“The Munsters” in All of Us

The "Mockingbird Lane" Halloween special set to air Friday marks the latest sign of the first family of comic horror’s enduring, pale-handed grip on the popular culture.

This month's vice presidential debate sparked almost instant snark likening Paul Ryan and his widow’s peak to Eddie Munster – which in turn spurred quips comparing Joe Biden to blustery Grandpa Munster.

Much of this irreverent debate commentary transpired on Twitter, whose debut in 2006 came a couple months after the 40th anniversary of the end of "The Munsters."

The meme-friendly silliness marked another example of how many use pop culture and the Internet to process serious events. But it also showed that all these years later, a short-lived, black-and-white sitcom about a family of ghouls still has a gentle, pale-handed grip on us. Now Herman, Lily, Grandpa, Eddie and Marilyn are set to return in highly-stylized, reimagined versions Friday in an NBC Halloween special called "Mockingbird Lane" – more evidence there’s still a little "Munsters" in all of us.

The campy original show, with its classic spooky surf-guitar theme song, debuted in 1964, just days after the arrival of "The Addams Family." While the Addamses were free-spirited eccentrics, the Munsters were far more relatable: an oddball family trying to fit in. Herman, after all, took a (giant) lunch box to work (at a funeral home), while his bride of Frankenstein, Lily, stayed at 1313 Mockingbird Lane, keeping their household – and one very large house pet named Spot – in check.

Their stab at normality goes to the heart of the family’s enduring appeal and pop culture influence. Sure, "The Addams Family" inspired two fun 1990s movies and a recent Broadway musical. But Herman Munster’s size-26C footprints were followed by a line of shows in which outsiders’ attempts at conformity are played for laughs, from “Mork & Mindy” to "3rd Rock From the Sun" to "The Neighbors."

In "Mockingbird Lane," the Munsters appear somewhat more conventional than their predecessors, at least on the surface. 

Fred Gwynne's neck bolts have given away to Jerry O'Connell's neck stitches that make him look like a victim of bad plastic surgery. Grandpa has gone from Al Lewis' Borscht Belt comic in a Dracula costume to Eddie Izzard's fiendishly suave collector of body parts. Eddie, who sports a mop top, doesn't have to worry about being made fun of for a widow’s peak. But the onset of puberty is about to kick-start his new nightlife as a werewolf.

The plot, according to the online synopsis, revolves around Grandpa's search for a new heart for an ailing Herman – a premise that promises some Gothic comic relief in the age of "The Walking Dead" and “American Horror Story.”
The show marks a collaboration between Bryan Fuller, of “Pushing Daisies” fame, and Bryan Singer, who directed the “X-Men,” based on a comic about mutant misfits that debuted a year before “The Munsters” hit TV.  Check out a preview of Friday’s return of TV’s first family of comic horror:

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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