The Complete Series (1964-1966) (Universal-2008)
Over four decades since it first went off the air, The Munsters remains alive in all of its monstrous splendor in a little nook known as syndication heaven. A newly released collection The Munsters – The Complete Series culls all 70 episodes of the classic 60s show. Watching these episodes again, one is struck by how well the show stands up over 40 years on. Based around the simple premise of a family of misfit monsters – patriarchs Herman and Lily Munster, son Eddie, niece Marilyn (the “black sheep” of the family) and their wacky, Vampire Grandfather, known affectionately as Grandpa – the show boasts well-written scripts that trade on smart one liners, sight gags and gallows humor. The episodes humorously trace how this first family of fright interact with normal society.
Despite their ghoulish appearance, which sets them apart from the rest of society, the plot lines for all of the shows remain strikingly similar to other well received sitcoms, mining such quintessential family fare formulated on 50’s classics like Father Knows Best and The Donna Reed Show. Only this time, the “safe as milk”, well-mannered bunch live in a spooky house complete with a working lab in the basement, a talking raven, and a fire-breathing pet dinosaur (Spot) who lives under the stairs. Besides those anomalies, the Munster clan, unlike their TV competitors, The Addams Family, weren’t creepy or kooky, but were a pretty wholesome bunch.
What truly makes the show work and endure all these years later is the exceptional cast, particularly the genius comedic pairing of Fred Gwynne (Herman) and Al Lewis (Grandpa). They’re simply one of those picture-perfect comedy duos, reminding viewers of other legendary comedy partners – Abbott & Costello and Laurel & Hardy. Gwynne and Lewis’ effortless rapport and chemistry was already in place when both inked to join the cast of The Munsters; just prior, they worked together on another successful TV sitcom, Car 54, Where Are You? Silver screen beauty Yvonne DeCarlo is also a delight, disproving those critics who back in 1964 speculated she was way out of her element. Her impeccable portrayal of the protective mom, Lily would serve as the role of a career.
Cherry picking some of the show’s finest moments is difficult, but there are a select few that are particular standouts. Season One’s “Far Out Munsters” finds the popular ’60s rock band The Standells stopping by the funky Munster pad on 1313 Mockingbird Lane to take part in wild house party. The music created at this crazy shebang blends The Standells’ terrific rendition of The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and a catchy Farfisa organ powered self-penned ditty, “Do the Ringo” juxtaposed with Lily’s faithful harp driven rendition of a Negro spiritual and Herman’s hilarious extemporaneous beatnik poetry. “Will Success Spoil Herman Munster?”, a second season episode, finds Herman as a newfound rock and roll star, regaling fans with his catchy acoustic guitar interpretation of the folk-rock standard, “Dry Bones.” His fall from grace at the hands of a muffin is unmissable. One of the show’s final episodes, “Zombo,” is among the most effective and hilarious. Guest starring comedy great Louie Nye as a monstrous TV star who hosts his own daily kid’s show, the climactic scene which depicts a vengeful Eddie Munster destroying the television studio where Zombo taped his show and revealing to his adoring kiddie audience that Zombo is not a real monster but a fake, still packs some huge gut-busting laughs.
Adding to the show’s allure, watching these episodes you’ll notice a string of memorable guest stars including Paul Lynde as an eccentric and half-blind psychiatrist, horror legend John Carradine as Herman’s undertaker boss, Dom DeLuise and future Lost in Space star Bill Mumy who delivers as a wise crackin’ ne’er-do-well in “Come Back, Little Googie.”
Culling hours of bonus features including four documentaries (America’s First Family of Fright, Fred Gwynne: More Than a Munster, Yvonne DeCarlo: Gilded Lily and Al Lewis: Forever Grandpa), the “Family Portrait” episode in full color and the two feature films, Munster, Go Home and The Munsters’ Revenge, The Munsters – The Complete Series is an extraordinary snapshot of a classic television show, which is well worth repeated visits here and in the hereafter.
Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: September 30, 2008.