The Munsters

Growing up, I’m sure I caught reruns of The Munsters now and then but they didn’t make much of an impression. I basically thought of them as the other Addams Family. The two shows actually ran during the same two seasons (1964-1966). Guess they were the Once Upon a Time and Grimm of their day.

The show was produced by Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, creators of Leave it to Beaver. They seem to have drawn on their background with that show, preserving the familial love, but hightening and spoofing it.

The premise for The Munsters doesn’t need much explanation; it’s about a family of old horror movie-esqe monsters. As the pilot opens, we first meet Marilyn (Beverly Owen), a normal, pretty blonde young woman, kissing her date goodnight on the front porch. Marilyn explains that the couple she lives with are her aunt and uncle, with whom she has lived since she was a baby. She frets about introducing her date, Tom, to her family, and Tom invites all of them to a party his parents are throwing. Continue reading

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Reboot!

It seems like you can’t go a day without hearing about another upcoming reboot of an old movie or TV show. Currently, viewers of the small screen are speculating about new takes on Charlie’s Angels, Wonder Woman, Beavis and Butthead, Dallas, Miami Vice, Teen Wolf… there’s even been the threat of a Bryan Fuller-helmed Munsters remake.*

A pilot for a reboot has a unique task. There is the assumption that most viewers are already familiar with the property, and there is going to be a niche audience that is much more than familiar. The diehard fans are poised to critique every detail.  So what makes a pilot for a reboot successful?

There are two ends of the spectrum when it comes to approach. At one end, the pilot could say to the viewer, “Forget everything you knew about previous incarnations of this property.” The story basically starts over, in the present day. V is an example. Viewers need not have a clue about the 1980s mini-series and following TV series. In fact, they might be better not having seen the original and having the whole lizard reveal spoiled for them.

At the other end, a pilot can dive in to a storyline already in progress. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles does this really well. We last saw Sarah and son John in 1991, when John was about 12 years old, so the show now has to bring us up to 2008, when it debuted. The pilot opens in 1999 and, staying faithful to the timeline set forth by the movies, John is introduced as a teenager. We learn in the opening scene Sarah is haunted by the same nightmares of worldwide destruction that we remember. In order to get us to the right year, the writers have the new Terminator, played by Summer Glau, bring the characters forward in time to 2008. If you’re actually new to this, it’s likely you just won’t care about these characters. It’s also likely you’ve been living under a rock.

On the lighter side, 90210 stuck with the timeline set forth by its predecessor, Beverly Hills 90210. The newer show had some fun updating viewers on the lives of characters we once knew, even bringing some of them back so we wouldn’t always be stuck remembering them with hideous hairstyles.

According to Ramon Rodriguez, who has been cast as Bosley, the new Charlie’s Angels is set to go in a new direction. However, the movies already took a big step away from the camp of the original series. So what, exactly, are they moving away from? And do we care? Does a show’s pedigree matter, or only that it’s good?

There’s still a long way to go with all of the aforementioned reboots, and no telling how much restructuring they will go through on their way to the airwaves—if they even make it that far. Then will each one be a 90210? Or a Melrose Place? Once they debut, fans will no doubt have their expectations well in place.

*Here’s an update on the Bryan Fuller Munsters remake, 8/11/11

Dead Like Me vs. Wonderfalls

Dead Like Me castThe pilots of Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls warrant an old-fashioned, English class compare-and-contrast. Both were created by Bryan Fuller, who has a clearly defined style and a cult following. Despite being a consulting producer on the awesome first season of Heroes, Fuller seems to have earned a reputation as the creator of brilliant but cancelled shows.

Each of these two shows could be called a “genre” show. Or as an acquaintance of mine put it, “the kind of show that people who go to ComicCon like.” Their premises required a strong suspension of disbelief, which probably would have been strained over the course of three, four, five seasons. (Just look at Heroes. How many times is the world going to need saving, for Christ’s sake?)

Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls both feature young, smart, misanthropic, take-no-shit, female protagonists with male-sounding names. By the ends of their respective pilots, both George of D.L.M. and Jaye of Wonderfalls have acquired super powers. Okay, powers. Neither of them understands why she was chosen to wield these dubious abilities.

Jaye is given assignments by inanimate animals come-to-life. George is tasked with helping souls leave the bodies people who die in grisly accidents. Both start off “refusing the call,” a step in the hero’s journey, but find that acceptance is not optional. Each has the Gen-Y apathetic thing down pat. The pilots find Jaye using her degree from Brown to work an hourly retail job, and George, a college drop-out, grudgingly accepting a job at a temp agency.

