The new TV series brings the Addams Family into the modern era but now with genuine horror and gore—and a little teenage drama. Here’s our review of Netflix’s Wednesday.
The Addams Family’s penchant for making light of the sinister and macabre has always been entertaining, but there was always that underlying subtext of “This isn’t realistic and we’re not trying to be realistic”. Netflix’s Wednesday, however, decides to take on the challenge of not just bringing the campy and gothic characters into a modern setting but also putting them in a rather serious and un-campy situation while not going full Riverdale (you never go full Riverdale).
For the most part, Wednesday, thankfully, does it right.
Murder, teenage angst, and a lot of black outfits make up Netflix’s Wednesday
Obviously, the main character of the series is the eponymous Wednesday, the eldest of the Addams siblings and played to a tee by Jenna Ortega. The series sees her going to Nevermore Academy, a school for outcasts that both her parents, Morticia and Gomez played by Catherine Zeta-Jones and Luis Guzmán, also attended.
Wednesday may be a unique and independent teenager, but even the morgue-loving adolescent faces a bit of adjustment in her new school. A colour-obsessed roomie (who sometimes steals the show), a principal who seems to distrust her, and boys, surprisingly, are just some of what Wednesday has to deal with. But it gets much more complicated when a bunch of murders begin happening around Nevermore, and they seem to be connected with her family.
Jenna Ortega’s portrayal of the stone and pale-faced Wednesday is a knockout, especially when you consider the fact that she is portraying a stoic character who needs to have an emotional arc in the show. In the few instances she does show how she feels, Ortega pulls it off with flawless subtlety.
The rest of the cast is also stellar. Wednesday’s family, including Fred Armisen’s wonderfully dark and hilarious Uncle Fester, are only in the show for a little bit. Wednesday’s classmates and the Nevermore faculty are the ones frequently featured, which includes Principal Weems, played by Gwendoline Christie, and “normie” teacher Marilyn Thornhill, played by original Wednesday Cristina Ricci. Apparently, there are many people who didn’t know Ricci originally played Wednesday, which just makes me realise how old I am. But my favourite is definitely Enid Sinclair, played by Emma Myers, who is Wednesday’s roommate and a literal colourful foil to Wednesday’s drabness.
The series does a great job of balancing the source material’s dark ridiculousness and doing a serious plot. This, undoubtedly, is thanks to Tim Burton’s guiding hand, who serves as executive producer for the show as a whole and director for some of the episodes. I mentioned Riverdale because I feel like this is what it should have been: a series that doesn’t take itself too seriously but still manages to have a substantial and emotional. After all, how serious can you get when the main character has a severed hand for a companion and there’s a school with a clique known as the stoners (not what you think; they’re Gorgons, the mythical creatures that have snakes for hair and can turn people into stone. Get it?).
Teenage angst is very much present all throughout and the usual clichés of the Queen Bee, Queen Bee’s ex, awkward nerd, and the lovable innocent town boy that falls for the gothy main character are all there. These aren’t the only clichés in the show: the small town embroiled in murder, the gruff and stern but noble sheriff, the shady mayor—all the trappings of a small-town mystery. Typical, yes, but the show makes it work in its favour.
The main focus though is the supernatural killings that are happening in this small town named Jericho. While it was easy to predict who the culprits would be, the journey to their unveiling was still a rather satisfying one. Wednesday plays the morbid-obsessed Sherlock who is aided, sometimes begrudgingly, by her friends. Actually, come to think of it, the show is pretty much a police murder mystery, except it’s not the police but a pigtailed teenager.
Finally, the show excels in bringing a true sense of realism, terror, and danger into the Addams Family world. There was a scene in the second film, Addams Family Values, where Wednesday and Pugsley were going to decapitate their baby brother with a guillotine. Aside from the fact that the woke police would probably cry foul, it was also made very clear that the baby was in no danger, stopping the guillotine with its own fingers because it has… powers or something. However, in Wednesday, the macabre antics are real. So when she releases piranhas in a pool, someone gets their testicles eaten. This isn’t your animated Addams Family anymore.
Wednesday pulls off what most adaptations struggle to do. Others try and go down the Christopher Nolan route of making everything dark and gritty. The result? A plot that starts off about a student getting it on with a teacher and then seasons later devolves into religious cults, multiverses, and superpowers… Yes, I’m still talking about Riverdale.
Wednesday, however, is very self-aware of its kookiness and doesn’t shy away from it. In fact, it’s what makes the show so enjoyable. Perhaps that’s the reason why even if it’s so riddled with archetypes and clichés, it was still fun to watch. A second season is very likely; after all, it did beat Stranger Things as the most-viewed show in a week on Netflix. The question however is whether it will be able to continue its balancing act or fall into a Riverdalian abyss of soapiness and ridiculousness.