I’ve always been a massive fan of “The Addams Family” and love whenever they get a chance to shine. Of course I love the original two Barry Sonnenfeld films, with “Addams Family Values” being my favorite of the pair. I also love to put the original black-and-white series on as background noise while I’m working from home. Heck, I even pop in the musical soundtrack from time to time as it has some real earworms throughout. Being such a fan, I’m sure you’re not surprised that Netflix’s new adaptation centered around the most popular member of the family, Wednesday, was one of my most anticipated shows of the year. As with any reboot of a beloved franchise, the initial first looks faced some heavy scrutiny. An important question remains: Does this interpretation hold up compared to its predecessor?
Wednesday Addams (Jenna Ortega) is struggling to fit in with the rest of “normal” society. After an incident involving the water polo team and a swarm of piranhas at her last school, Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Gomez (Luis Guzmán) decide to enroll their daughter at Nevermore Academy. Nevermore seems like the perfect place for Wednesday as it’s a school dedicated to those society deems as “outcasts.” Whether they be vampires gorgons, or other monsters and magical beings, they all wander the halls of the mysterious school. However, Wednesday soon learns that the social scene of Nevermore is the least of her concerns. Simultaneous to her arrival, bodies begin to pile up, and she seems to be at the center of it. Now her main mission is to solve the many mysteries and dangers that lurk around every corner of her new stomping grounds.
Right off the bat, the first question that I’m sure many of you are asking is how Jenna Ortega’s interpretation of Wednesday compares to that of Christina Ricci, the actress most commonly associated with the role. I had no worries that Ortega was going to give a great performance, but I was apprehensive that the performance would be too similar to that of Ricci. Thankfully, Ortega pulls it off magnificently and makes the character entirely her own by bringing an incredible amount of depth to the role. Even though Wednesday doesn’t show many emotions, Ortega is really great at expressing a wide range of expressions with just the slightest of facial movements. While I still prefer Ricci’s version, Ortega is terrific nonetheless. Plus, having Ricci in a surprisingly big role was a nice way of passing the torch as well.
The rest of the cast here are pretty great as well. Emma Myers makes for fun comedic relief as Wednesday’s cheery and well meaning roommate Enid. Joy Sunday plays the queen bee (or rather queen siren) Bianca, who begins as the stock bully character but later comes into her own as a much more complicated individual. Gwendoline Christie is always fantastic as Nevermore’s stern principal constantly butting heads with Wednesday. Luis Guzmán and Fred Armisen also have some fun guest spots as Gomez and Fester respectively. The only performer here who left me wanting more was Zeta-Jones. While Ortega stepped out of Ricci’s shadow, Jones was unable to step out of the shadow of Anjelica Huston.
I had a lot of fun with “Wednesday” and I think everyone should give it a watch, but that doesn’t mean it was a seamless viewing from beginning to end. My biggest issue with the show is the writing. For the most part is saved by the talented actors, but other times the dialogue is laughably bad. The mystery that the show crafts is engaging and keeps me guessing, but at the same time it becomes rather predictable who the culprit is before the show even reaches the halfway point. I’m at least grateful that the show is paced much better than most Netflix series of a similar caliber and keeps its runtimes at a much more reasonable length. The show also kind of misses out on the opportunity to explore the world it establishes. Nevermore is very much Hogwarts or Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children (ironically a project Tim Burton also directed). However, even though it’s a school made up of all sorts of monsters and creatures, the writers do nothing with it apart from the occasional joke. Wednesday doesn’t even get some proper interactions with some of the groups (justice for the vampires). Warning for any viewers, be prepared to hear the word “outcasts” and “normies” constantly. You could honestly make a game out of it.
As a fan of Tim Burton’s work, my biggest disappointment with the show is the creator himself. When I heard Tim Burton was finally making an “Addams Family” property, I was expecting some creatively dark stuff. Unfortunately, Burton’s signature style is barely recognizable here. Apart from one of the creature designs and a few easter eggs, there’s nothing too Tim Burton about this Tim Burton property. Not to say that the series is directed poorly or anything as it’s shot well and has some fun with the camera work, I just feel it lacks that Burton spark.
Honestly, though, the series could easily improve on some of the errors with a second season. I genuinely hope we get a second season, even if for nothing other than to give Ortega more chances to shine. The cast is strong and the show often captures the spirit of Charles Addams’ original creations but gets bogged down by some wonky dialogue and the occasional plot detour. However, if you consider yourself a fan of “The Addams Family” you’re sure to have a good time with this one.
“Wednesday” is streaming exclusively on Netflix.
By Adam Beam