Both shows introduce casts of relative unknowns, with the exception being Mandy Patinkin in D.L.M. The supporting characters are all pretty flawed, but you might say the ones on Wonderfalls have more redeeming qualities. Those on D.L.M., being dead, have no incentive to overcome their narcissism, substance abuse issues, or general assholery. (Not that they’re not likeable.) Even George’s parents, still alive, are jerks. This is a good place to mention that each protagonist is completely misunderstood by her upper middle-class parents.

Each show opens with a legend; the Maid of the Mist and the frog that unleashed death. Both skirt religion despite having supernatural themes. (George mentions god in the legend, but specifies that it’s with a lower case “g.”) Both shows achieve, somehow, a moral middle ground. We end each pilot wondering whether the transferring of souls or the obedience to talking chotzkies is good or bad. There are no villains, and our heroes aren’t particularly heroic. Things just are as they are. Destiny. Maybe that is why these shows didn’t generate sufficient viewer interest. People like black and white.

Both shows have a “look” that I don’t know enough about television technology to explain properly. Something about the lighting and camera work reminds you that you’re not dealing with Desperate Housewives.

Now for a few differences. D.L.M. uses a New Kid on the Block approach, where the world of the show (death) already exists, and the character is introduced to it along with the audience. Since the character is clueless, everything can be explained without making the script feel too heavy with exposition. Wonderfalls jumps right in. Something changes in the life of the protagonist on this particular day, and we don’t know why it happens when it does. We don’t understand what is happening any more than she does. You have to stick with Wonderfalls for a while to figure it out, a quality I personally enjoy in a show.

D.L.M. had the advantage of being on cable. You just know both of these protagonists have potty mouths, but only George gets the satisfaction of throwing the “f” word around. And it’s so damn dark. The pilot finds George having to reap a kindergardener. A kindergardener. Yet, amidst all the death—the body count is at least 5 in this one episode—the pilot ends on a hopeful note. In death, George may find a way to make peace with her family and her identity.

Memorable quote: “I excel at not giving a shit.” – George

Wonderfalls

WonderfallsWonderfalls aired for just four weeks in spring 2004. So clever, so misunderstood; much like the show’s heroine. It was created by Bryan Fuller, the man behind Dead Like Me.

We open with the legend of the “Maid of the Mist,” a Native American Princess who sacrificed herself to Niagara Falls to satisfy an angry god. This tale of destiny will become a theme of sorts. The story is recounted by protagonist Jaye (Caroline Dhavernas), an apathetic, 24-year-old sales clerk at a gift shop at the falls.

Next, we have the convenient plot device of an old high school classmate dropping by. This gives the audience the chance to learn that Jaye was uncool in high school, majored in Philosophy in college, and has wound up “over-educated and unemployable.”

We get to the show’s premise when a tiny wax lion figurine come to life and talks to Jaye. She faints, and soon her WASPy family swoops in to shunt her off to a shrink. At the shrink’s office, a monkey-shaped bookend follows suit with the lion figure.

And, we’re off. Inanimate objects talk to this chick. We’re never told exactly why—in the pilot or ever. Is she crazy? Gifted? A modern version of the Maid of the Mist? Dr. Dolittle meets Joan of Arc? Do these talking things want her to commit good or evil? We keep watching to figure it out. It’s all so weird, and coupled with the snarky dialogue, this makes for engaging viewing. 

The love interest character, Eric (Tyron Leito, lately of Being Erica), has an intriguing back story, too. He has run away from his cheating new wife to hide behind a bar in Niagara Falls. Will he go home? Will his wife track him down? Will he fall for Jaye? More importantly, will she fall for him, or will she be too distracted by her newfound powers/psychosis?

The look of this show is great. Shot on location, it feels very real and unglamorized. You can practically feel the damp, cold weather. The grey backdrop makes the animated figures and shlocky, colorful souvenir shop pop.

By the end of the pilot, Jaye loses a promotion to a mouth-breathing dork, gets yelled at by a customer, makes a UPS guy cry and later, almost kills him, gets arrested for disorderly conduct, is busted stealing from the shrink, and has her mother advise her to “do something” with her hair. It’s a pretty shitty week. Some good comes out of it; Jaye has a bonding moment with her polar opposite sister, and begins to accept was is apparently her destiny.

People love an underdog. Especially one with smarts and a matching smart mouth. It all makes Jaye a great character and her journey a fun one. Unfortunately, it didn’t last. The premise was probably too far-fetched to be sustainable beyond one season, anyway.

Here’s the UNAIRED pilot.