The Addams Family brand does not get old. While it can be used and interpreted poorly, every reimagining has the ability to create something wonderful without putting much of a twist on the original concept. “Wednesday,” the new Netflix original TV show, directed by Tim Burton, follows Wednesday Addams (Jenna Ortega) as she attends Nevermore Academy, a boarding school for outcasts. The mystery comedy, while far from the perfection of “The Addams Family Values” (1993), entertains from start to finish.
There is a more blatantly supernatural aspect to “Wednesday” than in past iterations of the Addams family. With the world being split into outcasts and normies. Outcasts being those of supernatural classifications, werewolves, psychics, sirens, etc, and normies being the majority population, serving as a metaphor for any number of real forms of societal discrimination. The Addamses are classified as outcasts because of their psychic abilities/witchcraft but remain unusual even within outcast circles.
In lieu of a longer summary, the most straightforward description of “Wednesday” is “Gossip Girl” meets “Goosebumps.” A teen drama oriented around a series of spooky supernatural mysteries that has no idea what specific age it is targeting. Characterizations, a notable lack of sex and the show’s sense of humor feel appropriate for middle school audiences, but swear words, gore and occasional plotlines based on darker subject matter prevent it from being classified as a kid’s show. This unevenness is noteworthy not because it takes away from the show but rather because it may make the show better for a wider audience. A major problem with shows like “Riverdale” and “Euphoria” is they’re a little too angsty for their own good. They stew in a world of the supposed harsh reality that is as separated from the real world as a light sitcom, so it appeals to high schoolers who enjoy grownup feeling situations, but for those outside of high school, it can feel like a parody that takes itself very seriously. “Wednesday,” through commenting on the inherent silliness of its characters and plotlines, prevents itself from ever getting too deep into being a teen drama or straying too far from the Addams Family brand, but its TV-14 rating allows the show to have serious moments. These keep the stakes high and the mysteries tense.
A more damaging area of unevenness in the show was the mentality of being an Addams. A core feature of any iteration of the Addams family is their love for all things morose and morbid. This penchant becomes more difficult to express the more grounded the world around the Addamses becomes. When someone dies, and the show frames it as a tragedy, it is off-putting when the protagonist of the show celebrates the death. But since that is central to Wednesday’s being, you cannot just have her act out of character. “Wednesday” never found a satisfying way to reconcile this. When directly affected, Wednesday would show empathy and remorse for a character gravely injured or killed, but one degree of separation from the victim and she expressed excitement around the tragedy. This made her character often come off as unfortunately villainous.
Wednesday’s character was probably the show’s most consistent weakness. The actress Jenna Ortega did a great job with the role, and most of the time she was a great protagonist. Funny, dynamic and true to the established character, but there were moments every episode that thoroughly annoyed me. Wednesday was simply too perfect, and even when she messed up, the world was quick to forgive. Every challenge Wednesday faced she was perfectly equipped for. Wednesday’s only presented flaws were her stubbornness and her insistence on being a loner. Both of which ultimately served her well in solving the show’s overarching mystery.
Depending on the viewer, “Wednesday’s” greatest asset was its world. If you are not a fan of wacky realism, it’s not the show for you. The Addams Family and Tim Burton probably will not generally suit your taste. But to people who enjoy these types of stories, “Wednesday” really succeeds in setting a world that allows for strangeness without losing all sense of grounding. This was achieved through side characters, location and lore.
A massive range of characters appears in “Wednesday.” From Thing, a disembodied hand that can move, hear and communicate as well as any human, to Sheriff Donovan (Jamie McShane), a widower, who struggles to communicate with his son while suppressing his grief and leading a murder investigation. These two characters successfully fit into the same world entirely through their reactions. It doesn’t matter how strange or boilerplate a character is, everyone in this show, besides Wednesday, reacts to things as a human should, thus the world is cohesive. The same goes for the setting and lore. As a Tim Burton project, the physical location feels odd, slanted and overly stylized infrastructure is kind of his thing, but it refrains from getting too “Edward Scissorhands”-ish. Many areas look crazy but they are interspersed between normal-looking buildings and landscapes. Nevermore Academy exists in a classic small town spiced with weird locations to reflect its many outcast citizens. And still, strange things happen everywhere, all locations are treated the same. Lastly, the lore of “Wednesday” takes standard New England history, mainly the treatment of heretics, but switches out false accusations of witchcraft for actual supernatural abilities. This way, no matter the specifics, viewers already understand what happened and the long-term effects it would have had on the area. Whether or not the witchcraft is real is unimportant to the viewer’s perception of the show’s lore.
The final section of this review serves to comment on the mysteries “Wednesday” is built around. It strikes me as rude to simply say the mysteries in this show are predictable. Not everyone watches the same shows in the same amounts as I do, so I will simply say, while the multiple mysteries in this show tend to be straightforward and rely on simple subversions of expectations, they are consistently fun to watch unfold and “Wednesday” manages to almost entirely avoid the many irritating mystery show tropes. It is a fun show, it’s just not very complex.
“Wednesday” is extremely bingeable, it does not have a clear worst episode or character, it uses the Addams family property well and has very few flaws that fully stifle its enjoyment. I look forward to its inevitable, though not yet announced, season two.