1313 Mockingbird Lane was a proposed series for NBC, featuring an updated take on The Munsters, making it arguably a touch darker and shifting it to a dramatic comedy instead of the pure farce of the original series. As production costs rose, NBC gradually lost faith and decided to cut their losses; on October 26th, in an attempt to recoup the costs already sunk, they aired the pilot — directed by Bryan Singer — as a one-hour TV special, dropping the house number to make it simply Mockingbird Lane.
Watching failed TV pilots is always interesting. They’re often treated as made-for-TV movies, but they were meant to continue, and it’s usually clear where the series was meant to go from there. Even more importantly, it’s easy to see why they thought it could make it as a series — and why they thought it couldn’t. In the case of Mockingbird Lane, the merits of the series are clear, but it’s just as clear why it didn’t make it. With the budget they had to have had pouring into this, it needed to be great, and sadly it’s just “Okay”.
The problem with the series isn’t with the actors. Most of them do a pretty good job. Eddie Izzard is far and away the standout as Grandpa; if the series were to go on, I think he would easily have been the breakout character of the show. Charity Wakefield is Marilyn, the “normal” one of the group, and we just start to see hints that maybe she’s not so normal mentally after all. Portia di Rossi is properly alluring as Lily Munster, and although she doesn’t quite pull off the traditional vamp look, she may be the best cast aside from Grandpa as far as looking the way the character should. Playing Eddie is a young actor named Mason Cook; the character is played pretty much as a standard young boy, and the plot of the pilot is about him discovering he’s a werewolf and his family are monsters. Jerry O’Connell plays Herman Munster, and he’s far less bumbling than in the original series; much more of a standard concerned Dad. Despite the change in characterization, O’Connell is at least decent in the role, it’s just not a particularly unusual role.
The change in Herman is the best illustration of the two basic problems with the show. The first problem is that as a comedy-drama, it’s pretty lacking in the comedy department. It has fewer laughs per minute than the standard sitcom, which isn’t exactly a high bar to have to pass over. Izzard provides most of the laughs that are present. The bigger problem though, is that it’s not very Munstery. I’m not going to insist that “everything has to be the same” — what would be the point of a remake otherwise? — but this is barely recognizable. Take a look at the promo picture up above… does anybody there, aside from Grandpa, even look like a Munster? Herman could, and does, pass as a normal human being, despite being a Frankenstein-style monster. The core of humor in The Munsters was the juxtaposition of traditional family values with a non traditional family, and the normal neighbors with the decidedly abnormal Munsters. When the Munsters look and act perfectly normal, the point of the whole thing gets a lot fuzzier than Eddie does.
Throw in some stilted dialogue and the usual first-episode jitters, and Mockingbird Lane doesn’t come out of the gates as the sure-fire hit that a film with this kind of budget needs to be. Granted, they did put that budget to great use; other than the rather hokey werewolf look for Eddie, most of the special effects were fantastic; Portia di Rossi’s arrival as Lily, assembling herself from mist and spiders, was particularly noteworthy. But great special effects don’t save Mockingbird Lane from feeling like a middle-of-the-road sit-com/drama or from feeling like the Munsters portrayed aren’t The Munsters.