Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers for Netflix’s “Wednesday.”
The Addams family takes a different direction away from slapstick comedy in Netflix’s new original series “Wednesday,” released Nov. 23 to become a supernatural teen TV drama — reminiscent of “Stranger Things,” “The Vampire Diaries” and “Teen Wolf.” In the show, Wednesday’s character development is given new complexities that make her more captivating than previous iterations of her character. However, this level of nuance comes at a cost: the rest of the Addams family are unfortunately simplified.
Within the series, Wednesday is sent to a boarding school called Nevermore, attended by supernaturally gifted teenagers known as outcasts. There, she is submerged into the horrifying world of social clubs, school dances and spirited roommates. As Wednesday navigates these challenges, she uncovers a mystery going back centuries that involves feuding bloodlines and monstrous creatures.
Tim Burton’s classic art style pours personality into this world. For example, the dorm room shared by Wednesday and her werewolf roommate, Enid (Emma Myers), is adorned with a stained glass window half black-and-white on Wednesday’s side and half rainbow on Enid’s to represent their contrasting styles and personalities. It gives the set a unique marker reminiscent of a spider web. Wednesday also has several darkly beautiful cello solos full of sorrow and pain. She stands out from the others during these solos, but is also stands alone with confidence. These details fill the world with a creepy, delicate aesthetic.
Ortega’s face matches the hollowed-out look that Tim Burton is famous for. Her character fits in with the aesthetic of Burton’s earlier works like “The Corpse Bride” or “Edward Scissorhands.” Her constantly pouting eyes carry the series. The most iconic moment, for example, appears in the fourth episode during the school dance, the Rave’N. She looks her date right in the eyes and performs a series of bird-like dance moves — likely inspired by Uma Thurman’s dance scene in “Pulp Fiction” and “Thriller” by Micheal Jackson. The scene comes as a complete surprise to Wednesday’s character as, until that moment, she is guarded and hostile towards others. This scene portrays her character as completely nonconformist: an independent person even at a setting of a high school dance that beckons for normalcy.
The characters of Gomez (Luis Guzmán) and Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) were not as fortunate in their new renditions. Gomez is made to be much more emotionally open than he is in the Addams Family movies and TV shows. Rather than a crazed dare-devil, he becomes an introspective father who has trained her to be able to handle a terrible world.
Meanwhile, Morticia takes on the trope of the misunderstood mother. Wednesday spends the first half of the show hating her mother. As Wednesday herself describes it, she and her mother are “two inmates stuck in the same cell.” When they eventually interact, Wednesday brings up an old family secret. When she is told the true story, she and Morticia immediately make up. This plotline simplifies the life-long mother-daughter relationship into a single narrative event. It doesn’t work, and the relationships morph awkwardly.
Uncle Fester (Fred Armisen) also makes an appearance for one episode. His character mainly serves to connect plot holes in the mystery, and is more of a nostalgia trigger to keep up the quirky energy of the Addams family. Thankfully, Thing (Victor Dorobantu) — the adorable, disembodied hand — has a strong, loveable personality and is always close by Wednesday’s side. And unlike the rest of the Addams clan, he plays an important part throughout the series.
The show takes on a detective narrative similar to the “Harry Potter” series towards the second half that is full of spooky, gothic inspired crypts, leather bound books and haunted mansions. Each episode is scarier than the next, with one or two good jump scares sprinkled within. It is definitely not a horror series, but it still has the appropriate amount of spookiness for an Addams Family franchise.
Unfortunately, the ending falls short. With an entire season of build up and phrases like, “You have no idea what’s coming,” the conflict is resolved with a sword fight that lasts maybe 10 minutes and a cheesy swarm of bees. The show attempted to combine slapstick and drama, but ultimately awkwardly straddles between the two genres. It would have been better if they left the old humor of the previous Addams family franchise in the past completely.
The show would have thrived had the creators made a completely original TV series only using the Addams family as inspiration, rather than recreating the characters. Each family member is already so far removed from its predecessors, they could have been completely new characters by simply changing the names. The creators’ need to stay faithful to the original Addams family felt more like a drawback and limitation.
All in all, Ortega is what pulls “Wednesday” together. Her performance along with Christie’s are what make the show enjoyable. Without the two the show would have teetered into the realm of cheesy and cliche. However, Ortega’s complex portrayal of Wednesday makes the show worth watching.
Emma McCandless is an Entertainment Intern for the fall 2022 quarter. She can be reached at email@example.com.