Full of Woe

‘Wednesday,’ a not-wacky enough visit to the ‘Addams Family Universe’

For some reason, the public can’t seem to stop its love affair with The Addams Family. At the time of its inception in the 1960s, the creepy, kooky family subverted notions of the proper American family and life in suburbia. By this point, the nuclear family has blown up, but Netflix’s Wednesday is the latest addition to the apparently ceaseless legacy.

After she tortures her brother Pugsley’s bullies, a prep school expels Wednesday Addams (Jenna Ortega), and the court orders to attend therapy. Her parents Morticia (Catherine Zeta Jones) and Gomez (Luiz Guzmán) are delighted to use the incident as an excuse to enroll their daughter at Nevermore Academy, a boarding school for wayward teen monsters which also happens to be their alma mater. Wednesday intends to run away, but experiences psychic visions which lead her to a town-wide mystery she feels compelled to uncover.

As the titular character, Jenna Ortega nails Wednesday’s unblinking stare, preternatural stillness, and baby goth attitude. She absolutely is a look, but happens to be a total presence, too. Without her talent, this series would collapse, as Ortega ably stands strong in her chunky Mary Janes, going toe-to-toe with Gwendoline Christie and Christina Ricci on the regs.

Unfortunately, not every cast member is of equal caliber, and the self-serious dialogue and murky worldbuilding does no one any favors. Wednesday loves to rattle off edgelord quips, which elicit little, if any, reaction. It might be because Nevermore Academy is full of actual monsters who are unphased, but it could be that she’s shocked them with her My Chemical Romance precociousness. The flat reaction shots serve no purpose.

The story itself is even weaker than the putrid performances. There is a half-baked mystery about the town’s founding, involving Pilgrims, the evils of the patriarchy, and shameful predictability. At the same time, there’s a monster on the loose that’s less scary than something chasing Scooby-Doo. In case that’s not enough, the show sloppily shoves a subplot about Wednesday’s dad possibly being a teenaged murderer into the mix to up the stakes. The overall momentum never quite gains traction due to a glut of distracting side action and a dearth of centralized plot development.

Wednesday could have been a brilliant show about a self-styled outcast who keeps people at bay by being darkly quippy and pretending to be a monster whose entire sense of self unravels when confronted with a world full of actual beasts. Instead, it’s an overdone teen angst spectacle wherein the girls envy her, the boys wanna date her, and she simply wants to dance to The Cramps. The Doogie Howser voiceovers while Wednesday types on her manual typewriter do not improve anything here.

It feels like some mad scientist at Netflix broke into the CW lab and stole a few parts of Nancy Drew, a dash of Riverdale, and a whole lot of Legacies to brew up Wednesday, then sprinkled in Hogwarts style in the hopes snazzy uniforms would make everything look fresh. And, to be fair, the show is exactly how one would expect a teen drama made by Tim Burton to look. He’s one of the executive producers and directed four episodes, bringing his usual collaborators Danny Elfman and Colleen Atwood along to amp up the atmosphere in their typical spooky-ooky style.

Wednesday has a compelling pedigree and lush production design. It looks amazing, but lacks substance; maybe in that sense, it works brilliantly as a statement on modern American life. Tim Burton has yearned to explore this world for decades; now that he finally has the freedom to do it, it would be glorious if he’d found a way for Wednesday to be a little more lively and a hell of a lot more fun.

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Paula Shaffer

Paula Shaffer has worked on shows for a variety of networks including ABC, Hulu, A&E, HGTV, and WeTV. Her family zom-com script, Chompers, was a selected work of the Stowe Story Labs Feature Campus in 2021, and a 2022 semi-finalist in the Emerging Screenwriters contest, which led to placement on the Coverfly Red List.

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