The Munsters – Come Home

Sorry to have been away so long – its been a busy year with major changes going on. But I am back now and ready to talk about a show that I wish would also return.

The Munsters started life in 1964, and although it only lasted a short time before cancellation, it proved a success in syndication, which ensured its longevity. I remember seeing it both as a youth in the 1960s, when it was shown on the BBC and, in later life, as a student, when it was shown on Channel Four, in those early days when it recycled a lot of old cult shows… The Human Jungle was another great example that I might talk about in the near future.

The series is a sitcom about a family who find themselves caught up in comic situations on a weekly basis but, unlike other family comedies, this family was made up of monsters. Dad (Herman) looks like Frankenstein’s monster, recreating Jack Pierce’s classic make up from the Universal classics; Mum (Lily) is a vampiric female, with a ghoulishly pale face and a white streak through her long black hair, like Elsa Lanchesters’s bride of Frankenstein. Grandpa looks like Bela Lugosi’s Count Dracula, and Herman and Lily’s son (Eddie) takes after Grandpa, even to the extent of featuring a widow’s peak. Only daughter Marilyn breaks from type, and is supposed to be a glamorous and attractive young woman, but she is the figure for whom the rest of the family feel sorry. They see her as an ‘ugly duckling’, and Herman often comments sadly on her ‘plain’ looks.

Of course, the central joke is that while they view themselves as normal and Marilyn as strange, the rest of the world sees things the other way around and continually misread the family, such misreadings being the root of many storylines. In this way, the series is a fish-out-of-water comedy that shares more in common with The Beverley Hillbillies than with The Addams Family, both of which were running at the same time. And I should add that while I love The Munsters, I was never very fond of either The Beverley Hillbillies or The Addams Family, although I did love the film versions with Christina Ricci.

But whatever the neighbors think, our sympathies are clearly with the Munster family, who are lovable and good-hearted, while the figures of ‘normality’ within the show are often presented as small-minded or mean-spirited. Indeed, if ‘normality’ is a problem, and the monster is sympathetic, the show can be seen as a response to the discourses of conformity within the period, and the family are not only associated with working class but also ethnic identity, at a time when conformity was about the celebration of middle class affluence and ethnic groups were being encouraged to assimilate. Herman not only has the body of a manual laborer but carries a lunch box to work each morning, while Grandpa is played by Jewish comedian Al Lewis. Similarly, Lily is played by Yvonne de Carlo, who, as her stage-name suggests, was associated with a rather non-specific notion of ethnic and exotic femininity.

Anyhow, what I want to know is this: if The Addams Family (and seemingly everything else) can have a film series reboot, why can’t The Munsters. It seem high time that The Munsters came home.

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