When I first heard of Netflix doing a series focusing on Wednesday Addams and Tim Burton was involved, I was skeptical. Or more or less biased, you could say. Christina Ricci had done such a great job as the character in the 1991 movie The Addams Family at only 11 and then she did a way better job in Addams Family Values. Who could top that?
But many actresseses don’t want to be typecast and her career since then has had her playing characters who Wednesday would be very critical of and polar opposites. There was something about Ricci’s performance that spoke to a generation of youth in the early 1990s. Watching both movies especially Family Values, you really see how what Ricci did with the dark humor written by Paul Rudnick. Her Thanksgiving speech is priceless and more evident as the truth is being shine on Ameican history.
Lisa Loring originated the character in the 1960s TV show and other actors young and old portrayed her in movies, animated features and cartoons. The other recent actress to portray her has been Chloe Grace Moretz in the recent animated movies, even though it’s hard to picture Moretz with her blonde hair and sweet, innocent face. There has to be a little mischief behind the eyes but with the same lack of sympathy for anything. Wednesday was Goth before it was a thing and set the standard.
So, normally, whenever a reboot/remake is being made on Netflix, there’s a groan. And I admit the first couple of episodes, I was hesitant about this series. But I can officially say the torch has been passed from Ricci to Jenna Ortega, who does her own thing with the role. Thankfully, Ortega isn’t trying to upstage Ricci. And it’s almost impossible to compare the series with the early 1990s movies except for the fact they’re about the same characters. There’s a different tone with this series that keeps the dark humor the movies had as well as what Charles Addams intended.
The Addams were supposed to be a parody of the nuclear family archetype. But in recent years people have noted the irony that the Addams were a far more loving and caring family than say, the Waltons or the Cleavers. Luis Guzman and Catherine Zeta-Jones play Gomez and Morticia Addams, respectively. While the late Raul Julia played Gomez as a latin lover type, Guzman still manages to play Gomez as a likeable and loving husband and father. He has more of the playfulness John Astin brought to the role in the 1960s series. And Zeta-Jones is elegant as Morticia. I know a lot has been said about her behavior around people but I think it’s needed in this role.
However, this is mostly Wednesday’s show so they’re used more as supporting characters. When the series opens, Wednesday is expelled from school for releasing piranha in the school’s swimming pool to get back at the bullies who messed with her brother, Pugsley (Isaac Ordonez). She is sent to Nevermore Academy, the alma matter of her parents, in New England. Sadly the movies never knew what to do with the Pugsley character and it was mostly a reaction role. Here, here’s given much less to do. Lurch (George Burcea) isn’t given much to do either.
Wednesday is very opposed to being sent to Nevermore, even though most of the students there are right up her alley. Her roommate, Enid Sinclair (Emma Myers), is too colorful and perky, but she is also a werewolf who hasn’t fully transformed yet, just has longer nails. (You don’t have to be Nostradamus to see this is foreshadowing.) Enid tries to be Wednesday’s friend but she’s not interested. Biana Barclay (Joy Sunday) is a high achiever at the academy and a siren. At first, she seems to be competition for Wednesday.
The principal is Larissa Weems (Gwendoline Christie) who has a special secret that I won’t say. Weems is a former roommate of Morticia’s when she attended the school. Ricci, herself, plays the botany teacher, Marilyn Thornhill. Wednesday also is sent to attend therapy sessions with Dr. Valerie Kinbott (Riki Lindhome). The casting alone is enough to get someone interested. Christie portrays a sense of elegance and beauty to her role that can be a surprise from those who only know her from Game of Thrones. And Lindhome who has been in a lot of dark comedies is having to play it straight as the therapist.
Yet, there’s something going on in the community that has the regular residents spooked. There’s something in the woods that separate Nevermore from the small town that is dangerous that I won’t reveal either. But the local sheriff, Donovan Galpin (Jamie McShane) doesn’t think highly of Nevermore nor does he care for Wednesday when she finds out she’s an Addams. She says that her father, Gomez, was accused of murder when he was a student. And the sheriff’s son, Tyler (Hunter Doohan), a local barista begins a romantic relationship with Wednesday that creates tension.
Mixing mystery with dark humor and teen angst is a nice combination. Wednesday is supposed to be 16, but unlike other teens, she shuns modern technology, refusing to have a cell phone. She types on an old-fashioned typewriter. Ortega is 20 but she looks the part of 16 and more importantly, she is able to do more with a look or a silent gesture. Ortega appeared earlier this year in the horror movies, Scream and X, where her scream face was used on movie posters and advertising. In all three productions, she’s played three different types of characters. She’s got some talent even though she was in supporting roles in those movies.
Here, she takes the lead and does it well. With her black pigtails and expressionless gaze, she owns the role. In one scene that I found amusing, she’s on a rowing team that wins and questions why people are applauding her because she’s never had people cheer for her before. In another memorable scene, she does her own little dance that already has inspired its own TikTok craze.
For a couple of episodes, Fred Armisen pops up as Uncle Fester as he visits Wednesday. And the whole time she’s at the Academy, Thing (Victor Dorobantu) is there sent by Gomez and Morticia to watch over her. If you’re wondering about Cousin Itt, well, he was never in the comic created by Addams, but in the 1960s TV show. Armisen, himself, seems to have more of Jackie Coogan’s goofiness than Christopher Lloyd’s playful grumpiness.
The series has had some of the best viewership in Netflix’s history and some good reviews by critics. The ending sets up a little bit of a cliffhanger and word has already been announced Netflix has renewed it for a second season expected around mid-2024. Hopefully, it will be just as good.
What do you think? Please comment.