Maniac Mansion (TV series)

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Maniac Mansion
ManiacTitle.jpg
Maniac Mansion title card
Genre Sitcom
Comic science fiction
Created by Eugene Levy
Starring Joe Flaherty
Deborah Theaker
Kathleen Robertson
Avi Phillips
George Buza
Opening theme "Maniac Mansion" - sung by Jane Siberry [1], composed by Lou Natale
Country of origin Canada
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 3
No. of episodes 66
Production
Running time 30 minutes
Production company(s) Lucasfilm
Broadcast
Original channel The Family Channel
YTV
Original run September 17, 1990 – April 4, 1993

Maniac Mansion was a Canadian sitcom created by Eugene Levy, which aired concurrently on YTV in Canada and The Family Channel in the United States for three seasons from September 17, 1990 to April 4, 1993.

The series is very loosely based on the popular 1987 LucasArts video game of the same name. While LucasFilm served as co-producers on the series, the show thematically shares little in common with its source material (See: Differences from the game).

Overview[edit]

Maniac Mansion centers around the lives of the Edisons, an American family living in a large mansion in the upscale suburban neighborhood of Cedar Springs. The Edisons consist of patriarch Fred (Joe Flaherty), an eccentric scientist and inventor, his level-headed wife Casey (Deborah Theaker), and their children, teenage genius Tina (Kathleen Robertson), prepubescent Ike (Avi Phillips) and precocious toddler Turner (George Buza). Also living in the Edison mansion are Casey's brother Harry Orca (John Hemphill) and his wife Idella Muckle-Orca (Mary Charlotte-Wilcox).

While Maniac Mansion primarily derives its storylines from typical sitcom fare such as family life and parent-child relationships, the series incorporated several prominent elements of science fiction. Fred Edison is a scientist who works out of his basement laboratory which is partially powered by a mysterious extraterrestrial meteorite, and many episodes revolve around Fred's outlandish and occasionally disastrous experiments and inventions. As it is revealed in the series premiere, a mishap with one of these inventions caused genetic mutations in two of the main characters, Turner Edison and Harry Orca, in a parody of the 1986 film The Fly: for the complete run of the series, toddler Turner is a fully-grown man with the mind of a child and Harry Orca is a normal-sized housefly with a human head (similar to the 1958 version of The Fly).

Sharing many writers and performers with the 1976-1984 Canadian sketch comedy series Second City Television, Maniac Mansion has a very similar style of humor, featuring much of the dry wit and cultural satire common of SCTV, ranging from pop culture references to film and television parodies. A particular staple of Maniac Mansion '​s comedy was the series' pervasive tendency of breaking the fourth wall, with characters - usually Harry - addressing the audience to comment on the particular episode. Meta-referential humor was also a regular element of the show: a few episodes are presented as "behind the scenes" documentaries, depicting the Edisons as an actual family starring in a sitcom based on their lives.

Cast and characters[edit]

Main characters
  • Joe Flaherty as Dr. Fred Edison, a devoted father and absent-minded scientist.
  • Deborah Theaker as Casey Edison, Fred's loving wife.
  • Kathleen Robertson as Tina Edison, a popular but brilliant teenage girl who assists Fred in his laboratory.
  • Avi Phillips as Ike Edison, an average and slightly rebellious pre-teen.
  • George Buza as Turner Edison, a toddler rapidly aged into a balding adult body following a scientific accident.
  • John Hemphill as Harry Orca, a.k.a. Harry the Fly, Casey's brother who was transformed into a half-man, half-housefly mutant by the same accident which changed Turner.
  • Mary Charlotte Wilcox as Idella Muckle-Orca, Harry's neurotic wife.
Recurring characters
Guest stars
  • José Ferrer as himself (2-08, "The Celebrity Visitor")
  • Teri Austin as herself, (2-10, "Lenny...One Amour Time"; 2-11, "Lenny...One Amour Time: Part 2")
  • Dave Thomas as "Hudgie DeRubertis" (2-13, "Buried by the Mob")
  • Martin Short as "Eddie O'Donnell" (2-14, "Down and Out in Cedar Springs")
  • David Cronenberg as himself (2-19, "Idella's Breakdown")
  • Andrea Martin as "Dr. Fontana Blue" (2-19, "Idella's Breakdown")
  • Jayne Eastwood as various characters
  • Dewey Robertson as "The Atomizer" (3-10, "Wrestling with the Truth")
  • Eugene Levy as "Doc Ellis" (3-17, "Freddy had a Little Lamb")
  • Jan Rubes as "Uncle Joe" (3-20, "It Ain't Over 'Til Uncle Joe Sings")

