A More Chilling Spin on the Creepy, Kooky Addams Family
Dec 29, 2022
The creepy and kooky Addams Family, arguably the First Family of spooky season, have had a perpetual presence in popular culture over the decades. After getting their start in Charles Addams’ New Yorker comics in the ’30s, and debuting onscreen in the 1964 television series The Addams Family, they make their return to the small screen this November with Netflix’s supernatural teen drama Wednesday.
Rather than focusing on the family as a whole, the series instead centers on teenage daughter Wednesday Addams, played to woeful perfection by Jenna Ortega, as she is expelled from yet another school and sent by her parents Gomez (Luis Guzmán) and Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) to Nevermore Academy, the same school where the two of them met and fell in love. As much as she thrives in darkness, Wednesday bristles at the idea of being expected to live in the significant shadow cast by her parents, and her mother in particular, who was as much of a social butterfly overachiever as it’s possible to be in a school proudly populated by outcasts.
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Wednesday’s arrival at Nevermore is anything but easy. She is placed in her mother’s old dorm alongside Enid (Emma Myers), a late-blooming werewolf who loves bright colors as much as Wednesday loves various shades of black and gray. Though their different personalities lead to friction at first, in the manner of all good coming-of-age stories, the two start to realize they might be stronger together than they are apart. Also making settling in somewhat difficult are the two mysteries that may or may not be connected, but both of which somehow trace back to Nevermore and the surrounding town of Jericho. The first is a case that may or may not involve someone close to Wednesday, while the other — arguably more pressing — is the issue of the gruesome murders taking place around town.
Image via Netflix
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Unlike the earlier TV incarnations, including the 1992 animated series and the 1998 live-action series The New Addams Family (a campy staple of my own childhood), Wednesday does not follow a problem-of-the-week format, opting instead for a season-long supernatural mystery in the vein of Stranger Things, or The Hardy Boys. Unlike those earlier incarnations as well, the series really leans into the horror-adjacent aspect that has always surrounded the Addams family, but which earlier incarnations never fully explored. While this is definitely a show the whole family can watch together, there is just enough horror and gore to really earn that TV-14 rating.
Where Wednesday really thrives is in its cast. Ortega, Guzmán, and Zeta-Jones, as well as Isaac Ordonez, who plays Pugsley Addams, are picture-perfect choices, looking like the Charles Addams cartoons come to life. The entire family takes these beloved characters and truly makes them their own, maintaining the aspects that have made the kooky Addams so recognizable over the decades, while infusing them with an energy that breathes fresh life into the role. As quirky Uncle Fester, Fred Armisen is a source of some needed comedic relief, with a deadpan cheerful delivery that pays homage to Jackie Coogan’s take on the part back in 1964.
As far as new characters, the series also stars Gwendoline Christie as Nevermore headmistress Principal Weems and Riki Lindhome as Wednesday’s court-mandated therapist Dr. Kinbott. They, alongside Wednesday’s Nevermore classmates Bianca (Joy Sunday), Xavier (Percy Hynes White), and Ajax (Georgie Farmer), as well as Hunter Doohan as the sheriff’s “normie” son Tyler, really round things out and make the show a cross between a supernatural mystery series and a high school drama. Because all the trappings of a high school drama — school dances, trouble with crushes, after-school clubs, and fitting in — are present, albeit with a gloomy, spiderweb-covered gloss.
Image via Netflix
Of course, the true highlight of the ensemble cast — for diehard Addams fans, anyway — is former Wednesday Addams herself Christina Ricci, who plays Ms. Thornhill, one of Wednesday’s Nevermore teachers. Though the two do share quite a few scenes, and though there are references to the wider meta of The Addams Family throughout (except for the tragic absence of the catchy theme song), I applaud the creative team for resisting the urge to make Ricci’s Wednesday history too obvious.
Previous incarnations of The Addams Family have always focused on the family as a whole, either dealing with their own interpersonal drama or more frequently casting them in a sort of “us versus them” situation, “them” being conventional society. That conflict is still very present in Wednesday, with the teenagers of Nevermore Academy looked at with skepticism and fear by the town of Jericho. With eight episodes devoted to the mysteries that connect the town and the school, the series has time to dive into this divide with some nuance beyond the idea that one of the two sides is objectively “wrong.”
My biggest fear, as someone who has seen and loved every incarnation of The Addams Family, was that the undercurrent of family and love and support present in every version would be lost in Wednesday in favor of a grittier take on the well-known characters. After all, this would not be the first time decades-old characters got an unrecognizable makeover (Riverdale comes to mind). But while the Addams are not quite the rock-solid unit they are in perhaps the best-known adaptations, 1991’s The Addams Family and 1993’s The Addams Family Values, it’s very clear that they do care about each other.
Ultimately, despite being a darker-than-usual take on The Addams Family, Wednesday retains all the hallmarks that make the stories and the characters special. It succeeds very well at pushing the story outside its usual genre and into something a little more grown-up, and a little more supernatural, but never loses sight of the heart, humor, and kooky horror that have kept us all double-snapping for decades.
Wednesday hits Netflix on November 23, which is — appropriately — a Wednesday.
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