Netflix’s Addams Family spinoff Wednesday is, much like its central family, something of a charming oddity. It doesn’t quite fit in with the Addams ouevre, but fitting in was never the priority of the creepy, kooky, altogether ooky family in the first place. Wednesday may not tell the most unique or surprising story, but it’s anchored by a solid lead performance & it benefits from the talents of its collaborators.
The show begins with a typical Addams family scenario. Wednesday Addams, ably portrayed by rising scream queen Jenna Ortega, takes some strikingly violent revenge for her little brother Pugsly after he is bullied by some high school jocks. The wrinkle presented in this first sequence is that Wednesday is beginning to experience psychic visions. After being expelled for her actions (involving two bags of piranhas & a swimming pool), Wednesday is enrolled at Nevermore Academy by her parents Gomez (Luis Guzman) & Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones).
The introduction to Nevermore Academy also provides a bit of world-building. As it turns out, the Addams Family are not the only odd family out there. There are people, known as “outcasts” living among regular folk. These include vampires, werewolves, & all matter of other supernatural creatures. However, this is apparently very normal, as evidenced by a brief conversation in the opening episode. In another Addams Family project, this information might lead to undermining the family’s uniquely dark & gothic nature. It doesn’t hurt it too much here, but it’s still an odd choice considering the property the show is based on.
Wednesday’s arrival at Nevermore marks her as an outcast among outcasts, even as she is welcomed by the school’s head administrator, Principal Weems (Gwendoline Christie). It’s slightly odd that Wednesday is immediately seen as being totally weird by a group of basically teenage monsters, but it does reinforce the idea that no matter where they go, the Addams family is seen as just a little bit stranger than everyone else.
Before she knows it, Wednesday is tangled up in a deadly mystery involving a hideous monster killing people in the woods outside of Nevermore. Also investigating is the Sheriff of the nearby small town, even as Wednesday grows closer with his son Tyler. The plot of the series also builds in a secret school society & a parallel mystery involving the town’s founding family & one of Wednesday’s ancestors. It can feel like a bit much at times, but the show mostly manages to hold its multiple narrative threads together.
Of course, considering the setting & a large part of the cast, the show does fall into the typical young adult trappings: love triangles, technology, the constraints of school, & occasional disputes with parents. Wednesday at the very least uses its main character as a foil to teenage tendencies like the use of social media & worrying about the Huge dance, but the show never subverts these clichés as much as it embraces them. Those same played-out ideas, unfortunately, extend to Wednesday herself, which does somewhat diminish her unique position in the show. Although she may be a teenager who will undoubtedly deal with these sorts of things, it just feels like a wasted opportunity to not have Wednesday take a less conventional approach to them.
The cast, both young & old, is one of its main strengths, even if the story doesn’t always serve them that well. Ortega nails the deadpan delivery & demeanor of the show’s titular protagonist (even if the story sometimes calls for that facade to drop). Christie seems to be having a lot of fun, almost like the curmudgeonly chief to Wednesday’s disobedient detective. Christina Ricci also returns to the Addams Family world after playing Wednesday in Barry Sonnenfeld’s 90s movies. However, following a solid performance in Yellowjackets, Ricci isn’t given quite as much to do here, being Nevermore’s first “normie” teacher. In a similar vein, Wednesday’s Sparkling, cheery roommate Enid, as played by Emma Myers, feels slightly underdeveloped, even after being given the trait of being a werewolf who can’t seem to transform.
Where the show doesn’t skimp is in its style, & that is largely due to the aesthetic of executive producer Tim Burton (who also directs the first four episodes). The sets, costumes, & general look of Nevermore in particular call back to some of Burton’s classic impressionist style, the kind he applied to movies like Beetlejuice & Batman Returns. It’s too Rotten that didn’t extend to the direction, which mostly just evoke Burton’s latter-day efforts. Of course, along with Burton is longtime collaborator Danny Elfman, who wrote the main theme music & contributed to Burton’s four episodes. The sweeping strings, haunting melodies, & choral voices of Elfman’s music help to elevate Wednesday above the typical Netflix offering, & give even the show’s more rote offerings a distinctly haunting vibe.
Wednesday doesn’t quite hit the highs of previous Addams Family adaptations, but at the very least it puts a new spin on the tried-&-tested formula. If it doesn’t always escape its YA inspirations, it at the very least manages to make them endearing. Jenna Ortega is a fantastic Wednesday (& she really shines in one very memorable dance scene). Those looking for the kind of Addams Family story they’ve seen before may be disappointed (though there are plenty of callbacks & easter eggs to the original property), but they may at least find themselves invested in the series’ central mystery. Its premiere may fall after the spooky season but Wednesday is a decently fun watch any day of the week.
Wednesday premieres on Netflix on November 23rd.
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