Friday, August 20, 2010

Addams family

In My Fair Thing, Mark Evanier wrote, "Broadway will soon see an Addams Family musical based on...well, they'll probably make a big deal of it being based on the classic cartoons of Charles Addams. But when you call it The Addams Family and you have characters named Gomez and Morticia and Uncle Fester, as they will, you're really doing the TV show based on the classic cartoons of Charles Addams."

He was, of course, correct. The Addams Family, the musical production, did indeed pretend rather disingenuously to be based on the single panel comics by Charles Addams rather than the classic The Addams Family television series.

Of course, despite the seemingly perfect casting of the always delightful Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth, all word of the musical, including any description of the story, sound absolutely atrocious. It would seem that if one took writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice at their word could assume that the original cartoons were awful.

And now the news Tim Burton Reunites With Ed Wood Scribes For Addams Family And Big Eyes by Mike Fleming, and once again the old trope comes back.

Mind you, reuniting with Ed Wood writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski is the most promising Tim Burton news I've heard in over a decade, so I don't want to come down as against the project.

Before I get to far into this, let me note that Karaszewski, another of my favorite Trailers From Hell gurus, name checks the original Addams cartoons, which I have no doubt genuinely did influence Burton and which are indeed genuinely brilliant, but says nothing to dismiss the television series here.

But I'd like to ask, when the hell did people decide the television series isn't one of the highlights of television history? I guess I understand that basing a movie or a Broadway musical off a television series in general seems downscale, while basing it on a series of dark, cult favorite comics that ran in the New Yorker sounds "cool".

Let's be honest here, though, at this point, most people's love of the concept, and even of the cartoons themselves, grows from a familiarity with the television series and elements that were created specifically for or at least fleshed out by the series. To one extent or another, the hope here is to draw in and take cash from people based on their warm feelings for the characters that were developed on the television series, and it seems unlikely that they won't, like previous versions, utilize the familiar and beloved concepts developed on the television series.

I wish Burton and company well. I'd like to see this turn out as funny and dark and charming as both the original cartoons and the television series were. I'd like to see this be Burton's best movie since Ed Wood.

But I also hope they won't join the long pattern of casual dismissal of the television series that so many of us grew up with and love. I think all of us deserve a little more respect for our taste, especially if you want us to pay to see your work.

Besides, John Astin is still cooler than you!

UPDATE: The comment I received from Karaszewski is, "To set the record straight: I love the TV show!"

That's wonderful to hear outright. Thank you! I'm sorry if any of this came across as an accusation.


Greg said...

No Gomez was ever better than John Astin, and by that I mean the single panel comic form as well. Others, like Raul Julia, may be great actors but John Astin was simply brilliant as Gomez.

Also, everything above repeat for Jackie Coogan and Carolyn Jones and their respective characters.

Neil Sarver said...

I agree regarding Astin and Gomez! That's probably why I singled him out.

I think the original cartoon Gomez is a bit of a non-entity compared to the others, who do seem to have the beginnings of a personality in the cartoons.

And no doubt, Jones and Coogan are also wonderful on the series. It was a great, dark, funny, perfectly cast series. I've loved it practically as long as I can remember and my love and respect for what they pulled off only grows as times goes on.

I remember it being "cool" to like it. I feel disappointed to see it become "cool" to dismiss it. I'd like to see it get the respect it deserves.

Greg said...

I remember years ago, when the movies came out, arguing with this girl who went on and on about how the movie would be based on the comics, not the tv show (even though they clearly tipped their hat to the show musically and otherwise). I asked her to defend the comic over the show based on using the Astin, Coogan and Jones portrayals as counterpoints. I also went on about how the show was obviously ALSO BASED ON THE COMIC! And they'd done a fine job. The argument, of course, went nowhere fast. She had no real opinion, she just wanted to seem culturally hipper than anyone else.

Neil Sarver said...

And that's my problem with the whole thing. It's a way to appeal to both lovers of the show and the "culturally hipper" crowd, because those of us who love the show - including those of us who enthusiastically love both the show and the cartoons - will naturally be drawn to the characters anyway.

I don't want to seem like I'm jumping to conclusions with Karaszewski's quote. We're both friends with him on Facebook and he seems like a cool guy, and he's a very talented writer. I'm honestly intrigued by how he and Alexander have found an "approach that nobody has ever done before" to capture the cartoons.

I just hope that they, and Burton, can remember that Astin, Jones and Coogan - all amazingly talented performers - defined those characters for us. There are a long list of qualities we associate with the characters are from the series and not the cartoons.

And, yes, the series was based on the cartoons. Everyone involved were fans of the cartoons. Addams was involved in developing the series, making it forever the only adaptation to be able to claim direct involvement from the creator. Frankly, I think that forever makes it culturally hipper than any other version.

Neil Sarver said...

To keep things clear,elsewhere Karaszewski said, "To set the record straight: I love the TV show!"

I'm very glad to hear it! Not just to know that a lover of the TV show - as well as the cartoons - is working on this, but that he's as cool a guy as I expected.

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