Tim Burton’s Addams Family spinoff Wednesday is creepy, kooky, altogether spooky, and features a star-making turn from Jenna Ortega as the title character.
The Addams Family debuted in the pages of The New Yorker in 1958, where Charles Addams’ macabre cartoons ran for more than 50 years. The characters got their own sitcom in the 1960s and a pair of blockbuster movies in the 1990s, while more recently they’ve appeared in a Broadway musical and a couple of animated films.
Along the way, there have been comics, books, video games, and toys, with the gothic clan adapted and repackaged all over the place. Now they make their streaming debut thanks to an eight-part Netflix series with the production values of several Hollywood blockbusters.
Titular teen Wednesday takes centre stage in the new show, the narrative following her efforts to fit in at a new school while battling monsters, (nearly) enjoying a spot of romance, and solving the odd mystery. Which isn’t surprising as writers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar took a similar approach to Superman with Smallville, and that show ran for more than a decade.
But this is a Tim Burton joint too, meaning Wednesday is also a gothic comedy-horror that pokes fun at small-town America while celebrating those strange souls that society shuns.
Spoilers for Wednesday to follow…
Wednesday joins Nevermore
The series gets off to a rapid start with Wednesday kicked out of Nancy Reagan High – for a bloody prank involving piranha – and sent to Nevermore, the boarding school where her parents met when they were her age.
The journey there gives us an early glimpse at Luis Guzman as Gomez and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Morticia. Though while the former looks more like comic-strip Gomez than previous incarnations, Guzman delivers a strangely subdued performance, while Zeta-Jones is equally muted as Morticia. So it comes as something of a relief that they only cameo in a couple of episodes.
Nevermore itself looks amazing, all gothic towers and rising spires. Though the school itself is frequently reminiscent of Harry Potter’s Howarts, from the cliques and competitions to the fact that the super-powered pupils have a nickname for mere mortals, with the muggles here known as “normies.”
Continuing the Potter riff, there’s also a prophecy involving Wednesday that frequently mirrors Harry’s, one that puts her life in danger, and gradually morphs into the show’s central storyline.
Getting into the (dark and vengeful) school spirit
But before the dark stuff, we get a little light, with early episodes revolving around major school events, which Wednesday’s perky roommate Enid pressures her into.
Meaning Addams hits the water to compete in the Poe Cup, then hits the dancefloor where she throws some seriously impressive shapes at the Rav’N event, the former referencing Addams Family Values, the latter paying bloody homage to Carrie.
There’s the dedication of a local monument, where Wednesday makes a musical mark. A birthday celebration that doesn’t go according to plan. And a screening of Legally Blonde that Addams finds torture, but in a good way.
The latter happens during a date, the show brandishing its YA credentials via a pair of suitors endeavouring to warm her ice-cold heart. One is a troubled local, the other a troubled pupil, and while both harbor feelings for Wednesday, the course of true love does not run smooth. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Monsters, murder, and mayhem
Something is rotten in Jericho, the town where Nevermore resides; secrets that some locals keep, while others ignore. But Wednesday refuses to “embrace the culture of dishonesty and denial”, so sets about investigating the many mysteries that cross her path.
They hark back to the founding of the town, by Joseph Crackstone, which we see via visions that cause Wednesday to question her own sanity.
A mystery that’s closer to home involves Gomez during his time at Nevermore, when a classmate died, and many pointed the finger at Addams. Though normies believe he has blood on his hands, Morticia maintains he’s a hero.
But the most pressing issue is the monster prowling the local woods, killing kids for no apparent reason, and putting Wednesday and her new friends in danger. Though as she edges closer to the truth, it becomes apparent that all of Jericho’s mysteries are somehow interlinked.
Christina Ricci returns!
Jenna Ortega shines as Wednesday, just as Christina Ricci did before her. And Ricci pops up here, as a normie teacher who looks out for Addams Junior. Her Miss Thornhill is the opposite of Wednesday, with red hair, colorful clothes, and an upbeat demeanor, and it’s a blast watching Ricci play against type.
She certainly fares better than Gwendoline Christie as Principal Weens, who delivers a decidedly wooden performance as Wednesday’s Nevermore nemesis. Fred Armisen too makes a slightly pointless Uncle Fester, who appears for one episode to move the plot forward without raising a laugh, hard as he tries.
Far better is Emma Myers as Enid Sinclair, Wednesday’s relentlessly chipper roommate who transforms from sworn enemy to partner in crime over the course of the season; their adorable friendship ends up being the beating heart of the show.
The Verdict: Is Wednesday good?
The Addams Family have been on quite the journey, the satirical comedy becoming broad for TV, then darkly comic on film. Here their antics are reinvented, so while the dark humor is retained, murder, action, mystery, and drama are added to the mix. Indeed, there are so many kills that it feels like more characters die than survive over the eight-episode run.
It’s a heady mix, but Gough and Millar know how to write such material, while Tim Burton was seemingly born to direct it. The result is a marvel that manages to tick pretty much all the aforementioned genre boxes.
But beyond the writing, directing, and costume and production design that’s to die for, it’s Jenna Ortega who makes this work, her Wednesday funny, adorable, and frequently terrifying.
Wednesday review score: 4/5
Wednesday is the best thing Tim Burton has made in a decade, a show that pays both respect and homage to the best Addams Family iterations, while putting a new spin on the story. It really is a scream.
Wednesday is available to stream on Netflix now, while you can read about the show’s ending and how it sets up Season 2 here.