I know the first question you have, Faithful Reader: How can you make a mockery of something that, in essence, is already a parody of every film, radio or TV derivation from Mary Shelley’s original 1818 Frankenstein novel?
Easy: When you decide that you’re going to revive the beloved Sixties sitcom The Munsters, with Jerry O’Connell playing patriarch Herman Munster—only it’s called Mockingbird Lane and billed as a “dramatic reimagining” of the original.
(I suppose I should tell the young ‘uns out there who might not have ever viewed the original—it was broadcast before they were born, and in black and white, for God’s sake!)—that “Mockingbird Lane” is the address of the Great Gang of Ghoul.)
The news article I came across on this refers to the new series as a “retool”—not a sequel, a prequel, a remake, or even a “reboot” (the latter a favorite form of the last few years in which a once-glorious franchise film series is revitalized by going back to square one with a new cast, new director, and a moderately new plot—see Star Trek, Batman, and the James Bond films). There’s another reason for this neologism, however: “reboot” has inevitable associations with Herman’s foot size.
Don’t bet the ranch that fans are unaware of this, or that they’re not wondering how this series could possibly measure up to the original. If the creators of this show have something darker and more sinister in mind, aren’t there already more than enough TV shows of this ilk around? Hello, True Blood? Anyone for American Horror Story?
Why was O’Connell cast? I wondered if this might be the prelude to a “two-fer”—i.e., two for the price of one—with wife Rebecca Romijn cast as Herman’s lovely vampire spouse, Lily Munster? (Physically, of course, Ms. Romijn is closer to Marilyn, the honey-blonde niece that the family charmingly regards as less physically blessed than themselves—except that—forgive me for writing this!—the onetime Sports Illustrated swimsuit model would have a bit of a hard time passing for a teen or twentysomething these days.)
But no, the producers didn’t reel in two stars with the couple. Instead, they chose Portia de Rossi, Ellen Degeneres' significant other, in the role. I have my own issue with that casting, too—but we’ll get to that in a moment.
But back to Mr. O’Connell. The most visible characteristic of Herman Munster, of course, is a terrifying strength in reserve—terrifying because of both sheer size and the chance that he could kill somebody entirely by accident. In other words, it’s as if Lenny from Of Mice and Men walked around with all kinds of ill-fitting parts in every part of his body, from head to toe, clunking every second he moved.
Fred Gwynne had that strength in abundance. You can sense it in another comedy, the laugh-out-loud My Cousin Vinny, where his Southern judge's scowl—whether sitting at the bench or, simply, standing up—leaves no doubt what he could do to Joe Pesci’s eponymous, fast-talking New York lawyer if the latter tries to pull one more legal rabbit out of a hat.
Blundering amiability rather than irascibility was Gwynne’s stock in trade on The Munsters. It’s an infinitely hard act to follow—a fact noted in one Internet exchange I came across, in which one individual noted that O’Connell had “big shoes to fill.”
“Yeah," another reader responded. “Size 18!”
At least one reader was disappointed that his favorite contender for Herman, Brad Garrett of Everybody Loves Raymond, didn’t get the role. Garrett certainly has the comic chops for the role, but I suspect that he’d play Herman not as amiable so much as mordant. You know—it can’t be easy for a guy with such large fingers to use a cellphone without accidentally breaking it. Wouldn’t that disgust you?
No, I’m afraid that we’ll have to look elsewhere for the ideal new Herman—to someone amiable and big enough for the role—so big, in fact, that he wouldn’t need the shoe implants that even the six-ft.-five-in. Gwynne reportedly used.
I want the producers of Mockingbird Lane to consult what should be primary research, the original scripts of The Munsters, and especially the episode called “Herman’s Lawsuit.” In that, his driver’s license lists his height as 7 ft. 3 inches and his weight as 380 pounds.
When you consider those numbers, is there really any better candidate than Shaquille O’Neal?
Did I say something about size? How about the 7 ft. 1 in., 325 pounds that Mr. O’Neal has? Will Hollywood really find something better?
Let’s consider those Herman characteristics once again:
*Strength: I’ve already got one scene in mind: In teaching little Eddie the basics of basketball, Herman accidentally shatters a backboard he’d bought for the backyard. Cut to Shaq lumbering into The Sports Authority to purchase a new one…
*Amiability: Sure—check out those Buick LaCrosse commercials that Shaq has made recently. It’s as if the car, more than anything, is a chance to make new friends for him. Now imagine him as Herman, out to greet his new neighbors…
*Terrifying strength in reserve: Nobody will ever forget Shaq’s death stares at former teammate Kobe “Let Me Shoot on Every Possession!” Bryant. I don’t think the current Laker fears anyone more than Shaq—except, maybe, his wife, who, with her phalanx of attorneys, has gotten Kobe to act so mature and responsible that she’s reconsidering her divorce. Now, think how Shaq, as Herman, would deal with someone who dared to mistreat Marilyn—let alone his darling Lily.
Okay, let’s turn to the other cast members, shall we? I understand that Mason Cook, in the role of Eddie, will take the young werewolf character in a rather less innocent direction than the original, Butch Patrick. In the new series, Eddie feels the call of the wild every time he sees a woman. In this, he merely confirms feminine prejudices about the male of the species from time immemorial.
Charity Wakefield, as Marilyn Munster? I guess those initials and even the first name were too subtle for the makers of the reboot, who want to amp up the oomph factor far more than Pat Priest ever did. The character’s wardrobe are said to recall the breathy sex symbol’s this time around. Yawn….
Eddie Izzard, as Grandpa Munster? Like Lord Byron—mad, bad, and dangerous to know. Nothing like Al Lewis, who, with the cheesiest cape this side of Transylvania, looked like your average lovable Jewish granddad, though a bit (literally) long in the tooth. How about another Lewis in the role—Richard? Sure, he’d be a little neurotic, but he’d be more likely to leave the impression that Al did—i.e., more interested in biting a good cigar than a neck—than Izzard would.
I really can think of only one reason why the geniuses behind Mockingbird Lane thought that Portia de Rossi would do well as Lily Munster. It’s a variation on that two-fer idea I mentioned before—except that in this case, it’s a three-fer. (That’s why they’re geniuses, don’t you know?) I’m sure if the producers try hard, they can get Portia's comedienne spouse at a discount, maybe even for free as a favor to Ms. de Rossi, to appear on the show as a Special Guest Monster. With her on the show even for only a night, so many people would want to appear that it could make for the funniest TV clash since Archie Bunker squared off against his wife Edith’s cousin Maude.
But I’m sorry—the show’s producers have made a hash of things with de Rossi’s casting. Again, they need to look at the original show for some ideas.
In the two decades before her stint as Lily Munster, Yvonne DeCarlo carved out a niche as an exotic film vixen. When she turned 40, however, the offers began to dry up. That led to her role as Lily.
As it happens, an actress with a similar career arc is available now: Robin Givens. The height of her career might have been about 20-25 years ago, somewhere between Head of the Class and the Eddie Murphy film, Boomerang. Since then, she’s experienced some trouble with the IRS, so she could sure use the work.
Besides, as a blaze of tabloid publicity in the late 1980s made apparent, she knows an awful lot about monsters, having been married to one big one then.