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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Don't really want to move to Mockingbird Lane

Considering the cast and crew of NBC's Mockingbird Lane, created by Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies), I was super psyched for the series this fall. When it was held back, and decided that the "Pilot" would be aired as a stand alone Halloween special, without producing more episodes, disappointment set in. That is, until it actually aired. Then disappointment of a whole other kind appeared.

It's not that Mockingbird Lane is bad; it's just that the first episode doesn't live up to its potential. The set and effects (save for the werewolf in the opening sequence) are spectacular, and glimpsing the Golden Gate bridge behind the infamous house is a stroke of brilliance, providing a stark contrast every time it's seen. This links the show to the real world, even as it feels like fantasy. Lily's (Portia de Rossi, Arrested Development, Better Off Ted) introduction is even more cool, spiders flowing gracefully around her to make her garb.

But the rest of the episode is just too tame. Whereas The Munsters, the goofy sitcom Mockingbird Lane seeks to update, relies on gags and schlock, Mockingbird Lane treats itself like a serious drama. This doesn't work. Sure, these actors are capable of deepening the characters, and making this new show mean a lot more than the old one. But they don't get the chance, skipping over much of what should be an introduction-based episode, and jumping right into a boring story. Combining the comedy with the drama is what it needed here, and the mix is almost absent in this premiere, which skews more towards the drama side.

The crux of the first episode is how Eddie's (Mason Cook) parents are going to tell him that he is a werewolf, a monster, or Munster, like them. One would think that this is exactly what Mockingbird Lane should be doing, since it is taking an element of the classic series, and putting it into context people can relate to, providing a moral dilemma. Instead, the implications of what this means are glossed over, replaced with an empty "be yourself" type of mantra.

Herman (Jerry O'Connell, The Defenders, Crossing Jordan) is the only one of the Munsters that comes across as fully realized. He knows he is dying, but refuses to let Grandpa (Eddie Izzard, The Riches, United States of Tara) kill Eddie's new scout leader, Steve (Cheyenne Jackson, 30 Rock, Glee), to obtain him a new heart, thus saving his life. He also wrestles with what to do about Eddie. As a man who is made into a Munster by Grandpa, Herman straddles the two worlds, and is a compelling lead.

It's too bad this plot is cut short, though, when Steve accidentally dies. His death is funny, but there is definitely more that could have been milked from the situation, considering Herman's internal struggle is the best part of the episode. Once Steve is dead, not murdered, Herman doesn't mind taking his organ. Which kind of ruins what is built up til that point. How much darker and deeper would it go if Grandpa killed Steve, and then forced Herman to take the heart against his will? How would that affect family dynamics, as well as how Herman feels about himself? And why not let Steve stick around for a few episodes first, so the family can get to know him, and his death would mean more? After all, Jackson is terrific in the part.

Grandpa can be excused for being how he is, because it seems logical that he would think the way that he does. I just wish he was played more over the top, or commit to the scary, rather than doing neither at one hundred percent, either of which Izzard would shine in. Lily doesn't get much to do in the first episode, so it's hard to see where she fits in, though she is clearly torn between Herman's want for the family to be good, and Grandpa's longing to return to the traditional ways of feeding on humans freely. De Rossi has the chops to make this work, given screen time to do so, which she is not in the "Pilot."

The real problem is with the kids in the cast. Eddie is too flat, not up to the task of the real emotion his situation calls for. Marilyn (Charity Wakefield) is no better, though her fault lies in the writing. We know that she wants to stay with the family, even though Grandpa despises her for being born normal. This needs to be explored, especially in the opening of the series, but is pushed off for another day, if ever.

Should Mockingbird Lane be allowed to continue, there is plenty of potential here for a fantastic show. I just fear that the luck luster plot of the "Pilot" combined with the lack of faith the network has put into it has killed a bold experiment before it even begins.

If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Check out my website, JeromeWetzel.com! First posted on TheTVKing

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