For me this is no contest. The Munsters win hands down. (I do have a fondness for Thing.) The Addams Family was a one-trick pony. No doubt due to Charles Addam’s one panel cartoons in the New Yorker. The punchline is always the same, we’re the opposite family. If fresh red roses are the norm, we like dead roses with the blooms cut off. If children should go to bed at 9 ‘o’clock ours stay up all night. Yadda yadda. And yet, Morticia is a hottie (at least in the TV show). Here the Munsters were more consistent (and clever) in their opposition to norms. The perky Marilyn Munster was considered unfortunate looking.
Don’t get me wrong there would be no Munsters without the Addams family. Charles Addam’s cartoon cemented the idea. He’s the pioneer. It’s just that their macabre, deadpan humor was one note. They were satirical in an old-fashion way, where the Munsters were spoofing not only the American family, but more importantly, other sitcoms. Supposedly the Munster’s credits are a parody of the credits from the Donna Reed show. In fact some of the same people behind Leave it to Beaver created The Munsters. (Leave it to Beaver is remembered as 50’s idealism, but it’s surprising subversive. i.e Eddie Haskell.)
I recently read an essay arguing why the Addam’s family was superior. The author cited their films as the primary evidence of their lasting cultural value. (He must have written this before, Addam’s Family: The Musical.) Something that can be easily reproduced again, and again is not necessarily better art, but better commerce. There have been at least two attempts to bring back the Munsters, both miserable failures. Maybe the true genius of the Munsters was the show’s casting. There will never be another Fred Gwynne. You can duplicate Gomez, and Morticia. (Hot goth chic’s are a dime a dozen in show bidness.) But Fred Gwynne is un-duplicatable. He anchors the show. Yvonne Decarlo as Lily is wonderful too. Everyone is spot on (Oh, Spot under the stairs, too) except for Marilyn. Again, hot girls…yadda, yadda, yadda.
*As a curious side note, some claim Herman Munster was the first gay monster. (I’m serious. Google it.)
A Premature Happy Halloween,
The Kitsch Witch