Wednesday Addams is transported into her own magical dimension in this Netflix sitcom. It’s spooky, charming, and boasts a lead who outperforms Christina Ricci.
I’m not sure what the world has come to. You strip one bully high-school jock of one testicle (during a swim meet with piranhas), and you’re whisked away to a boarding school full of oddballs and outcasts.
My heart goes out to young Wednesday Addams (Jenna Ortega), whose fate is revealed in the first moments of the latest Addams Family reboot, a Netflix series simply titled Wednesday. Ortega has the most difficult act to follow.
Christina Ricci defined the role in The Addams Family and then stepped up to the plate again in 1993 as the magnificently unengaged ur-goth girl in Addams Family Values. Despite two challenges Ricci didn’t have to deal with, Ortega holds her own.
First, Wednesday is now a teen, so none of the deadpan, sarcastic comments have the same impact as they had when she was prepubescent. Second, she must leaven it with humanity to mature throughout an eight-hour series that is a part horror story, half murder mystery, but largely a coming-of-age story with typical high-school drama cliches.
Ricci portrayed affectlessness flawlessly, but she was part of an ensemble cast and only had to maintain our attention for a few scenes at a time. Ortega must keep us with her the entire time, which she does.
So Wednesday exacts her piscatory vengeance on the lads who were picking on little brother Pugsley, and after being expelled, she is transferred to Nevermore Academy, her mother Morticia’s alma school (Catherine Zeta-Jones).
The school is administered by an icily uncomfortable headteacher, Larissa Weems (Gwendoline Christie), who was previously a student there with Morticia and who assigns her mutinous new charge a roommate in the form of perky student Enid Sinclair (Emma Myers). “Are you okay?” Enid asks upon their meeting. “You appear a little pale.” If appearances could kill, Wednesday would have been a very short series. Miss Thornhill, their dorm mother, visits them in the evening to check how they’re doing – portrayed by Ricci herself, as if in blessing.
Wednesday informs her, “She’s been showering me with hospitality.” “I aim to repay the favor.” “While she was sleeping.”
Enid takes her on a Clueless/Mean Girls-style tour of Nevermore’s cliques, including the Fangs (vampires), Furs (werewolves), Stoners (gorgons), and Scales (humans) (sirens – led by the meanest girl Bianca, played with terrifying aplomb by Joy Sunday). She also provides advice on how to navigate her new school and introduces some of the personalities who will become key to the mystery Wednesday will soon be investigating.
These include: several killings in the nearby town of Jericho and surrounding woodland by what the police are increasingly finding difficult to deny must be a monster; possible assassination attempts on Wednesday’s life; the suggestion that her father Gomez (Luis Guzmán) committed the murder himself in his youth; and whatever Wednesday’s visions – seemingly fragments of the future – are attempting to tell her.
What about the drawings inside the books in the secret basement that appear to show the future? And Xavier, the student artist (Percy Hynes White), who can bring his paintings to life? And don’t tell me there’s nothing more about Dr. Kinbott (Riki Lindhome), the therapist in charge of the court-ordered counseling sessions on Wednesday than meets the eye.
There are also adolescent crushes, new relationships, prom, secret organizations, and other “normie” issues to contend with.
However, the show’s creators, Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, also created Smallville and know how to handle several plotlines crisscrossing the real and magical worlds. Furthermore, the show’s principal director is Tim Burton, who knows a thing or two about this sort of stuff – and lends the whole thing the eldritch-tinged look it requires.
It loses something by not pitting Wednesday against normalcy, as the films did, and by featuring a more fractured Addams family. In whatever form you met them, the love and togetherness of the family against the world were always one of the great delights. But it has enough humor, charm, and propulsion to make that not matter as much as it could. Certainly, the 11-year-old I keep on hand to test programs intended for a younger audience was enthralled by the entire series, declaring himself extremely gratified by both its resolve and its cliffhanger.
Adolescent crushes, new relationships, prom, secret organizations, and other “normie” difficulties must also be dealt with. However, the show’s creators, Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, also produced Smallville and are familiar with handling several plotlines that straddle the real and magical worlds. Furthermore, the show’s main director is Tim Burton, who knows a thing or two about this kind of thing – and gives the whole thing the eldritch-tinged appearance it needs.