First things first: Wednesday isn’t exactly like The Addams Family.
Not only does it restrict most of the family to supporting roles (Wednesday and Thing are the only two regulars here), but it also makes the odd choice to set the atypical Addams Family in a supernatural milieu where their eccentricities don’t stand out at all.
Even so, Wednesday is successful as a YA mystery drama in the vein of Riverdale or Sabrina, with enough nods to the original to satisfy aficionados.
Wednesday Addams (Jenna Ortega, playing the character a little older than normal) is the story’s protagonist. She is sent out of school for torturing her nerdy brother Pugsley by releasing piranhas into the school pool (or, as she puts it, “the only person who can punish my brother is me”).
Her parents soon pick her up and ship her off to Nevermore Academy, a boarding school for outcasts full of teenage vampires, sirens, werewolves, and other miscellaneous oddities, where a string of unsolved murders has been plaguing the town nearby. Could it be a deviant student, or something more sinister?
It’s strange that they would do this, since most of the show’s humour derives from the Addamses’ awkward attempts to make friends with “regular” people and get laughed at for it. And while those moments still pop up here and there, they are brief, and the show ultimately feels more like a gothic Harry Potter.
Doing that to such recognisable figures seems like an injustice.
However, there is sufficient success to push it over the edge. The first thing that stands out is how well cast the show is. Catherine Zeta-Jones is fantastic as Morticia, and Luis Guzman is a welcome return to the shorter, homelier Gomez Addams from the original comic strip, rather than the hunky Raul Julia of the movies.
Because of how great they are, I hope the show incorporates them more frequently.
Wednesdays are better with Ortega, too. One of the show’s better choices was to have her reach middle age, as this allowed her inherent melancholy to blend with traditional adolescent angst, making her seem (barely) more realistic than before.
What about Wednesday’s new career as a promising detective? Sure, that seems to about add up.
Great supporting performances come from Gwendoline Christie (as the school’s headmistress) and Christina Ricci (who, of course, played Wednesday in the 1990s Addams Family flicks) as a suspiciously quiet teacher.
Although Tim Burton’s name may not carry as much weight as it once did, this project is a perfect fit for his unique aesthetic and marks his first foray into television directing outside infrequent specials.
The show has an off-brand sense of humour that blends the macabre and the ludicrous, and it has delicious set design, spot-on costuming, and a lot of blood.
Surely it would be better if all this effort wasn’t put into yet another generic Netflix detective drama.
Wednesday may be a member of the Addams family, but she doesn’t have enough of their genes to cause any misery.
Wednesday is avilable to stream on Netflix from November 23.