Lily with more to do in the pilot, but there was a lot of ground to cover in 45 minutes, and I Fuller left the door open to explore her character in lots of ways.
Despite its surprising success in the ratings, NBC still hasn’t given any indication that they’ll pick up the series for any more episodes. We would, of course, love it if they gave the series room to grow, but $10 million a pop is a pretty steep price-tag for a Friday night drama that needs to balance laughter with bloodshed.
If you didn’t catch Mockingbird Lane, you can watch the full episode at NBC.com. If you did watch the pilot, what did you think? Would you come back for more?