Creepy (check). Kooky (check). Mysterious (check). Spooky (check). All together Ooky (check). But this is NOT The Addams Family, it’s Wednesday, the new Netflix series based on the character Wednesday Addams. When the series remembers that, focusing on her razor-sharp wit and macabre personality is a whole lot of devilishly good fun that will entertain even the most ‘normal’ of families.
The series, directed by Tim Burton has Jenna Ortega stepping into the title role as the popular Addams daughter, Wednesday. After a little incident at school involving a swimming pool, the swim team and some piranha she is expelled from her high school. She lands at Nevermore Academy, named in honor of its most famous graduate, Edgar Allen Poe. It also happens to be the same school where Wednesday’s parents, Morticia and Gomez (Catherine Zeta-Jones and Luis Guzman), met decades before.
Of course this is no ordinary school, it is attended by an array of “outcasts” including vampires, shape-shifters, werewolves, sirens, and more. In other words, Wednesday should fit right in. Actually, she doesn’t because it seems even among outcasts she’s an outcast – her schoolmates may be ‘monsters’ but Wednesday is the darkest of the bunch. No matter the situation she brings a grim, sarcastic outlook, dropping the most deliciously dark comments while the whole time wearing an expressionless look on her face.
The series hits its rhythm whenever Wednesday shares the screen with Enid (Emma Myers), her colorful, chipper, werewolf roommate. They are the perfect odd couple both in personality, outlook and style. While Wednesday’s side of the dorm room looks like a haunted house, Enid’s looks like a rainbow exploded. The juxtaposition increases the humor by making Wednesday’s dour nature a bit awkward in comparison with Enid’s more optimistic demeanor. The relative newcomer matches up well with Ortega in a polar opposite sort of way.
At its core the series is a mystery series that has Wednesday, Enid and their friends trying to solve who is killing off students at Nevermore. Like in any great murder mystery, everyone is suspect including her friends and high school suitors Xavier (Percy Hynes White) and Tyler (Hunter Doohan). While the conundrum doesn’t match the stylistic heights of the series, it is a serviceable whodunnit reminiscent of other YA series out there today. For those with years of television viewing under their belts it is fairly standard fare, with a darker spin. But, as I watched with my daughters, I noticed they were often in deep discussion about who the culprit is – a pretty good sign its target demo will get more out of the puzzle.
Jenna Ortega is wickedly good as Wednesday. Her deadpan delivery is spot on, injecting doses of black comedy into even the most mundane moments. You never quite know what she is going to say, but you know it will be shocking. When a friend asks if she will be volunteering to decorate for the school dance, a simple ‘no’ will not do. Instead she replies, “I’d rather stick needles in my eyes…. (pause)…. I’ll probably do that anyway.” Another time, as she descends into a dangerous situation she warns Enid, “If you hear me screaming bloody murder, there’s a good chance I am just enjoying myself.” Hilarious. This delightfully gloomy dialogue about death and destruction is cleverly peppered throughout each episode just enough to not wear out its welcome.
A few years ago this series would have seemed like an odd choice for Ortega, a former squeaky-clean Disney star. She has been trending darker as of late with starring roles in two slasher films in 2022, X and Scream (the requel to the iconic Wes Craven franchise). Actually, this is a more reserved role for the actress as of late and she comfortably slips into it like a coffin into a mausoleum wall. Surprisingly though, shining through the dark, distant exterior Ortega slips in a little bit of heart into her Wednesday opening the door for more depth than other versions of the character.
When the series leans on Ortega she delivers over and over, sadly the same cannot be said for Zeta Jones and Guzmán who lack some of the flair seen in previous Morticia and Gomez Addams to grace the screen. Their dialogue and performances are muted in comparison to Ortega’s and feel a little out of place. While they do not detract from the series, they do not add much either.
Other carryovers from the family fare better. You have to hand it to Thing, Wednesday’s dismembered-hand sidekick, played by Victor Dorobantu, he is full of personality, and always around to help Wednesday or to add a little hand humor to the situation. Another gruesomely familiar face is that of Uncle Fester (no offense to Fred Armisen) who is perfectly cast as the sunken-eyed, bald-headed, electricity-producing weird uncle. Armisen has a limited presence in the first six episodes, but I look forward to seeing more of him. Also onboard to add to the fun are Christina Ricci (a former Wednesday herself) and Gwendoline Christie as staff members of the Nevermore staff, giving off a lot of Hogwarts vibes in the best way.
Created by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, the series is at its best when it is setting the right mood to support Oretaga’s performance. Their script combined with Burton’s eccentric creative sensibilities really work well together. It’s the magnificent art direction, stunning costume design, and Danny Elfman’s creepy score create a setting that perfectly complements the gruesome girl in pigtails’ persona.
The series is at its best when it is at its weirdest, unleashing Wednesday’s peculiar nature; whether she is accompanying the surrounding mayhem with a haunting side of cello, breaking out into a random, zombie-like goth dance, or just calmly smiling while ‘blood’ rains down from the ceiling as her classmates run for cover – the kookier the better. The central mystery may keep some viewers tuning in, but most will do so just hang out with Wednesday and witness her morbid quirks, no matter what day of the week it is.
The full eight episode season of Wednesday is now streaming exclusively on Netflix.