SERIES REVIEW – The Addams Family, pop culture’s perennial clan of creepy pranksters, is back on the screen again, this time in Netflix’s high school drama starring Wednesday Addams, princess of piercing looks and perfect pigtails. Tim Burton returns, this time as a producer, to take the lead role of the Addams Family’s hilariously cold and wooden-faced little girl and aim it straight at young people in a Harry Potter-esque spinoff with a mix of spooky, zany, and delightfully dark genres.
In Wednesday, it’s less important that she’s an Addams (played by “X” star Jenna Ortega) and more important that her name and clothes are recognizable when you scroll through Netflix’s crowded home screen. Because Wednesday feels a lot less like a sequel to any Addams story than a completely separate teen series packed with stars and supernatural elements, with plenty of humor peppered into the soft-horror events.
None of this is actually a problem because this new Wednesday is a full-fledged personality in her own little universe of fun, even if the series itself is more reminiscent of Harriet the Spy or Riverdale than The Addams Family – but the main character herself immediately reminds me of an old iconic clip from Prodigy’s Omen, featuring a strikingly similar little girl.
That’s why you don’t throw piranhas in the pool…
Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (“Smallville”, “Spider-Man 2. “), created by the famously weird and spooky director Tim Burton, “Wednesday” begins with the title character being kicked out of his regular school (for some piranhas that bit off a kid’s testicles…) and forced to attend Nevermore Academy, home of the “outcasts,” the series’ euphemism for non-humans like vampires, werewolves and sirens
Wednesday’s parents, Morticia and Gomez (Catherine Zeta-Jones and the hilariously mismatched Luis Guzman, who see relatively little of over the course of the eight-episode season) went to Nevermore and loved it, so Wednesday’s mission is to hate it. But our would-be detective novelist is intrigued enough by the series of local deaths to engage with the Nevermore community despite his cynicism, sarcasm and basic misanthropy. When he has psychic visions that suggest he is involved in the murders, he becomes obsessed with solving the cases.
Friends, lovers, enemies, and ‘Isis’: the ‘walking’ severed hand – it’s all there…
As in Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Scooby Doo, Wednesday has a small gang of supernaturally-powered protagonists joining its protagonist, but also other outcasts and “norm” (normal) friends, lovers and enemies who help or restrict, and sometimes even try to kill, our heroine. Needless to say, unexpected betrayals and reversals of fortune (even from the “bad” side to the good) are not missing from the series. There’s her roommate Enid (Emma Myers), a cool and sassy werewolf who is both extremely self-conscious and emo; Xavier (Percy Hynes White), the supernaturally charming boy who has a thing for Wednesday; and Tyler (Hunter Doohan), the “normal” charming boy who also has a thing for Wednesday. They are watched over by the piercing eyes of Principal Weems (Game of Thrones’ Gwendoline Christie).
And let’s not forget ‘Isis’, the pacing and ever-serving and occasionally self-righteous severed hand (from the classic Addams Family), who adds plenty of additional humor to an already funny series, thanks to Wednesday’s sarcastic style.
Wednesday feels like a conglomeration of teen series and movies that came before it. A little bit of the small-town drama of “Riverdale”, a dash of the boarding school holiday of the “Harry Potter” films, a whiff of the love triangle of the “Vampire Diaries”, a teaspoon of the lonely female detective Harriet and a teaspoon of the melodrama of “Beverly Hills, 90210”. Despite this, we didn’t feel that the series was a mere mixture of rip-offs, and the occasionally predictable plot doesn’t mean it wasn’t entertaining. Wednesday may aspire to the greatness and success of Buffy, but it comes from the pleasantly kitschy side of “Teen Wolf”.
Grumpy Young Girl
The “black and white” Ortega is perfectly suited to Wednesday’s perpetually grumpy, wooden-faced expression and funny pigtails, even as she contrasts sharply with Christina Ricci’s iconic performance in the Addams films of the early 1990s (it probably goes without saying that Ricci appears in a supporting role as a teacher in the series). Ortega’s performance walks a fine line between amusingly stoic and robotic, making Wednesday a tough-looking girl with hidden depths. You can see that the actress is fully committed to her own version of the character, even if it is perhaps a little softer than what we are used to seeing from her.
The Addams Family has been brought to the big screen, the small screen and the Broadway stage so many times that it’s hard to offer anything too new. A few elements don’t match creator Charles Addams’ original vision of the elder Addams child, but that’s almost irrelevant (at least if you’re not a hardcore fan). Gough, Millar, and Burton create a world all their own. Once you get into it, it’s easy to hang around Nevermore, enjoying Ortega’s sarcastic one-liners, grandiose costumes, superb sets, and unique visual world.