Thoughts on “The Munsters”

So, another half-hour show, like “Gilligan’s Island”.  And like that show, it strives to be decidedly silly and manages to be fun because of it.

The basic premise is that there is a family of horror monsters living in a typical suburban neighbourhood, and the show follows them as they try to fit in and shows how their neighbours and society at large reacts to them.  Yes, this is very similar to “The Addams Family”, and the original wife character was replaced from the pilot because they felt that she was too close to Morticia Addams, even though the two series ran at much the same time.  Here, what we have is the jovial, good-natured and a bit childish Frankenstein’s Monster father, with a vampire — green-skinned vampire — wife and father-in-law, werewolf child and perfectly normal human being niece Marilyn.  The humour comes from the fact that they consider themselves perfectly normal, and so Marilyn’s main trait in the series is that despite the fact that she’s incredibly attractive, she is considered to have plain or even horrific looks by everyone else — including herself — and they despair at her ever being able to find a husband because of that, which seems to be borne out by the fact that she simply cannot keep a boyfriend, as they keep running off and breaking up with her.  Of course, they pretty much only do that once they meet the family, and so it’s actually their horrible looks that scare them off, but all of them are convinced that the problem is with her.  This is all a consequence of the fact that they consider the monstrous members of the family the normal ones and her abnormal.

At any rate, I had never watched this series before, but had watched “The Addams Family” when it ran in syndication on one of my channels for a while, and I think that “The Addams Family” did it better.  Putting aside the comments that “The Munsters” were the more working-class family while “The Addams Family” reflected a well-to-do family, the key I think is that a lot of the humour here comes from them being monsters and not from their own desires and interests.  “The Addams Family” was creepy because they were or could have been relatively normal, but their tastes and view of the world creeped everyone out.  While “The Munsters” had those attitudes as well, much of the time, especially in the first season, people were scared of them just for being monster-types, which seemed a bit unfair but, mostly importantly, wasn’t all that interesting.  It’s not great comedy to have someone look at a monster and be scared of it, but much better comedy to have someone be scared because of an off-hand creepy comment that it is clear the speaker thinks is perfectly normal and reasonable.  Almost all of the humour in “The Addams Family” was that type of humour, while it’s not as dominant in “The Munsters”.

This also causes a problem for Lily, mostly because the show was filmed in black and white.  The big thing that made her look strange and scary was the fact that she had green skin.  The problem is that in black and white we can’t tell that her skin is green, and so it just looks really pale.  So to us she’s mostly a strangely dressed but attractive woman, while the show presents her as being incredibly frightening and off-putting, which we never see.  In later episodes the show calls out her skin colour more, but visually it just doesn’t work and so always seems like an overreaction on the part of the people who come across her.

There’s also a lot of high jinks in the series, mostly because Herman, the father, is good-natured and also a bit clumsy and dim, which results in his getting into a number of strange situations that frustrates Lily, his wife.  I liked these a lot better when the problems followed from his good nature combined with his monstrous appearance instead of when it followed from him being stupid.  The reason for this is that Lily’s reactions can be a bit over-the-top, and when it follows from his stupidity it can seem like the show wants us to agree with her, which we can’t quite do (given his good nature) while when it follows from his good nature we can see that it is unfair but also don’t feel like the show wants us to think of it as being fair.  Lily’s overreacting because she sees it as either stupidity or, in the case of the jealousy plots, malice, but we can clearly see that it isn’t that.  This lets them both be wrong and so when they reunite at the end of the episode we can feel good about both of them realizing their mistakes … until the next episode, of course.

In addition to the two seasons of episodes, the pack I bought also included two movies:  “Munster, Go Home!” and “The Munsters’ Revenge”.  These weren’t as good as the episodes.  “Munster, Go Home!” is basically a nostalgia run built around a thin plot of Herman inheriting a Lordship in England.  They repeat a number of jokes from the series and contrive a madcap adventure like you would have seen there — ramped up a bit because they had a bigger budget — and that might have been incredibly appealing to those who missed the series after it went off the air, but as someone who had literally just watched those episodes at most a week before that was lost, and so it was simply a longer and more contrived episode.  “The Munsters’ Revenge” is at least different, but it builds itself around a comedic adventure starring Herman and Grandpa, which is quite a bit different from the series itself and leaves a limited role for Lily and the son when they were always more involved in the series in most of these things.  Marilyn is also left with little to do but her burgeoning relationship with a detective trying to solve the case and/or arrest the two gives her a little bit more to do.  But the adventure part is contrived and since this is a movie goes on longer than it would in an episode, but there isn’t enough content to do that.

They also take away the one main comedic theme that Marilyn had, by taking away the fact that she can never get a boyfriend.  In “Munster, Go Home”, at the end her prospective beau is still interested in her despite seeing Herman at the end.  This is odd because they spent a lot of time trying to make sure that he didn’t ever see Herman or realize Herman was her uncle, and so it seemed like that entire thread was set-up for that joke at the end.  In “The Munsters’ Revenge”, her beau interacted with the two, and so obviously wouldn’t be scared of them.  While it did seem like an issue for Marilyn’s plot that someone who had met the family or who trusted her enough to meet them would soon discover that they were good people, if a bit weird, and so wouldn’t be put off by them, the fact that this was a comedy let us suspend our disbelief and go with it.  Doing things this way, it doesn’t really leave anything for Marilyn to do or any of her character remaining (other than her reacting, especially in “Munster, Go Home”, on the basis of thinking herself plain).

Ultimately, though, the show is just plain silly, but is definitely trying to be just plain silly.  And because of that, it’s just a lot of fun.  I don’t think I’m as anxious to rewatch it as I would be for “Gilligan’s Island”, but it works for me in pretty much the same way that show does.  So it goes in my closet of shows that I will rewatch again at some point.

4 Responses to “Thoughts on “The Munsters””

  1. Shallow Thoughts on “The Addams Family” and “The Addams Family Values” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] after watching “The Munsters”, I was reminded of their counterpart,”The Addams Family”.  I don’t have access […]

  2. Thoughts on “Mad About You” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] for them to go with the relatively common idea of making him flaky and his wife long-suffering (as we saw in “The Munsters”).  Instead, the show rather bravely makes them both a bit flaky, in their own ways.  This really […]

  3. Accomplishments Update | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] working out really well.  I finished “Gilligan’s Island”, and then moved on to “The Munsters”, “Mad About You”, “That 70s Show”, and “Tales From the […]

  4. Thoughts on “The Addams Family” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] after watching “The Munsters” and struggling part-way through “Tales From the Darkside”, I decided to limit the […]

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