What’s Better: The Addams Family or The Munsters?
An argument for the ages that’s also no contest
There are age-old arguments lost within the vortex of culture like who’s better, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, who’s the hottest James Bond, or what’s the signature drive-thru burger, the Big Mac or Whopper? These are the cornerstones of conversations at the end of the bar, had over one too many Miller Lites, but also serve as an integral part of our species. One of those other arguments that’s a goth-tinged Pong battle for the ages will forever be: what’s better, The Addams Family or The Munsters?
Both television shows debuted within a week of one another in September of 1964, each lasting two seasons. The Addams Family was the brainchild of Charles Addams, a cartoonist for the New Yorker who first came up with the concept before America had to put the whoop-ass on Germany in the black-and-white era. The Munsters is a Universal Studios product, and we all know they’re responsible for Dracula and Frankenstein. Bob Clampet, another cartoonist, pitched the idea of a goofy monster family back in 1943 as a cartoon, but nothing came from it. Somewhere in the early 60s, someone in Hollywood wanted to reinvigorate the classic lineup of the Universal Monsters on TV (this has been a theme for more than a century) but mix the scary with the wholesome of Donna Reed. Both concepts were floated around to execs during the same time, and as far as the history books go both online and in print, it’s a chicken and egg scenario on which was developed first, with many TV nerds saying the two didn’t influence one another. (It’s the 60s, they might have put a man on the moon, but they didn’t have Slack.)
So, the two iconic shows enter the cultural zeitgeist. Both center around odd families, but while the Munsters leaned into slapstick with big, on-the-nose moments, the Addams Family played into the idea of being strange while holding a moral center. Gomez is endlessly horny over Morticia, while Herman looks at Lily like a hot, blue roommate. The Munsters have Eddie, the Leave it to Beaver-like wolf boy coddled by Grandpa Munster, a mad scientist, and Marilyn, the blonde smokeshow cousin. Pugsly and Wednesday are each psycho: one quiet and innocent while the other totes bear traps and dynamite. While Grandpa Munster might be an interesting sidekick, Uncle Fester is straight bellicose.
By 1966 the shows were off the air. Batman and Hogan’s Heroes had come onto the scene, and when there are two monster family shows, both split the difference and hit the scrap pile. By the 1970s, there were (very bad) attempts at reboots and a few straight-to-video movie releases. It’s where you’d think the bloodline ends, but it doesn’t. The two franchises endure almost 60 years later. These differences make up why the Addams Family is an enduring IP, and The Munsters can’t ever move beyond the original show.
You can argue that the Munsters theme is a cool rockabilly ditty, but it’s not the Addams Family theme, which, even if you’ve never seen the show, you know the song. The Dragula is a hot rod dreamed up by George Barris, who created a bunch of 1960s iconic rides, including the original Batmobile, but that’s where the Munsters only win the battle.
The problem with The Munsters is the characters, and the plot is paper thin. Herman is a working-class monster who bumbles into zany situations, whereas the Addams live in their otherworldly experience of not trying to fit into any social construct. They simply exist on their own axis. The Addams are unapologetically weird because this is how they are without asking the people around them to accept them; they simply don’t care. Meanwhile, the Munsters deeply care about fitting in; even though it’s not an open conversation, it’s obvious.
Consider the basic details of the Munsters vs. Addams houses: the Munsters just live in a house. Though it’s cool-looking, it’s basically just a dark barn. In contrast, the Addams’ home features torture racks, a bed of nails, Morticia’s atrium full of headless flowers, and a cadre of animals like a pet octopus named Aristotle, Cleopatra the African Strangler man-eating plant, Tristan and Isolde the piranhas, Fang the jaguar, Kitty Kat the pet lion, Zelda the pet vulture, and Homer, the spider. Meanwhile, Eddie had a pet dinosaur named Spot you never saw. Also, we haven’t even touched on Thing, a disembodied hand, Lurch, a creepy butler who plays the harpsichord, and Cousin Itt, a walking mop.
In the 1990s, we got not one, but two Addams movies that weren’t sanitized but instead leaned into the weirdness, a tribute to being absolutely grim in the best way possible. These two movies took the blueprint of the original series. They supercharged it with sepia-toned colors, a tongue-in-cheek nod to the grotesque, all while keeping many of Charles Addams’ original drawings as plot points. The movies stand up decades later because they didn’t play it safe. They let the writers aim for the heart and skull.
The Munsters had failed reboots on the table, including something with Jerry O’Connell called 1313 Mockingbird Lane that was canceled before it aired. For some reason, the plot can’t ever move past the same family dynamic. And speaking of movies, have you seen Rob Zombie’s Munsters adaptation? It’s horrendous. The Addams Family has since gone on to doing animated series around the same time as the movies, some CGI films in recent years, and now, Wednesday has entered the chat, complete with her dancing to The Cramps. Again, thanks to the characters’ complexities, this is possible. Lily Munster doesn’t have the darkness hidden behind Morticia’s eyes.
One thing to also consider: you can pull off an Addams costume. You really can’t do the Munsters for Halloween. Doing Herman requires a mask or a lot of work. Lily is blue. Any couple can do Gomez and Morticia, or really anyone of the core cast. It sounds trite, but these things matter. Same goes for that theme, these cultural touchstones live in the public consciousness whether realized or not. The Munsters are fun and campy, but they’re never going to dethrone the mysterious and ooky over on Cemetery Lane.
One thought on “What’s Better: The Addams Family or The Munsters?”
It’s the Addams Family, obviously.
The Munsters had some amusing gags, but (as Dean pointed out) the show’s format is less flexible than the Addams Family. Plus, remove Fred Gwynne and Yvonne DeCarlo from the Munsters and the concept just doesn’t work (does *anyone* have fond memories of the post 1960s Munsters outings?)