Tim Burton’s reimagination of the morbid Addams Family, with Wednesday Addams as the central character, is a coming-of-age teen drama
Last Updated: 06.18 PM, Nov 25, 2022
Story: Wednesday Addams, the eldest child of Gomez and Morticia Addams, is forced to join a new boarding school after setting flesh-eating piranhas on the bullies who tormented her brother Pugsley. The new boarding school, called the Nevermore Academy, is a school for vampires, werewolves, and other creatures and humans with special abilities. Despite Wednesday’s initial displeasure of joining the school, which even her parents once attended, she quickly becomes fascinated by the mysteries of her new surroundings and the series of murders that have shocked the local town of Jericho. The unsociable Wednesday decides to investigate the dark secrets of the town and the school.
Review: The Addams Family are arguably among the most popular characters in fiction, having been adapted from Charles Addams’ comic strips into films, TV shows, and video games. The 1991 film The Addams Family and the subsequent 1992 animated adaptation brought the franchise to a global audience. The morbid family and their penchant for the macabre became a cult classic over the years and Christina Ricci’s portrayal of Wednesday Addams in the 1991 film also remains a fan favourite. So the idea of gothic horror fantasy legend Tim Burton helming a Netflix series about Wednesday Addams was always going to be surrounded with plenty of hype and excitement. However, despite an engaging plot and a fresh take on the characters and setting, it is riddled with familiar tropes and a story that is far too predictable.
Jenna Ortega’s portrayal of Wednesday does not try to imitate Ricci’s performance from the 90s. Ortega balances Wednesday's deadpan demeanour and her newfound sense of adventure to perfection. Ortega’s stoic expressions and the subtle changes to hide her true emotions are evidence that the 20-year-old could be on her way to stardom. And within the opening minutes of the pilot episode, she demonstrates why any comparison between her version and Ricci’s iconic version is futile. It is also interesting to note that Ricci is also part of the cast as Wednesday’s dorm mother, Marilyn Thornhill, at the Nevermore Academy in this series.
The setting for the new series is unlike any previous adaptation of The Addams Family. In fact, the Nevermore Academy is an original concept created just for the new TV series, inspired by an Edgar Allan Poe poem. In fact, the legendary writer is referenced throughout the series. However, the similarities Nevermore Academy has to Hogwarts from the Harry Potter franchise and Xavier’s School for the Gifted from the X-Men franchise are hard to miss. And the core themes of wizards having to live in secret from the muggles and the mutants in X-Men living as a discriminated minority are incorporated into the series. The werewolves, vampires, and other beings with special abilities are called outcasts while the regular humans are called normies. While the subtext of racism is the message conveyed through these themes, it is a little too on the nose and it is not as compelling as some of the iconic X-Men storylines.
The story’s central focus is how Wednesday begins to understand human emotions and is even open to the idea of being attached to those around her. There is also a significant focus on the mother-and-daughter dynamic between Wednesday and Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones). While these plot points have certainly worked well for the series, it is a rinse and repeat of familiar tropes such as teen angst and coming-of-age. In many ways, the series is what a CW teen drama would look like if the CW featured better visuals, acting, and writing. But the show’s biggest drawback is that it does not give the aura of a Tim Burton production. It is akin to a what-if scenario where “‘what if a Tim Burton film was made by Disney”? The black comedy and the macabre aesthetic are toned down and are almost non-existent on Wednesday.
Despite the obvious shortcomings, the great mix of cast and characters, and the dark history of the town, will keep one invested in the series from the start to finish. Gwendoline Christie as Principal Larrisa Weems, Emma Myers as Enid, and Joy Sunday as Bianca essay excellent supporting roles. In fact, Enid’s own subplot as a young werewolf who is yet to fully ‘wolf out’ is carefully woven into the narrative to great effect. Even though the secret identities of the mysterious antagonist and the monster lurking in the shadows are far too predictable, one might be compelled to watch the finale just to check if their theories about the story were spot on.
Verdict: Wednesday is noticeably different to any previous adaptation of The Addams Family. It offers a fresh concept with new and intriguing characters, but familiar tropes and a predictable story hold it back from fulfilling its potential. A second season could be on the cards considering the manner in which season one ended.