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The Munsters

Saturday, 4 December, 2010

This isn’t as well thought out as it might be.

For a very long time, and I am not alone in this, I have envisioned a modern interpretation of one of the most durable examples of an American art form.

That is, a new version of Universal’s definitively classic situation comedies, The Munsters.

For those of you who, somehow, do not know The Munsters was a sitcom based on the premise of a family of Transylvanian-descended monsters, based on the models of the classic Universal monsters, living in an essentially generic American small town, Mockingbird Heights, presumably within commuting distance of Los Angeles. Unlike the contemporary The  Addams Family, the Munster clan largely presumed they were entirely normal and practical, despite their horror-film derived personal aesthetics. The program featured actors Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis, thereafter known as “Grandpa Al” Lewis, in their defining roles. Following the first-run on CBS, the show was broadcast through syndication for at least forty years. Your humble narrator cannot find a comprehensive list of languages that the show has been translated and dubbed, but this would be considerable. 

Gwynne explicitly forbade discussion of his Munsters character in interviews. Apparently Gwynne considered his most fondly remembered work as beneath an actor of his considerable experience. Late in life, he reconsidered, and during the first few years of the twenty-first century, embraced the fondness many Americans held for the patriarch of the Munster household.

The essence of the humor was a stable but eccentric, blue-collar family finding acceptance, or often enough not finding acceptance, within a “normal” community of people. I believe the time has come for a new interpretation of this very theme. Although television my not yet be ready for a sitcom about parents in a gay relationship or of a blatantly non-Christian religious tradition, a new version of The Munsters could act as a proxy for these very themes, among others.

In practice the new Munsters would be a one-camera situation comedy like the original program with a few essential changes to bring the concept up to date.

  • Marilynn, the “normal” member of the family is regressed to high-school age at least for the first series. This gives her more opportunity for social interaction, and allows the character to be more than Lilly’s excuse for exposition. In the new version she is totally mainstream, normal and does very well in school. Her family, however, is considered troubled and outcasts in the community. Eventually, an episode is possible where Marilynn moves out and is compelled to keep her background away from her friends and new neighbors. Allegedly normal Marilynn is in fact in empath, and may evolve into a witch over time.
  • Eddie remains a werewolf but is advanced in age to a young teenager. He no longer sleeps with Woof Woof, although the doll remains in his possession, and is considered something of a nerdy weirdo. A first-season episode deals with nerdy, normal Eddie hitting puberty and coming into full flower as a werewolf.
  • Both Eddie and Marilynn are adoptees. Marilynn is no longer an inexplicable niece. For one thing, this gets a great deal of inconsistency out of the way.
  • Unlike the original series, they have a next-door neighbor who is originally suspicious of them but eventually becomes something of a proxy between the titular family and the “normal” world. I envision Dave Foley or Brian McCann in this role.
  • This next-door neighbor is a single father with his own troubles. His daughter is roughly Marilynn’s age and quickly becomes a proxy best-friend. Although fully mortal and non-monster, she is prone to a “gothic” aesthetic and is more accepting of the Munster clan and their ways than Marilynn.
  • Eddie and Grandpa persistently collaborate on peculiar experiments.
  • The “Munster Mansion” is the only remaining old house in their neighborhood. The neighboring homes are modern and much smaller.

Just by dialing it in to the current era, The Munsters could become an interesting, relevant and fully modern situation comedy. Of course, I imagine actor Brad Garrett in the role he was born to play.

One Comment
  1. Graeme permalink
    Saturday, 4 December, 2010 20:30

    I don’t know… This sort of reminds me of Boyd Rice talking about how odd stuff like Mr. Ed & The Munsters could never get on TV today. I think it can & does.

    What’s more, I feel like most everything has been distilled into a lifestyle choice. I could barely explain Green Day to others in my high school, and now they’re doing a fucking Broadway show.

    I hated the punks who came to shows with the blonde girls who were there to hold their leather jackets long before the popular song ‘Skater Boi’ encouraged everyone to think about all the weirdos as just picking different fashions. Or whatever the point of the song is.

    I don’t know… Maybe this is what we need. Maybe it isn’t.

    I’ve stopped hunting for new music, which was basically my raison d’etre in my late teens & early 20s. It played a lesser role through my late 20s & into my 30s, but it was still there in a fairly relentless way. No longer. I like music, but I just care less & less about the signals, the references, the poses, and the nonsense. I’ve been listening to Stanford & Yale history lectures on the Revolution & the Civil War, and it’s apparent that 200 years really is no time at all. While the pace of change continues to accelerate, the human animal is still designed for the world of 2000 years ago, despite accumulating so many layers of fat around our American organs.

    The same battles are still being fought.

    I did watch The Munsters when I was a kid, but I did so to avoid doing homework.

    I don’t know. I don’t know what this culture needs. Between you & Tom Wynn (not sure if you know him from Louisville – he’s in New Albany), maybe you could come up with just the right thing to sell sell sell Americans on some radical ideas.

    I don’t know. What I do know is this: Americans love a winner. If you can come up with gay, alienated monsters who win & fucking give sermons about how they did it that sound sexy & fun, maybe it will work. But they have to fucking WIN, and preferably they win MONEY. As god continues to die, Money is the only thing the Americans can (mostly) agree on.

    I am probably not really in the right frame of mind to constructively comment on this post now, because I am so frustrated by the insanity of this country. Perhaps more later?


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