Poor Bryan Fuller. The talented producer seems doomed to come up with innovative show ideas that bomb big-time on the networks, and his latest experience on US network NBC is a particularly harsh illustration. After spending ten million dollars developing the pilot for Mockingbird Lane, a reimagining of The Munsters, it looks likely the network won’t be picking up the show for series. A costly loss for NBC as well as Fuller, and potentially a bad sign for his future, for no one likes a producer who spends big and delivers small.
I’ve always been a big Fuller fan, one of the apparently small loyal core of people who love his work and can’t get enough of it. In shows like Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies, and Wonderfalls, he showcased his slightly macabre sense of humour, and had the chance to develop a strong production team that’s stuck with him. His shows all have a specific look and feel that brands them as distinctly Fuller projects, especially in the cause of Pushing Daisies, Wonderfalls, and now Mockingbird Lane. Luscious sets and costumes, rich use of colour, hypersaturated film, and more conspire to take you into a television dreamland that’s become Fuller’s signature.
With Mockingbird Lane, he took on the 60s classic, and appears to have fallen flat on his face. Fuller’s work tends to be expensive and risky, and the fact that his shows fail to capture the desired ratings is going to make it harder for him to find a network willing to take a chance on him, which is a huge pity. His work is amazing; fresh, creative, and fun, as well as markedly different from the standard offerings on television. It’s sad that audiences and networks alike don’t seem to want to take a chance with it. Networks often fail to give him the support he needs, while audiences seem to be reluctant to pick up his shows.
His style suits itself particularly well to the small screen, which would make the common solution of crossing over into film somewhat tricky for Fuller. What might seem precious, stagy, and overwrought in a movie seems to work for television, where an hour of whimsy, sharp dialogue, and sweet romance comes across as delightful rather than sappy. Fuller’s trademark style was in full flower on Mockingbird Lane and it’s a pity we aren’t likely to see more of the show. I hope it doesn’t also spell the end of Fuller productions.
NBC did make some fatal mistakes with the show, which is surprising, given how much it invested in its development and production. It paired it with Grimm on Friday night, which might not have been the best choice; Friday nights are rough, especially for premieres, particularly on a weekend when people are likely to be out partying, as was the case with many US viewers on the weekend before Halloween. And two whimsical supernatural shows back to back might be a bit much to swallow; viewers need some degree of separation between Grimm and Mockingbird Lane.
And this might be a world that isn’t really in the mood for a Munsters homage. The original series was a send-up and a mashup of the sitcoms and monster films of the day, playing with the idea of a mostly ordinary family that just happened to contain benevolent (mostly) monsters. 50 years later, the nuclear family is an abstract concept for many viewers, and so is the sweet, nostalgic view of the world encapsulated in 1960s sitcoms. We’ve moved on from Leave it to Beaver.
Fuller’s work itself is already a homage, in many ways, to a rose-tinted memory of the 1960s. Much of his work is highly nostalgic, right down to the cars and the sets, creating an artificial version of the era where everyone wears fresh frocks, drives sweet cars, and lives in racial and social harmony. Mockingbird Lane may be a tad too nostalgic for viewers to handle, and many may not quite get what is being referenced with the show, either. Monster movies now are a far cry from those of the 1960s, and not just because of the gore. They are decidedly harder-edged, and their darkness is not something that translates well to Mockingbird Lane. Our view of monsters has also changed; who need Eddie when you have Jacob? Grandpa when you’ve got Voledemort?
It didn’t help that the pilot wasn’t quite as on-point as it could have been; it was draggy in some parts, and wasn’t quite as crisply tied-together as one might like. As is often the case with pilots, it was experimental, feeling out the characters and the setting to decide how to push the show, and with a budget like that and an impatient network, the somewhat rough around the edges nature didn’t help to boost confidence.
Some reviewers felt the show lacked sparkle, coming up a bit flat and failing to capture their attention. It may be possible that Fuller’s style has become too gimmicky for some people to tolerate, including those who may have been previous fans. Or that Mockingbird Lane simply suffers from being an adaptation coming to the wrong place at the wrong time; perhaps audiences are not in the mood for the sweetly macabre, the artfully gruesome, and the innocently vicious.