Title: Wednesday (Netflix – 2022)
Creators: Alfred Gough & Miles Millar
Directors: Tim Burton, Gandja Monteiro, James Marshall
Writers: Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, Kayla Alpert, April Blair, Matt Lambert
Cast: Jenna Ortega, Gwendoline Christie, Rik Lindhome, Jamie McShane, Hunter Doohan, Percy Hynes White, Emma Myers, Joy Sunday, Georgie Farmer, Naomi J. Ogawa, Christina Ricci
They say you can choose your friends, but not your family. But the gothic, black-clad teenager Wednesday Addams (played by Jenna Ortega) wouldn’t have chosen any different even if she could. She grew up in the vast and ancient Addams villa with her strange family: Her loving parents, the occultist Morticia (played by Cathrine Zeeta-Jones) and sinister Gomez (played by Luis Guzmán), and her younger brother Pugsley (played by Isaac Ordonez), who might not be the sharpest tool in the shed. Anyway, Wednesday has a lot of sharp tools in her shed (knives, mostly), so it’s no big deal.
But her favorite in the family is the criminally insane sociopath Uncle Fester (played by Fred Armisen). He always makes Wednesday smile. And then there is the sentient severed hand, Thing (played by Victor Dorobantu’s hand), who acts as the family’s (but mostly Wednesday’s) servant, spy and pet. He doesn’t say much, as he has no mouth (remember, he’s only a hand!) Luckily, Thing has learned sign language.
So life is good for our little black-clad sociopath. This is understandable, as she comes from a long line of sociopaths, criminals and murderers. But at least they love each other. Well, when they’re not trying to kill each other, that is. But it’s mainly for fun.
No, one can’t choose one’s family. But when the family you got is threatened in any way, you stand up for it! And when the sports jock bullies at school jam Pugsley into Wednesday’s locker cabinet, it is time for revenge! And turning to page 38 of Wednesday’s book of revenge recipes, we read that revenge is a dish that can be served cold and hot at any hour of the day. This particular flavor, however, consists of two servings of live piranhas into the school swimming pool, where the school’s sports jocks are training for water polo and whatnot.
The result: blood in the water, one chewed-off testicle and expulsion from the school. The parents of the sports jock with the chewed-off testicle threatened with attempted murder charges but thought better of it. And how would that look? Attempted murder? Everyone would know that she couldn’t get the job done. But at least that one is removed from the gene pool!
So Wednesday is expelled from another school – one of many. She is therefore sent to the Nevermore Academy, a school for outcasts, freaks and monsters. And I should note here that in the world of the Addams Family, the existence of supernatural creatures is not exactly a closely-guarded secret. And here is a school full of them, built near the oh-so-normal American small-town. It is also Wednesday’s parents’ old school. It is here that they met, fell in love, and had their cults and conspiracies. You know, all the usual school stuff. And when some of these old secrets surface, monsters start roaming the dark forests outside the school, and people turn out dead, Wednesday finds the most surprising thing: she might actually enjoy staying at the Nevermore Academy!
Wednesday is a spin-off series based on the classic Addams Family series created by cartoonist Charles Addams in the late 30s. In these single-panel cartoons, we follow the strange and cooky Addams family in various shenanigans. The Addams Family later found their way into other media, such as full-length cartoons, books, tv-shows and films, computer games and even a musical or two.
The series is created by Miles Millar and Alfred Gough, with Tim Burton directing the first four episodes. Here we follow the now teenage Wednesday Addams as she is sent to another school after being expelled from everywhere else. At Nevermore Academy, she is faced with mysteries, conspiracies and occult threats that may or may not be tied to her family’s past. And she has to tackle the greatest challenge of all: getting friends!
In many ways, Wednesday is presented as a high-school comedy-drama, but here, the traditional groups of like-minded students are instead various supernatural and occult beings. Instead of the sports jocks, you have the werewolves, and the popular and trendy gang everyone wants to hang with, are watery sirens with the power to enthrall. There are vampires, shapeshifters and sorcerers.
This, of course, leads to a colorful cast of characters (unless you count Wednesday, who is “allergic to color”). Wednesday’s new roommate is the super-positive blogger and social media addict, the werewolf Enid (played by Emma Myers), who runs the school rumor blog. Well, calling her a werewolf would be a stretch, as the only thing she has going for her in that department is her retractable, razor-sharp claws. She hasn’t “wolfed out” yet, and her parents are concerned. Maybe sending her to a “lycanthropist” would work? Or maybe a werewolf summer camp?
Neither can the school’s headmistress, Larissa Weems (played by Gwendoline Christine), be counted among the normal nor possibly among the sane. But looking past secrets and obsessions, she does what she can to keep the school running. But when a murderous beast starts terrorizing the forests outside the school, her already frayed nerves take a hit. There are classes to organize, school activities, parent meetings and schedules to balance, and now this. And surprising absolutely no one, Gwendoline Christine is brilliant in this role.
Director Tim Burton is in his gothic element as he takes us through the first four episodes. This is a great example of “the right man for the job” as Burton conjures up his unique style and visuals from earlier works before he gives the chair over to Gandja Monteiro and James Marshall. This is a series chock full of black humor and charm, but in the change of director halfway through the season, the one shifts somewhat from being witty and darkly humorous to investigative horror. This keeps the show fresh and evolving, but I missed Burton’s comedy and style in some of the season’s later episodes.
But that’s not to say that the dark humor is always spot-on. The dark humor is sometimes taken a bit too far, and the directors seem to go out of their way to present Wednesday as a sinister sociopath. Most of the time, it is oddly charming and funny, but once in a while, Wednesday comes through as so mean-spirited that she becomes unlikeable, even in the context of the universe in which the story is set.
But all in all, Wednesday is charming, often hilarious and populated by a colorful and likable cast of characters. Other than Jenna Ortega, who is excellent in the role of the snarky Wednesday Addams, there are lots of other great performances, such as Gwendoline Christie as headmistress Weems and Emma Myers as the wannabe werewolf Enid. And as for the episodes where Wednesday’s parents, Morticia and Gomez, show up, often chauffeured around in a large black car that looks very much like a hearse, they steal every scene.
Wednesday is a great oddball comedy series with a dash of horror. It is sharp, witty and in-your-face. And if you’re especially religious or conservative, you might take offense. And it has the coolest cello version of Rolling Stones’ Paint It, Black I have ever heard!