Though it’s somehow not yet greenlit to series, “Mockingbird Lane” is easily the best and funniest pilot I’ve seen this year.
The blueprint for a new hourlong from Bryan Fuller, creator of “Dead Like Me,” “Wonderfalls” and "Pushing Daisies," “Mockingbird Lane” is a lot darker and a lot sharper than “The Munsters,” the series on which it’s based. Also a lot more violent. The big gags in the original 1964 series tended to deal with the genial Herman’s monstrous appearance. The new series is more concerned with the murderous Grandpa’s appetite for his neighbors.
(It’s interesting that Fuller’s other current NBC project, the midseason “Silence of the Lambs” prequel “Hannibal,” also centers on a character who likes to eat the people he kills.)
The strongest scenes deal with the imperious Dracula’s bloodlust and human granddaughter Marilyn’s efforts to maintain a tenuous truce between the vampire and humanity. Grandpa and granddaughter are played by British imports Eddie Izzard (“United States of Tara”) and Charity Wakefield (“The Raven”), and they both far outperform expectations here.
I’m also highly enamored of the Munsters’ mansion’s hilariously appalling history, nearly as grim and grisly as Granmpa’s.
Herman is played with a lot more intelligence and a lot less makeup by Jerry O’Connell. He’s still perhaps best known as the fat kid in “Stand By Me” and as the love interest in many episodes of “Crossing Jordan”; if NBC produces more “Mockingbird,” that’s likely to change. Every time Herman’s reanimated monster heart breaks figuratively, it also breaks literally. Happily there’s a massive zipper embedded in Herman’s chest that makes it easy for Grandpa to effect repairs.
Portia de Rossi makes a far more fetching Lily (wife of Herman; daughter of Dracula) that did Yvonne DeCarlo. (De Rossi is actually closer in hotness to Joan Marshall, who played Jim Kirk’s old love in “Court Martial” and Herman’s wife Phoebe in the original, unaired “Munsters” pilot.) De Rossi has a great scene carefully counseling son Eddie with hints regarding his bloody heritage (and emerging lycanthropy).
Eddie is played by a real find -- “Spy Kids 4” star Mason Cook, who sells his material as few other pre-teens could. (Yes, I’m looking at you, “Walking Dead” regular Chandler Riggs.)
(Fans of “Wonderfalls” and “Daisies” may be excited to learn Beth Grant again seems to be reprising the role of unlucky Marianne Marie Beattle, now the Munsters’ tactless new neighbor.)
Director Bryan Singer (“Apt Pupil,” “X-Men,” “Valkyrie” and the “House” pilot), working with a $10 million budget, nails the comedy and some spectacularly eye-catching CGI to boot. I love the music generally, and Wakefiend’s brief mockingbird serenade in particular.
This is not a lesser Fuller effort. If you perceived the greatness of the first episodes of “Dead Like Me,” “Wonderfalls” and/or “Pushing Daisies,” I highly, highly endorse the drive up.
8 p.m. Friday. NBC.