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Mockingbird Lane: TV Review

Just a "Normal" Bunch
Jordin Althaus/NBC

The Bottom Line

Not particularly scary, not particularly funny, this little-pilot-lost doesn't quite get there, despite an impressive pedigree.

Airdate

8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 26 (NBC)

Cast

Jerry O'Connell, Eddie Izzard, Portia de Rossi, Charity Wakefield, Mason Cook

NBC's "Munsters" reboot from "Pushing Daisies' " Bryan Fuller and "House's" Bryan Singer will air as a one-time Halloween special.

Every time Bryan Fuller gets his mind around something (Pushing Daisies, Wonderfalls, Dead Like Me), it’s important to stop and look at it because often it comes out pretty fantastic if not always popular.

Even when he’s writing episodes of existing shows (Heroes, Star Trek: Voyager), you can feel his presence.

But his latest project, Mockingbird Lane -- a reimagining of '60s sitcom The Munsters for NBC -- has had a troubled history. There were delays, the pilot is said to have cost nearly $10 million, Fuller reportedly was at odds with pilot director Bryan Singer and already was at work on Hannibal, NBC’s other adaptation being overseen by Fuller.

PHOTOS: NBC's 'Munsters': Meet the New Residents of 'Mockingbird Lane'

Although NBC gave Fuller the nod to write more scripts, the network didn’t pick up the series and will now air the pilot Friday as a Halloween special. If all goes well -- meaning, if nothing less than a miracle occurs -- there’s still a chance that Mockingbird could get picked up. The actors remain under contract until July.

But judging from the pilot -- which looked expensive even when watched on the little player NBC set up for online viewing -- hopes should not be raised. If there’s a real vision for Mockingbird, it’s not entirely clear in the pilot, which starts out like a horror film (with some cheese on it) then segues into a much richer, heightened visual experience Fuller fans might recognize from Pushing Daisies (only this time the bright, saturated colors are replaced by a heavy emphasis on dark tones). This version of The Munsters has them all dressed as normal people, not just Marilyn (played in the new version by Charity Wakefield) as in the original. The Munsters simply are trying to fit into the modern world, sans neck screws for Herman or pancake makeup for Grandpa.

Eddie Izzard as Grandpa sets the tone with a combination of evilness and snark, aiming for and achieving a larger-than-life feel without sliding over the edge into scenery chewing (at least when he’s not sucking the blood out of an animal or human). If the series went that route, it might have had something.

But the show is less sure of its tone when it comes to the rest of the cast.

The hour goes by fairly quickly, but it’s neither overtly scary nor overtly funny, and mixing those tones is very hard indeed. The pilot essentially focuses on Eddie Munster (Mason Cook) and his slow coming of age as a werewolf. See, he doesn’t know he is one. He just keeps torturing his Boy Scout troops (yes, plural -- he has to leave town after each camping trip) without realizing that “the baby bear” terrorizing his fellow scouts is actually him. Cook plays Eddie as an introspective kid who, all things considered, would rather not eat people. He wants to be a vegetarian.

VIDEO: The Munsters Come to Life in 'Mockingbird Lane' Promo

Herman (Jerry O’Connell) is the most sensitive Frankenstein ever. His heart keeps breaking because he loves too much -- especially Eddie. Herman is having a hard time telling him about who he really is. Lily (Portia de Rossi) also can’t seem to tell him, though Eddie’s apparently aware that she feeds on people and that Dad’s head is sewn on, so it’s not like the kid isn’t living a freak scene already.

It’s impossible to thoroughly judge a series on the pilot alone, especially one as ambitious as this with someone as creative as Fuller at the helm. Maybe the next five or six episodes would have become fully realized in both tone and vision.

But it’s highly doubtful we’ll get to that point. Unless Mockingbird explodes in the ratings -- and not much ever explodes in the ratings for NBC -- this has one-and-done written all over it. And the one never fully states what it wants to be; it only teases us with what could have been.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com