Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Munsters or The Addams Family?

With Halloween approaching it seemed an appropriate time to revive an age-old pop culture debate – one that rivals “Ginger or Mary Ann?”, “McDonald’s or Burger King?” or, if you’re really old school, “Quisp or Quake?”

Two horror-inspired sitcoms debuted in the same week in 1964 – The Munsters and The Addams Family. And both ended their runs within the same week in 1966, only to begin a thriving afterlife in syndication. But for whatever reason, there has never been a lot of crossover within their respective fanbases. Classic TV lovers are either Team Herman or Team Gomez.

For me it’s always been an easy choice. I’m in the Addams camp. From the pedigree of the characters (based on the sly New Yorker cartoons of Charles Addams) to the casting and the subversive nature of the stories, The Addams Family seems superior in every respect to the more slapstick-based, sillier Munsters.

Both shows had killer theme songs. The idea to use a surf-rock tune for The Munsters was genius. But even here the insanely catchy, finger-snapping classic written for The Addams Family by composer Vic Mizzy rates the edge. 

The Munsters concept ­– a family sitcom comprised of Universal horror movie creatures  – was unique but hardly groundbreaking. Universal had already exploited the humor in its monsters in a classic Abbott & Costello film. And once the premise was set they never transcended it. Sure, the show was still funny – Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis knew how to deliver a punch line – but it’s not a series I revisit very often.

Where the Munsters most often acted like a typical American family despite their creature features appearance, the Addams Family was proudly non-conformist. They perceived beauty in ugliness, a saintly virtue, not to mention a possible explanation for most reality television. They were a close, polite and loving family that faced the world on its own terms, with open hearts and an optimistic outlook.

These attributes were most noticeable when someone from the community paid a visit to the Addams home. After cowering from Lurch, stepping on the growling bearskin rug, or watching Thing emerge from his box, a guest would typically run screaming from the premises. But rather than feel offended, Gomez would typically respond with, “Poor fellow, must not have been feeling well.”

The message – if one chooses to look for one in a show like this – was to live your life the way you wish, and respect the rights of others to do the same. 

Setting social commentary side, the show was also funnier than The Munsters, at least to my sometimes-warped sense of humor. Whether it was Gomez blowing up toy trains with a maniacal grin, or turning into a lust-crazed lothario when Morticia speaks French, Lurch’s all-purpose “Uggghggh” lament (Gomez once asked him what he meant by that, and Lurch replied, “Just Uggghggh”), Morticia’s gardening, Pugsley’s pets, or any appearance by Cousin Itt, the show seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of running jokes and sight gags.

That and perfect casting went a long way toward elevating scripts that were formulaic but serviceable. There were no standout classic episodes, but none that weren’t watchable either.

The Addams Family also had a more successful post-series legacy, inspiring two feature films that didn’t damage the brand, a Broadway musical and an awesome pinball machine. There was also a 1998 television revival that few remember, and with good reason. 

A Munsters revival was launched this year, under the title Mockingbird Lane, but it appears to have stalled out of the gate. The pilot will air as a Halloween special on October 26 on NBC. It may be creepy and kooky, but I do not expect it will be altogether ooky.

Opposing viewpoints from Munsters loyalists are always welcome.


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  2. The Munsters was fun, but I also prefer the Addams Family. It was gothic, satirical, and absurd. Instead of movie monsters trying to act like a regular sitcom family, the Addams were mortal humans and proudly weird. Despite their strangeness and non-comfortity, they were often more genuine and loving than the people around them. Morticia once said, "Every day is a party with us."