GeekPlanetOnline’s resident telly addict, Gillian Coyle, likes to write about the box almost as much as she likes to watch it. From soap operas to space operas, if you need some thoughts on a television show she’s your woman…
You may have heard that Bryans Singer and Fuller are currently producing a pilot for a remake of the 60s movie monster sitcom The Munsters. Big whoop. It was shit, and the 80s revival, The Munsters Today, was even worse.
But I'm really excited about Mockingbird Lane and I hope to transfer some of that enthusiasm to you! Of course there's a caveat: I'm so excited that it probably won't get past the pilot (le sigh).
If you've read any of my previous columns, you're probably aware that I'm a huge fan of Mr Bryan Fuller, and all his works. Okay, excepting seasons 4-7 of Star Trek: Voyager, but a boy's got to start somewhere.
He's almost certainly best known for his work on Heroes. Remember the first season? Remember when it seemed like the new, exciting future of genre television? Yeah, that's when Fuller was co-executive producer. Guess when he left? That's right, after season one.
The three shows he created or co-created though, are surely the purest indicator of his tastes, skills and tropes. It is not an exaggeration to call Wonderfalls one of my all-time favourite television programmes. I adore it. It's 14 episodes of perfection. To paraphrase something I believe the kids are fond of saying these days, Wonderfalls was my Firefly. I'm also excessively fond of his most recent series, the Jean-Pierre Jeunet meets 50s Americana slice of gorgeousness that was Pushing Daisies. Dead Like Me is also a very brilliant programme, but it doesn't hold quite the same place in my heart as the other two.
So can we extrapolate from these shows to gain an idea of what to expect from Mockingbird Lane? I'm very glad you asked!
Stunning Production Design
Let's start with the look of Fuller shows. They're gorgeous. Sets, costumes, camera work, choice of colour filters: there's an attention to detail that makes his programmes as much of a treat for the eye as the mind and the soul. In Wonderfalls, Jaye describes her trailer home as looking like “the inside of Jeannie's bottle”. It's a place where you expect magic to happen. Local bar, The Barrel, is all dark polished wood and claustrophobic corners, which provide a perfect backdrop for the technicolour dramas and disasters of Jaye's life. Again, the Tylers' elegant, muted home give contrast to the chaos that Jaye brings with her.
In Dead Like Me, the two main sets are the Reapers' breakfast spot of choice, Der Wafflehaus, and George's place of work, The Happy Times employment agency. The former is as you'd expect, plastic, faux-German excesses, but as a backdrop to Rube handing out reaping assignments, it has the effect of grounding the supernatural in the mundane. Happy Times is your basic office temping nightmare. All corporate greys and impersonal cubicles, it allows Dolores Herbig's enormous personality, and the usual exaggerated petty office tensions to shine.
Ahh, but Pushing Daisies is the king in this category. From the pie-shaped Pie Hole restaurant, to the bright green clad nuns and of course The Darling Mermaid Darlings, every single frame drips with sumptuous, original detail. Every story, every new environment and character is individual, but there's a unifying aesthetic that ensures it never looks like any show but Pushing Daisies.
So, we can expect Mockingbird Lane to have an equally individual and carefully thought-out look. I'll be looking for an interesting take on the gothic Universal monster movie aesthetic. Recently released promotional photos certainly suggest Old European decadence mixed, as with Pushing Daisies, with Americana.
Affection for Outsiders
A teenager killed by a falling toilet seat from Mir, and her similarly undead colleagues. A shop-worker sent on missions by inanimate objects with faces. A man who can bring life from death with a touch, but who can never touch the love of his life. The protagonists of Fuller's previous series are all outsiders with secrets that separate them from friends, family and normal lives. But it goes farther than the main characters. Dolores has nothing in her life except for her cat, Murray. Reggie is obsessed with her sister's death and steals toilet seats to build a shrine. Chuck is the Dead Girl who can never contact her mentally fragile aunts. Emerson is a hard-nosed PI fascinated by pop-up books. Sharon is an emotionally uptight immigration lawyer, who can't tell her parents she's gay. Eric stayed in Niagara after his wife cheated during their honeymoon, living in the stockroom of The Barrel and ignoring his “ringing ass”.
If anyone can take Lily, Herman et al and make them believable, complex, sympathetic characters, it's Bryan Fuller.
Inventive use of non-human characters
The original Munsters TV show featured a number of non-human characters, including the Raven in the cuckoo clock, Grandpa's bat, Igor, and Eddie's pet dragon, Spot. While we don't know if any of these characters will make the transition, it shouldn't be a cause for concern. Every episode of Wonderfalls featured at least one Muse – an inanimate object in the form of an animal which speaks to Jaye and gives her cryptic missions. The Muses, including Wax Lion, Brass Monkey and Barrel Bear, are all individual characters with different personalities and approaches to convincing Jaye to obey them.
The most disturbing presence in Dead Like Me is not the Reapers, but rather the Gravelings. These malevolent creatures, invisible to the living, are the agents of human deaths. Although they don't speak, they're a tangible threat and, particularly when we learn more about their origins, terrifying.
You may think that shows created by a certain Mr Whedon rule witty dialogue. I'd have a good go at convincing you otherwise. If nothing else, Bryan Fuller shows rule inappropriately hilarious dialogue:
Jaye Tyler: maybe she's just a lazy whore. That happens, right? They can't all have hearts of gold and good work ethics.
Dolores Herbig: You know, when you are young like you are, Millie, it's easy. Man, woman, bottom, top... sex is a big buffet and you are just a fat man with a fork. But, as you get older, it's harder to get a fork.
Daisy Adair: If Romeo had just masturbated a couple of times a week he would have saved both those nice families a heap of trouble.
Lines like that from the mouths of Eddie Izzard and Portia de Rossi? Count me in.
Balancing Comedy and Drama
Both the original version of The Munsters and its revival were half hour sitcoms. Mockingbird Lane will be an hour long drama. Or rather, a comedy drama. In Pushing Daisies, Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls, Fuller has proven himself to be a master of this genre. His handling of life and death themes, kept light and funny while not diminishing emotional resonance, is key to the success of all three shows. Mockingbird Lane must be funny, but it must not be cheesy. Lame jokes and a laugh track will not work. There must be careful balancing of the grotesque and the ridiculous. The inventive deaths in both Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies show that Fuller is more than capable of that.
So, Fuller has all the skills needed to make Mockingbird Lane good. The challenge now is to make it palatable to a mass audience. None of the three previous shows made it past two seasons. While all have passionate, dedicated fanbases, they're definitely niche. The Munsters is mass-market. The studio will be expecting mass-market success. Despite the caveat I gave at the beginning of this article, I'm cautiously optimistic that Fuller, with equally valuable input from Singer, can make a go of this. I hope you'll join me on the sofa.