‘Wednesday’ Wows with Wonderfully Gothic and Beautifully Wicked Woe [Review]
The Addams Family is back in the woe-fully wonderful new Netflix series Wednesday, reintroducing the iconic daughter of Gomez and Morticia as a hero for the outsider in all of us.
This highly anticipated show is everything that I wanted, presenting Wednesday Addams as a teenager full of angst and morbid obsessions, with fang-sharp biting humor reminiscent of the 1990s Addams Family films, beautifully framed cinematography harkening back to Tim Burton’s earliest classics, positively brimming with autumn-flavored gothic atmosphere, and a drop-dead killer performance from Jenna Ortega (Scream, X) as the title character.
Suspended from her most recent in a string of “normal” schools that have kicked her out (this time for a hilarious and bloody incident involving piranhas), Wednesday is sent to Nevermore Academy, a school for “outcasts”, which in this series includes werewolves, sirens, gorgons, and other supernatural creatures, and it’s also where Gomez and Morticia first met.
Correctly described in the officially released synopsis as a “sleuthing” series, Wednesday’s naturally macabre curiosity draws her into a mystery where she is part Nancy Drew investigating a legit whodunnit and part Sabrina Spellman uncovering long buried secrets about her own family, all while navigating the most horrifying hallmarks of high school life, and even… dating.
Ortega moves with the stiff, emotionless purpose of Michael Myers and talks with a keen and quick, wicked wit that shows she is usually the smartest one in the room, but she still has some lessons yet to learn, as you would expect in a teen-focused dramedy. She could not be more perfectly cast as Wednesday, bringing uber-goth girl coolness and style to a character so well known and yet at a point in her life we have never watched before.
The biggest adjustment old school fans will have to get used to is the early revelation that Wednesday is experiencing emerging psychic abilities, seeing flashes of future events when she touches certain people or objects.
I found the overall tone of the show to be quite hilarious, punctured by some sincerely heartfelt sequences of emotional depth, as Wednesday makes a decidedly sunnier friend and possibly begins to warm her cold shoulder toward a boy.
Emma Myers brings a bright and cheerful contrast to Wednesday’s eternally dour demeanor as her always-smiling Nevermore roommate Enid, a werewolf who has yet to “wolf out”, while Joy Sunday shines as the popular mean girl siren Bianca. Hunter Doohan as “normie” Tyler doesn’t go to Nevermore, but his dad is the sheriff of the local town and has an axe to grind against both Gomez and the outcasts of the school, while Percy Hynes White is the school’s moody artist with telekinetic abilities, Xavier.
As the title suggests, the show is firmly about Wednesday and features very little of the rest of the Addams family, aside from Thing (played by Victor Dorobantu), who accompanies her to Nevermore and appears in every episode, while Gomez (played with sinister relish by Luis Guzman), Morticia (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones), Pugsley (Isaac Ordonez), Lurch (George Burcea), and Uncle Fester (Fred Armisen) each make brief but memorable appearances. Each episode, however, contains at least one major callback to the classic show, or just as often to the beloved 1990s movies.
This version of Thing has a more monstrous appearance, with visible Frankenstein-like stitches and dirty fingernails, but proves as much a reliable and loyal member of the family as ever.
Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones) plays Nevermore school administrator Larissa Weems, who has her own history with Morticia, and Christina Ricci (who played Wednesday in the ’90s Addams Family films) plays Nevermore dorm mom Marilyn Thornhill, the school’s first and only “normie” (non-supernatural) teacher.
Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (Smallville) are the writers and showrunners, bringing their experience in successfully exploring an era of a well-known franchise that has not yet been depicted on screen before. The first four episodes of the series are directed by Tim Burton (Batman, Batman Returns, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow), while Gandja Monteiro and James Marshall split the second half of the eight-episode first season.
The soundtrack by Danny Elfman is among his best work, with subtle hints of the original Addams Family TV series theme sprinkled throughout, but it’s the unexpected use of a few key songs that really bring an added spike of sonic weight.
While I am not at all suggesting that viewers are expected to take this heightened reality too seriously, it is actually one-hundred percent believable that if Wednesday Addams existed in real life, at age 15 going on 16, she would understandably behave pretty much exactly as she does in this show. While many of us can more than relate to her not being a “people person”, we can further admire her for being comfortable enough in her own skin to not try to be something she’s not.
No spoilers here, but you will be shocked at how emotional a certain scene in a certain episode gets, as this show goes somewhere the original nor any of its later incarnations would ever have considered, but it is definitely a testament to the viewer investment effectively captured by this time that I was nearly in tears.
The story even effectively weaves in elements that tie into the witch trials of the 1600s, the whitewashing of Native American and Hispanic history, and this country’s historic puritanical shunning of anyone deemed an other. And in what is essentially a huge callback to everyone’s favorite scene in the 1993 sequel Addams Family Values, the episodes at Pilgrim World and exploring the local town’s Pilgrim heritage are a perfectly fitting watch for its well-timed Thanksgiving premiere.
Tim Burton’s projects have always spotlighted and championed the outcasts from every creepy corner of society, and this familiar theme is absolutely at the big black heart of this show.
Wednesday the character remains as cuttingly cynical as ever, a welcome dagger routinely drawing blood from her bubbly Gen Z classmates, while Wednesday the series is a celebration of the strange and unusual, a call to arms for the oddballs to stand up and proudly be themselves. Darkly beautiful and wickedly fun, it’s definitely a little kooky, plenty spooky, and altogether ooky.
Wednesday premieres on Netflix this Wednesday, November 23.
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