The Complete Series
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Reviewed by Will Harris
hen it comes to the ghoulish TV families of the 1960s, it’s always been a little bit hipper to say that you prefer “The Addams Family,” but when it comes to numbering off the classic television series of that decade, one should never forget to cite “The Munsters.”
Although the imagination of Charles Addams produced some of the most darkly funny moments of the era, the design of the Munster family had the advantage of being instantly familiar. Thanks to being produced by Universal Studios, the show was able to utilize the studio’s classic monster designs. As such, one of the most genetically implausible families in TV history was born. C’mon, you know what I’m talking about: Gregor Mendel himself couldn’t explain how Frankenstein’s Monster could pair up with a vampire and produce a werewolf. Still, it could’ve been worse. Given how many former Borsch Belt comedians were working in Hollywood at the time, we’re lucky Eddie’s mommy wasn’t a mummy.
Fred Gwynne might have spent many months of his life cursing the typecasting that the role of Herman Munster brought to his career, but he brought such a sweet naiveté to the character that it’s hard not to think of his performance fondly. Similarly, Al Lewis was perfect as the wisecracking Grandpa, but he was more prone to embrace his pigeonholing than Gwynne. Butch Patrick never really got much opportunity to spread his wings as Eddie – the werewolf side of his personality rarely got an opportunity to come out and play – and neither Beverly Owen nor Pat Priest, the actresses who played Marilyn, had a whole lot to do except be the purported black sheep of the Munster clan. As for Yvonne De Carlo, she played harried housewife Lily Munster to perfection, but in the long run, it was her vampiric looks that stood out more than her comedic abilities. In the end, though, it should be no surprise that Gwynne and Lewis were the real stars of the show, given that they’d had several years to perfect their comedic chops while working together on “Car 54, Where Are You?”
The comedy of “The Munsters” came from the family’s insistence that they were normal -- or, at least, relatively normal. Herman worked at a mortuary (and often got rides home in the hearse), Lily stayed at home, Marilyn was in college and Eddie went to school. As for Grandpa, we’re presuming that he was retired -- and at several hundred years of age, we figure he’s earned the right to relax a little. The look of the show was at least as memorable as the writing, what with the Munster family domicile and the completely kick-ass Munstermobile. Speaking of the writing, however (perhaps it’s just an urban legend), it has been said that during the second season of “The Munsters,” creators Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, who were also responsible for bringing “Leave it to Beaver” to TV screens, recycled scripts from that show by simply placing Eddie in Theodore Cleaver’s role. As noted, this may have absolutely no basis in truth, but either way, it is well documented that both Gwynne and Lewis were less than ecstatic with the direction taken by the show in its sophomore year, making it perhaps unsurprising that the show ended after that season.
Though “The Munsters” was certainly not the most substantive series of the ‘60s, it remains plenty memorable. Garage rock fans have long trumpeted the awesomeness of the Standells’ appearance on the show (though what’s perhaps most impressive about it is that Universal ponied up the dough to include their performance of the Beatles’ “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”), and the show’s guest stars over its two seasons feature comedy legends including Paul Lynde, Richard Deacon, Gavin McLeod, Harvey Korman, Don Rickles, Louis Nye and Dom DeLuise. Add up all the parts, and it’s a must-own for any sitcom fanatic.
Special Features: Fans who’ve already bought the Season One and Two sets, as well as the two-fer DVD that contained both the theatrical film, “Munster, Go Home,” and the TV reunion movie, “The Munsters’ Revenge,” will find that there’s only one new item contained in this set: an episode entitled “Family Reunion,” which is in color. Fortunately, Universal has been considerate enough to release that episode independently of this set.
For those who are picking up “The Munsters: The Complete Series” as their first “Munsters” purchase, you can take comfort in knowing that you’ll never need to buy anything else. In addition to the aforementioned items, you will also thrill to the original 15-minute pitch reel for the series. It features different actors in the roles of Eddie and Mrs. Munster (here called Phoebe), as well as four featurettes. The most in-depth is “America’s First Family of Fright,” which is a well-done “Biography” episode about the show. But there are also separate episodes about Gwynne, DeCarlo and Lewis, which are of equal quality. As for the pair of movies, if you’ve never seen “Munster, Go Home,” it’s a lot of fun, if only to see the Munster family in living color; the reunion of “The Munsters’ Revenge,” however, is pretty awful and has lost the only charm that it possessed at the time of its original premiere, which came from getting the old gang back into their make-up.