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It’s a truth Morticia, Gomez, Wednesday, and Pugsley would cherish: over a century has gone since The Addams Family first appeared in The New Yorker in the 1930s, but this scary, goofy, mysterious, and ooky family will never die. America’s first macabre family continues to amaze and enthrall audiences, pulling them in with their unwavering embrace of the eerie, the gothic, and the overall dark and twisted. Forget bumps, jumps, screams, and shrieks; this eccentric crew may hang out with a severed limb and enjoy graveyards, but they also delight in a gloriously eclectic, eccentric, embrace-your-inner-outcast manner, as the 1960s TV show, 1991’s live-action film The Addams Family and its 1993 sequel Addams Family Values, and now new Netflix series Wednesday understands and adores.
All eight season one episodes will be released on November 23 – a Wednesday, what else? — The latest installment of The Addams Family arrives piecemeal, as so much of late. Netflix’s technology correctly predicted that consumers enjoy artist Charles Addams’ horror-inspired creations. It understands that customers enjoy mysteries and teen coming-of-age stories, which are two of the platform’s favorite genres. And the firm is well aware that well-known big names are a draw. With Tim Burton directing like it’s the 1980s and 1990s, current scream queen Jenna Ortega sporting the trademark plaits, 90s Wednesday Christina Ricci returning in a new role, and a supernatural school for unusual children complete with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children-meets-Hogwarts vibes, Wednesday’s various pieces are as obvious as Frankenstein’s monster’s sewn-on limbs.
Of course, Mary Shelley’s famous monster is a symbol and a marvel, and other things should aspire to be like it. Despite its obvious seams, the author’s game-changing novel lived, breathed, and intrigued, and Wednesday does the same — and swiftly engages and entertains. It’s as simple as getting a deadly gaze from Wednesday’s teenage protagonist to figure out why and how Netflix created this series, and which levers it’s pressing to energize its experiment. Enjoying every second because it’s astutely, wisely, and passionately stitched together is just as simple, especially with Scream, Studio 666, and X star Ortega commandingly and convincingly leading the show.
Like the nursery tale she’s named after, this rendition of the Addams family’s eldest child is full of tragedy. She wasn’t going to have it any other way. Wednesday, played by Ortega, has been bouncing through public schools with a knockout glare every bit as joyfully spiteful as Ricci’s and 60s TV program actress Lisa Loring’s. She’s enrolled in the haunted house-esque Nevermore Academy after unleashing a pool of piranhas on Pugsley’s (Isaac Ordonez, A Wrinkle in Time) tormentors — torturing him is her job, not the water polo team’s — There went Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Prodigal Son) and Gomez (Luis Guzmán, The Resort). They actually met and fell in love there. But the preternaturally morbid Wednesday is even less happy than usual, until she learns of a string of grisly deaths to investigate.
Comparisons to Harry Potter and X-Men begin the moment Wednesday sets eyes on Nevermore, and only grow when the book reveals that it caters to vampires, werewolves, sirens, gorgons, and other paranormal people. Wednesday shares a room with pastel-loving lycan Enid Sinclair (Emma Myers, Girl in the Basement), who hasn’t yet ‘wolfed out.’ Her immediate foe is queen bee Bianca (Joy Sunday, Dog), who must wear an amulet to keep her siren powers at bay. Smartly, series creators and writers Miles Millar and Alfred Gough — who co-created Smallville together two decades ago and know the ropes when it comes to mining well-known characters’ high-school angst — stick with Wednesday’s namesake’s withering attitude and wryly comedic mood. She’s unconcerned about the entire magical educational institution setup, and the show she’s in recognizes it as a background and source of much hilarity rather than the main focus. Instead, Wednesday is constantly the center of attention.
People in and around Nevermore, on the other hand, are disappearing. Students and Vermont residents may be being ripped to shreds by a monster, or they may reappear the next day, even after Wednesday sees their killings. None of the adults, including headmistress Larissa Weems (Gwendoline Christie, Flux Gourmet), new teacher Marilyn Thornhill (Ricci, Yellowjackets), local sheriff Donovan Galpin (Jamie McShane, The Lincoln Lawyer), or Wednesday’s court-ordered therapist Valerie Kinbott (Riki Lindhome, Knives Out), are particularly open to her theories or pleased with her investigations. A misanthropic teen black sheep spying around an exclusive school and the community it’s in, making few friends and trying to unearth deep, dark secrets? Yes, Wednesday has more than a hint of Veronica Mars. Yes, there are thorny romances (think Your Honor’s Hunter Doohan as the sheriff’s son Tyler and Pretty Hard Cases’ Percy Hynes White as Nevermore student Xavier Thorpe), but with a brunette lead, a darker color palette, and moody woodland settings.
If you’re familiar with the formulae behind most high school-set dramas, or whodunnits and detective stories, Wednesday will come as no surprise. Nonetheless, it stays a twisted and simple to binge from beginning to end, owing to two crucial elements. The first is Ortega, who slips into Wednesday’s dead-eyed scowl like she’s always worn it, never softening it, ensuring that Wednesday lives up to it while also perfecting the part’s deadpan humour. The lusty Morticia and Gomez are played with gusto by Zeta-Jones and Guzman, Uncle Fester is played charmingly quirky by Fred Armisen (Los Espookys), and Christie likes her authoritative role, but the impassioned Ortega is the show’s blackly and wittily fascinating heart.
Second, while Burton does not direct every episode of the series — only the first four — Wednesday is as oddly captivating as his work on Frankenweenie, Beetlejuice, and Edward Scissorhands. More than that, it’s among his best work in a couple of decades, thanks in large part to its bewitchingly melancholic aesthetic, complete with wonderfully surprising and enticing design choices. There’s also Danny Elfman’s theme music to help set the tone, continuing a connection with Burton that dates back to 1985’s Pee-Big wee’s Adventure.
Wednesday doesn’t outperform its 60s and 90s predecessors — it easily outperforms the recent animated film and its own follow-up, which isn’t difficult — but it’s exactly what a Burton-style take on The Addams Family was always bound to be. It’s worth making a call whether you’re wearing a witch’s shawl and getting a broomstick you can crawl on.