It has its own stormy weather and fire-breathing housepet named Spot, but the mansion at 1313 Mockingbird Heights is otherwise like any other American sitcom home. This is the address of the Munsters, the family that for two seasons, 1964-66, found a permanent place in pop culture--if not "monster" success. Developed by Leave It to Beaver team Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, the series was a standard sitcom (complete with the same awful canned laughter), except that the Ward Cleaver character was a reanimated corpse.
Dad Herman (Fred Gwynne) was a Frankenstein's monster, mom Lily (Yvonne DeCarlo) and Grandpa (Al Lewis) were vampires, and son Eddie (Butch Patrick) a little wolf-boy. Munster niece Marilyn was inexplicably normal, which prompted much worry from the other members of the family (she was played in early episodes by Beverly Owen, who left to get married, and then by Pat Priest). The plots revolve around typically tortured sitcom situations: Herman must lose weight to fit into his old Army uniform, Herman has insomnia, Herman takes dance lessons from a crooked instructor. (As that list would suggest, 6'5" Fred Gwynne's wonderfully agile slapstick and Borscht Belt comedy made him the center of the show.) What distinguished The Munsters from Father Knows Best was the Universal horror-movie lineage and the ghoulish one-liners (the latter growing a bit tedious after a while). The three-disc DVD has all 38 first-season episodes in excellent transfers, a 15-minute pilot with different actors as Lily and Eddie, and no extras or commentaries. High points include "Hot Rod Herman," which features the tricked-out Munster Koach and Drag-u-la (boss wagons both), and "Eddie's Nickname," the one where Grandpa gives Eddie a potion that causes the boy's beard to grow (a weirdly memorable image, if you're a kid). The show was either pure kiddie farce or a radical comment on the absurdly unreal world of sitcoms. Either way, if you grew up with them as an alternate TV family, you can't help but have warm feelings for the Munsters, as clammy as they are. --Robert Horton
The second and final season of The Munsters seamlessly carries on the sardonic picture of family life painted in the monster-comedy's first year. Family head Herman Munster (Fred Gwynne) continues to vacillate between thick-headedness and intellectual posturing. His wife, Lily (Yvonne DeCarol), has her feet on the ground, even if her daughter-of-Dracula looks skew her idea of beauty and grace. Grandpa (Al Lewis), the irascible vampire, spends his time concocting mad inventions and criticizing Herman. Young Eddie (Butch Patrick) goes to school and acts like any other kid except, well, he isn't. And lovely Marilyn (Pat Priest) is still stuck with low self-esteem, convinced by her Uncle Herman, Aunt Lily and Grandpa that she's an unattractive woman who scares away potential suitors. In the opening episode, "Herman's Child Psychology," Herman disastrously attempts to convince Eddie not to run away from home by acting as if his son's behavior is no big deal. The very funny "Herman, the Master Spy" finds the big man taken aboard a Russian submarine, where the undersea comrades assume he must be some sort of strange fish. "A Man for Marilyn" concerns Grandpa's ridiculous effort to turn a frog into a handsome boyfriend for Marilyn, an experiment he assumes must have worked when a good-looking guy turns up at the Munster home. (The fellow is there because he assumes Marilyn is being held against her will by monsters.) "Big Heap Herman" is a particularly silly but enjoyable story about an Indian tribe that has been awaiting the arrival of a god who looks, of course, like Herman.
Along with seasons one and two on The Munsters: The Complete Series are a couple of post-TV series, theatrical movies of differing quality. In Munster, Go Home, Herman discovers he's the new lord of Munster Hall in England. Crossing the Atlantic with his family to claim his inheritance, Herman is met with hostility by the would-be heirs (played by Terry-Thomas and Hermione Gingold) and a plot to eliminate him from a car race. While the film takes something away from The Munsters by placing them in foreign territory, Munster, Go Home is still a lot of fun. Less so is the cheap-looking The Munsters' Revenge, a 1981 potboiler in which Herman and Grandpa are charged with crimes committed by robot monsters from a wax museum. Hard to watch and kind of greasy-looking, Revenge is instantly forgettable, even with Sid Caesar's participation. --Tom Keogh