Netflix has dropped the first season of its Addams Family spin-off, Wednesday, & for the most part, it delivers on its promises & lives up to the hype. Wednesday is a lot of macabre fun; Jenna Ortega gives a typically terrific performance in the iconic title role & Tim Burton’s direction brings the show to life. But the series is held back by a crucial misstep. The whole season 1 arc revolves around the search for a monster as Wednesday investigates a series of mysterious attacks at her paranormal boarding school Nevermore Academy. It’s a classic archetypal horror story that ties the show’s expansive ensemble together with a clear goal: figure out who’s secretly a shapeshifting monster. But that monster would be much more effective if it was created with a spooky practical effect instead of lifeless CGI.
There are a lot of things that the Wednesday series does really well. Creators Alfred Gough & Miles Millar bring as much depth & relatability to Wednesday Addams as they previously brought to Clark Kent in Smallville. Ortega gives a phenomenal performance as Wednesday, cementing her place as the scream queen of 2022 after her turns in X, Scream, & Studio 666. She leads the series with palpable star power, nails the character’s dry sense of humor, & plays both Wednesday’s cold exterior & the vulnerability hiding beneath it with equal authenticity. Burton’s keen cinematic eye gives the show a uniquely chilling gothic aesthetic, capturing Jericho, Vermont with a Lynchian surreality. Danny Elfman provides a catchy theme & there are scene-stealing supporting turns from screen legends like Gwendoline Christie, Luis Guzmán, Fred Armisen, & the original Wednesday Addams, Christina Ricci. Wednesday is a great new series with a lot going for it, but it’s let down by an ugly-looking CG monster that’s more laughable than frightening.
The central mystery of the show revolves around figuring out the identity of a monster that’s been terrorizing the students of Nevermore. The monster is a “Hyde” – the monstrous form of a Jekyll-like figure – so it could be anyone, adding an interesting whodunit angle to the series that keeps the audience guessing who that Jekyll could be. But this mystery would be a lot more compelling if the monster left a more impactful impression on the viewer. Every now & then, the Hyde pops up for a jump scare that doesn’t l&. It has Huge, bulging eyes, razor-sharp teeth, & a huge, hulking build with hunched shoulders – a special effects artist like Rick Baker or Rob Bottin could’ve had a field day bringing this creature to life with practical prosthetics. But the show’s creators opted to render the Hyde with CGI, & it just isn’t scary. In its computer-generated iteration, this Hyde creature looks more like Jack-Jack’s monster form from The Incredibles than the Predator or the Wolf Man.
All the most iconic movie monsters were created with practical effects. Towering 6’10” actor Bolaji Badejo donned a bodysuit to breathe life into H.R. Giger’s haunting xenomorph design. From Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula to Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster, the monstrous performances in the Universal Monsters movies still hold up today. Baker won the inaugural Academy Award for Best Makeup for his timeless, outst&ing work on An American Werewolf in London. To get a clear idea of how boring & lifeless CG monsters are compared to practical creations, look at Bottin’s effects from John Carpenter’s The Thing next to the computer-generated effects in the reboot.
Burton directed the first four episodes of Wednesday season 1, with G&ja Monteiro & James Marshall taking over for the final four. The visionary behind the small-town horror of Beetlejuice & Edward Scissorh&s is in fine form here, but Wednesday’s Hyde pales in comparison to Burton’s other creepy creations. From Betelgeuse to the Joker, Burton’s most memorable monsters are created practically, not generated by computers. He brought the Headless Horseman to the screen by putting a blue ski mask on stuntman Ray Park. The Sleepy Hollow villain’s headlessness was a CG effect, but the rest of him was created by pointing a camera at a stuntman on a horse. Burton’s CG-riddled, headache-inducing live-action remake of Alice in Wonderl& is awash with overproduced CG imagery. The old-school horror aesthetic of Wednesday dem&s old-school monster effects like his hero Ed Wood would use, not dull CGI like Alice in Wonderl&.
The first season of Wednesday is more than promising enough to warrant a second season with more of Ortega’s star power, Burton’s expressionistic visuals, & plenty of morbid merriment. But if Netflix is going to order another batch of Wednesday episodes revolving around another investigation into another monster, then season 2 needs a monster that’s actually frightening. No matter how advanced VFX technology gets, CGI will never beat practical effects – especially CGI on a TV budget.
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