Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A "Munsters" Reboot? Really?

Edgy. I hate the word edgy. When studio executives say they want something to be edgier, they mean they want to add more sex and violence to a property to help it appeal to twenty year-old men. There's nothing daring or innovative or new about that. And frankly, sex and violence don't go with a lot of things. Like "The Munsters," that wacky old black-and-white 60s sitcom about a family of horror movie monsters who have inexplicably taken up residence in suburbia. It was a fun show that I watched in reruns as a kid, but it's not a good candidate for a revival. Barely anyone remembers the Universal Studios monster characters that the Munsters reference, the silly premise and broad humor are much too innocent for a modern prime-time audience, yet to introduce more adult elements would wreak havoc on the charm of an old-fashioned nuclear family show that really was quite sweet and heartwarming once you got past the greasepaint.

And yet NBC has ordered a pilot for a "Munsters" revival, promising it will be darker and less campy than the original. The Hollywood Reporter article suggests that the series will focus on the early days of Herman and Lily Munster, and take an "edgier" approach to their interactions with the real world. Bryan Fuller of "Pushing Daisies" will be writing and producing, and I'd be lying if I said that I couldn't think of a few riffs on the material that might be interesting. The highly stylized world of "Pushing Daisies" and the old-fashioned relationship at that show's heart suggest that Fuller is the right man for the job. However, that doesn't take away from the fact that "The Munsters" is in serious danger of being warped into something that it wasn't meant to be.

There's no mystery why NBC wants to resurrect "The Munsters." Supernatural shows and films have been hot properties, and vampires and werewolves are back in full force, though in very different forms from the Draculas and Wolf Men that "The Munsters" spoofed. Both of the fairy-tale series that premiered this year, "Once Upon a Time" and "Grimm," have been doing fairly well in the ratings, signaling that television audiences would be receptive to more genre fare. And it's safer to reboot existing properties that people are already familiar with, even though this year's "Charlie's Angels" and "Prime Suspect" both crashed and burned spectacularly. If it were up to me, I'd have gone for a reboot of "The Addams Family," which was considerably darker and creepier than "The Munsters," Cousin Itt not withstanding. Universal has rights to both series, and is prepping "Addams" for an animated film. You could make the Addamses plenty edgy just by emphasizing traits that were already there in the original. But an edgy Herman Munster? An edgy Lily and Grandpa? Makes my head hurt just to think about it.

Moreover, "The Munsters" already had their nostalgic moment back in the 80s. They've been brought back several times before, in a 1987 syndicated series, TV movies, and reunions. I haven't seen any of these, though I do remember thinking that Herman just didn't look right in the green makeup. The further modernization of the characters isn't going to be easy. The obvious way to update "The Munsters" is to update the monster movie references, but these days the vampires running around all look like Alexander Skarsgaard or Robert Pattinson, and the modern Frankenstein's monster doesn't look all that different from his creator. Keeping the characters' original appearances and comic mannerisms would play to nostalgia, but honestly how much of the "edgy" audience do you think even knows the original? I haven't seen any of the reruns around in at least twenty years.

I think the best case scenario would be if the rebooters just took the premise of a family of monsters trying to get along in the suburbs, and rebuilt everything from the ground up. Then they could really go to town and let Herman lose the bolts, reveal Marilyn is a witch, and have Grandpa played by a thirty-something, because vampires are immortal and don't age, remember? You'd probably end up with something that looks like "No Ordinary Family" with more fangs, but at least it would be an honest reworking of the show for a new audience. Though in that case, there's really no reason to call it "The Munsters," is there? Otherwise, NBC will be trying to make a couple of the nicest monsters you ever met from the 60s appeal to the "Twilight" crowd. And that makes no damn sense.

Is there such a thing as brand dissonance? Because I think I've found it.

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