Development and production[edit]

In a special printed in the Summer 1990 issue of The LucasFilm Fan Club magazine, the initial conception of an episode television series based on Maniac Mansion is credited to LucasFilm animators Cliff Ruby and Elana Lasser, who pitched the idea to George Lucas.[1] Convinced on the project's potential, LucasFilm contacted the Toronto-based production company Atlantis Films to begin work on the series.[1][2]

Atlantis enlisted comedian and former Second City Television writer/performer Eugene Levy to creatively spearhead the development the series. Originally pitched as a more overtly horror/science fiction-themed comedy in the vein of The Addams Family or The Munsters, Levy ultimately rejected this approach, recruiting a number of The Second City alumni and re-working Maniac Mansion from the ground up into the more lighthearted and slightly surreal series it eventually became.[1][2]

Shot entirely in Toronto, Maniac Mansion premiered in September 1990 on YTV in Canada and The Family Channel in the United States, coinciding with the release of Jaleco's port of the game to the Nintendo Entertainment System. The series lasted for three seasons and sixty-six episodes before its cancellation in 1993. The series continued to air in syndication on The Family Channel until 1994, on YTV until 1997, and later on Canadian channel Showcase until 2002.

Critical reception[edit]

Maniac Mansion received generally positive reviews from professional critics during its initial run. In a press release for the series, Time Magazine was quoted as calling it "the looniest, sweetest family comedy of the year", listing it as one of the best shows of 1990.[3][4] Entertainment Weekly called it "100-proof hilarious", while in a 1990 article on the series, The Los Angeles Times described the show as "a stylized, sharp-edged comedy that's a bit like David Lynch on helium".[4][5]

However, response from the gaming community, and in particular fans of the original Maniac Mansion and graphic adventure games, has been mixed. In a 2011 retrospective review, PC Gamer magazine offered a predominantly negative opinion, noting the series "has roughly as much to do with the original game as a chipmunk's arsehole resembles Sweden" and calling the two episodes they had seen "comedy vacuums" and "at best generic and at worst, awful", though admitting they couldn't conclusively judge the entire series on so few episodes.[6] The International House of Mojo, a website devoted to LucasArts video games, also lamented the dissimilarity to the game, but believed the series "deserves the courtesy of a second look", calling it "surprisingly sweet-natured" and noting the science fiction elements and "off-beat brand of humor" gave an otherwise typical sitcom a unique personality.[2]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Maniac Mansion was nominated for and won several television awards during the series' run:[7]

CableACE Awards
Year Award Result
1993 Direction of Photography and/or Lighting Direction in a Comedy or Dramatic Series - Raymond Brounstein (director of photography) Won
Original Song - Michael Short, Louis Natale, Ryan Lord (For the song "Baby Rap" in episode "Baby Heat") Nominated
Gemini Awards
Year Award Result
1992 Best Picture Editing in a Comedy, Variety or Performing Arts Program or Series - Stephan Fanfara Won
Best Comedy Program or Series - Eugene Levy, Seaton McLean, Jamie Paul Rock, Peter Sussman, Michael Short Nominated
Best Performance in a Comedy Program or Series (Individual or Ensemble) - George Buza Nominated
Best Sound in a Comedy, Variety or Performing Arts Program or Series - Allen Ormerod, Tom Mather, David Evans (For episode "Dads Bummed Out") Nominated
Best Writing in a Comedy or Variety Program or Series - Eugene Levy, Michael Short, David Flaherty Nominated
1993 Best Comedy Program or Series - Jamie Paul Rock, Michael Short, Eugene Levy, Peter Sussman, Barry Jossen Nominated
Best Guest Performance in a Series by an Actor or Actress - Martin Short Nominated
1994 Best Comedy Program or Series - Peter Sussman, Jamie Paul Rock, Eugene Levy, Seaton McLean, Michael Short Nominated
Best Writing in a Comedy or Variety Program or Series - Michael Short Nominated
Young Artist Award
Year Award Result
1991 Best Young Actor Co-starring in an Off-Primetime Series - Avi Phillips Nominated
Best Young Actress Co-starring in an Off-Primetime Series - Kathleen Robertson Nominated
1992 Best Young Actor Co-starring in an Off-Primetime Series - Avi Phillips Nominated
Best Young Actress Co-starring in an Off-Primetime Series - Kathleen Robertson Nominated
1993 Best Young Actor Starring in a Cable Series - Avi Phillips Nominated

Home video[edit]

In 1992, Family Channel Video released a VHS tape entitled "Maniac Mansion: The Love Collection", featuring two first season episodes of the series, "Flystruck" (#102) and "Fred's A-Courtin'" (#105). This was the only official video release of the series; as of 2013, there are no known plans for Maniac Mansion to be released on DVD.

