Sometimes it’s impossible to know what to watch on streaming services. Not just on Netflix, but frankly, all of them. There are so many options and it’s often beyond challenging to separate the wheat from the chaff without actually watching the shows themselves.
This is my meandering way of getting around to why it took me so long to start watching Wednesday on Netflix. Even though I’m a pretty diehard fan of The Addams Family, I feared this serial comedy horror wouldn’t live up to my very high expectations. Instead, we not only got one of the best new series on Netflix but also a loving tribute to a one-of-a-kind kooky family.
Now, the first thing that matters in any adaptation of The Addams Family is how well it balances the creepy, gothic elements with the family humor. Such as how Wednesday constantly tortures her brother Pugsley, but in a somehow, loving way. While I may have initially worried Tim Burton would skew that balance, I’m happy to report Wednesday effortlessly sails through what could have been bumpy waters.
Honestly, it’s shocking in retrospect that Burton hasn’t directed anything Addams-related prior to this. As any fan of Burton can attest, he knows how to handle dark content with a deft hand, and is pretty skilled at injecting surprising humor into his productions.
The next important element is the cast itself. It’s always tricky watching anybody take on the role of Gomez, who was so perfectly portrayed by the late great Raul Julia. I was actually pretty concerned when I recognized Luis Guzmán in that role, but found that other than being a somewhat heavier Addams patriarch, he did all the right things. He lovingly prayed at the altar of his wife, Morticia, traded zestful stories of his youth, and much more besides. As for Morticia herself, I thought Catherine Zeta-Jones was brilliantly cast. She has all the right curves, is witty, and just a little bit sinister.
The only real disappointments for me were Lurch and Pugsley. In fairness, Lurch barely got enough screen time to really make a mark but I still missed his disgruntled moans and grunts. While Isaac Ordonez got the whole ‘long suffering brother’ part down, he failed to convey other noteworthy aspects of his character. Pugsley is more than just a whipping boy. He’s sneaky, obsessed with explosives, and always up to no good. Alas, this Pugsley left me wanting much more. Thankfully, the other character this show got amazingly right was the titular one, Jenna Ortega as Wednesday Addams.
I admit to not being familiar with Jenna Ortega before this show. I did some research and wasn’t surprised to discover her earlier career was mostly on Disney and candy-coated fare. What did surprise me was that recently she’s made a bit of a jump into horror, with her role in the most recent Scream, and obviously, Wednesday itself. Put simply, Ortega has gone from not being remotely on my radar to a young actress whose career I’m eager to watch unfold.
Not only does she expertly convey the scorn and gothic intensity of the character, but she delivers each cutting line with surgical precision. She’s equal parts hilarious and terrifying, and she builds well on the foundation laid by Christina Ricci. She’s a bit more hard-edged and less willing to listen to the advice her parents offer her. Ortega takes the character in darker directions than even I expected and surprises with impressive ability. Put simply, this Wednesday receives visions of the future and past. A useful skill for a budding young wannabe detective who’s tasked with stopping a deranged killer.
Before I go too much further, I need to touch on a couple of other surprising performances. No Addams Family would be complete without Uncle Fester. And while we only get Fester for one episode, what an episode it was! I wasn’t sure how well Fred Armisen would portray the zany uncle, but I shouldn’t have fretted. His performance lies somewhere between Christopher Lloyd’s bombastic Fester and the goofy animated version by Nick Kroll. I was constantly laughing as he used his electrical powers and talked about his less-than-legal antics.
But what truly impressed me was Thing. I don’t know how a bodiless hand can convey things like dejection and frustration, but somehow Thing makes it work. This version is a bit more Frankenstein’s Monster than I expected, but he’s full of personality. He picks locks, gives fashion advice, and serves as an invaluable assistant to Wednesday. At one point late in the season I even feared for his supernatural life and found myself close to tears.
The crux of the series is about Wednesday leaving her regular school and being sent to a supernatural boarding school by her parents. There was an incident involving a pool, some bullies, and a couple of bags of piranhas, so Gomez and Morticia felt their daughter might do better around similarly unique children. She’s sent (against her will) to Nevermore, founded by the poet Edgar Allen Poe.
It’s a school by and for self-styled Outcasts. For the most part, they’re all different varieties of supernatural creatures. The four main groups are Fangs (vampires), Furs (werewolves), Scales (sirens), and Stoners (gorgons), but there are others as well. There are also, a couple of students with telekinetic and telepathic powers, as well as a shapeshifter.
You’d think this was the perfect environment for one young Wednesday Addams, but the perpetual rain cloud hates the idea of being forced to do things like join a social group or make friends.
I got a mix of Legacies and Harry Potter energy from Nevermore, and it was populated by some fun new characters all wearing what I call preppy Beetlejuice uniforms. One is Wednesday’s eternally cheerful half-werewolf roomie, Enid. She’s everything the Addams girl isn’t. Cheerful, brightly colored, and full of jubilant energy. To say they aren’t fast friends is an understatement.
There’s also the popular and vindictive Siren, Bianca, as well as her ex-boyfriend Xavier Thorpe. I’m not entirely sure what variety of creature he’s supposed to be. He seems to have the ability to bring drawings to life, but he also gets visions of the future, and his father is a well-renowned psychic.
Then there’s Eugene, another question mark who loves bees. He’s a giant, lovable nerd, and he reminds me a lot of the boy that helped Wednesday escape summer camp in Addams Family Values. One of my absolute favorite characters was Principal Weems, played by the one and only Gwendoline Christie. She’s a dedicated professional trying her best to keep Nevermore running while also placating the Normie (think Muggles) town of Jericho.
Oh, and did I mention Ricci joins the cast as Marilyn Thornhill? She’s a basic human, but she teaches the Nevermore students about exotic plants. Put together, the cast helps ground the series, as well as offering plenty of hurdles for Wednesday to bash her way through.
The show also incorporates interesting lore into the mix. We learn about how Gomez Addams might have murdered a boy when he attended Nevermore with Morticia. Not to mention the town of Jericho was apparently founded by a murderous Pilgrim named Joseph Crackstone. Wednesday meets a ghostly ancestor named Goody Addams, also played by Ortega.
On top of all this, the show delves into what “normal” truly is, while helping Wednesday realize what matters to her and how she wants to evolve into something new. The young gothic starlet even juggles two potential suitors, one Normie and one Outcast.
Best of all, the show keeps you guessing who the mastermind behind the chaos is up until the final episode. Throw in plenty of murders to investigate, shocking acts of violence, and amazing laughs, and you have a hell of a season one.
Honestly, even if you’re not a fan of The Addams Family, you should still check Wednesday out. It’s well-written and has great actors and stunning sets. If that’s not enough, there’s plenty of mayhem, murder, and monsters to enjoy. Or maybe just watch it for the dark joy of Wednesday Addams playing Paint It Black on her cello. Most importantly, just give the show a shot. Though I find it beyond perplexing to hear the rumors Netflix isn’t committed to giving it a second season, I suspect young Wednesday Addams will find a way to survive regardless. Two snaps for this brilliantly conceived and executed new show.