Differences from the game[edit]

While ostensibly an adaptation of the 1987 computer game, Maniac Mansion shares several superficial similarities with its source material, though is vastly different in terms of plot, tone and characterization.

The premise of the game, an homage to horror and science fiction B movies, follows a group of teenagers who venture into a dilapidated mansion to rescue their kidnapped friend. The mansion is inhabited by the homicidal Edison family, consisting of Dr. Fred, a deranged scientist who is possessed by an evil meteorite, his wife Edna, a sex-starved sadomasochistic nurse, their son Weird Ed, a paranoid paramilitary survivalist, and their pets Green Tentacle and Purple Tentacle, a pair of sentient, ambulatory tentacles.

Where as the television series was produced for family television, the tone of the game was decidedly more adult, featuring much risqué black comedy and surreal violence amid LucasArts' traditional style of offbeat humor and slapstick which was entirely omitted from the television adaptation. The game's original characters are also completely absent from the series with the exception of Dr. Fred Edison, whose character was drastically changed from an insane antagonist with a balding, elderly appearance in the game to a clumsy but good-natured family man in his forties in the television show.

The most overt thematic connection the series had to the game was the setting of a mansion housing an extraterrestrial meteor. The meteor itself is seldom referenced in the show, although it is prominently featured in the opening credits of the first season via an expository newspaper clipping, revealing it to have been discovered underneath the mansion by Fred's grandfather Louis Edison. Throughout the series, Fred can be seen conducting various experiments either harnessing the meteor's supernatural powers, or experimenting on the meteor itself.

Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick, the designers of the original Maniac Mansion, have never made any public comment on their opinion of the television series. However, in Day of the Tentacle, LucasArts' 1993 sequel to Maniac Mansion, the television show serves as a minor plot point in which the game's protagonist Bernard Bernoulli must help collect the royalties that Dr. Fred was promised from a vaguely explained in-universe television series based on a video game based on the events of the first game.

Connection with SCTV[edit]

A large portion of Maniac Mansion '​s cast and crew were made up of alumni from the Toronto comedy troupe The Second City and the 1976-1984 television offshoot Second City Television. In a 1992 article visiting the set of the series, Entertainment Weekly remarked that Maniac Mansion was like an SCTV convention: "The place is packed with veterans of the...series: There are former SCTV actors, writers, directors, key grips — even Mansion '​s makeup artist is an old SCTVer".[4]

Series creator Eugene Levy was an original cast member and writer on Second City Television, and developed Maniac Mansion alongside fellow Second City writers Michael Short, Paul Flaherty, David Flaherty and director Jamie Paul Rock. Additional writing was often contributed by Second City member Paul Wildman, as were cast members Joe Flaherty, John Hemphill and Mary-Charlotte Wilcox.

Additionally, nearly all of the main cast with the exception of teenaged actors Kathleen Robertson and Avi Phillips were veterans of The Second City. Joe Flaherty was one of the founders of Toronto's Second City and was an original series cast member, while John Hemphill and Mary-Charlotte Wilcox were supporting players and writers in its later seasons. Deborah Theaker, while having had no involvement with Second City Television, was a former member of The Second City stage show, and George Buza had appeared as an extra in one episode of the series.

Naturally, there are numerous SCTV references throughout the series. Levy, Martin Short, Dave Thomas and Andrea Martin all made one-off appearances on the show, as did minor players Juul Haalmeyer, Tony Rosato and Robin Duke. A few jokes are reused and in a couple of episodes, the characters of "Count Floyd" and "Happy Marsden" can be seen playing on television sets.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Dan Madsen (Summer 1990). "Maniac Mansion Special". The LucasFilm Fan Club. 
  2. ^ a b c "The Maniac Mansion TV Show at a Glance". The International House of Mojo. August 3, 2010. 
  3. ^ "Maniac Mansion - TV.com". TV.com. 
  4. ^ a b c Svetky, Benjamin (January 17, 1992). "A Short Visit to 'Maniac Mansion'". Entertainment Weekly. 
  5. ^ Cerone, Daniel (September 30, 1990). "The First Floppy-Disk Sitcom : George Lucas and 'SCTV' Alums Turn a Computer Game Into a Comedy for Family Channel". The Los Angeles Times. 
  6. ^ Cobbett, Richard (July 23, 2011). "Saturday Crapshoot: Maniac Mansion (TV)". 
  7. ^ ""Maniac Mansion" (1990) > Awards". IMDb.com. 

External links[edit]