Wednesday spoilers follow.
Wednesday has made it to Netflix, gifting another piece of macabre lore to all Addams Family fans who were dying to snap their fingers again.
Premiering on November 23 (on a Wednesday, obviously), the series marks Tim Burton’s directorial TV debut and stars Scream’s Jenna Ortega as a teenage Wednesday.
Charles Addams’ characters have always exerted a twisted fascination on viewers, with his cartoons in The New Yorker spawning several films and TV series. But where does the eight-episode series fall on the Addams continuum? Let’s investigate.
Created by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, the show adds a lot to the original mix. A student at Nevermore Academy, Wednesday has to rely on her budding psychic powers to solve a mystery that hits close to home and involves her parents, Gomez (Luis Guzmán) and Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones).
A boarding school for teenagers with special abilities, Nevermore represents a big departure from other adaptations of Addams’ cartoons.
The show transplants Wednesday into a distinct, narrow milieu where she maintains her dark uniqueness, but the Addams Family’s signature social satire doesn’t cut quite as deep as it would in the ordinary world. The eight episodes fully lean into supernatural, derivative teen-drama tropes, unlike the 1960s sitcom or 1990s movies (or recent animated movies).
The creators have explained their project builds on previous stories, though it is neither a reboot nor a remake. The most prominent link to Barry Sonnenfeld’s films is Christina Ricci, who famously portrayed Wednesday in both outings and appears in a brand-new role.
“It’s something that lives within the Venn diagram of what happened before, but it’s its own thing,” Millar said of the series in an interview with Vanity Fair last August.
A line in episode seven (‘If You Don’t Woe Me By Now’) seemingly confirms that the show and the films exist in two different timelines. (Beware, spoilers ahead.)
In the final scene, Wednesday refers to Tyler (Hunter Doohan) as “the first boy” she’s kissed and resents him for being a bloodthirsty monster. However, Sonnenfeld’s sequel Addams Family Values features an awkward romance between Wednesday (Ricci) and fellow camper Joel Glicker (David Krumholtz), sealed with a smooch and a side of murder.
Not including this moment in her dating history doesn’t just prove the show isn’t canon with the movies. Wednesday’s concerns for her new friends’ safety also unveil a progressively more emotional side to her. The knowledge that a potential love interest could be a homicidal maniac would have never bothered the films’ Wednesday. She was the one who killed Joel, after all.
This is not to say that the series doesn’t pay tribute to the classics. Well aware of its predecessors, Wednesday is peppered throughout with Easter eggs from the black-and-white sitcom and the 1991 and 1993 films.
In episode one, ‘Wednesday’s Child Is Full of Woe’, Wednesday says she prefers being described as “spooky” when Tyler calls her “kooky”. These two adjectives are entrenched in the memories of fans as they’re a big part of the theme song Vic Mizzy wrote for the sitcom.
And with the song come the two snaps in quick succession, which the Netflix series incorporates in an unexpected way. Introduced in the opening credits of the 1960s TV series, they become the key to entering the Nightshades’ headquarters.
The list of references goes on. In ‘Woe What a Night’, Wednesday attends Nevermore’s very own goth prom, busting her moves inspired by post-punk band Siouxsie and the Banshees. The scene is also a nod to the season two sitcom episode where a younger iteration of the character (Lisa Loring) teaches Lurch (Ted Cassidy) how to dance.
On Wednesday, the prom ends on a crimson note, with all attendees soaked in red paint by “normie” bullies. This is a shoutout to classic horror Carrie and also The Addams Family school talent scene, where fake blood spurts over the first rows.
It’s episode three (‘Friend or Woe’), however, that best encapsulates the subversive spirit of the films, forming a tangible connection with Sonnenfeld’s sequel.
On Outreach Day, Wednesday cheats in order to be assigned to Jericho’s Pilgrim World, an amusement park dedicated to the first settlers — if you think the genocide of Native Americans is amusing, that is.
The reign of historically inaccurate desserts and polyester petticoats, Pilgrim World commemorates the town’s racist founding father Joseph Crackstone, prompting Wednesday to rebel. She takes aim at Jericho’s whitewashing of history, scaring some German tourists off with a dig at colonialism apologists and finally melting Crackstone’s sculpture to slag.
This storyline borrows directly from Addams Family Values. In the sequel, Wednesday and Pugsley (Jimmy Workman) are shipped off to Camp Chippewa and forced to join a reenactment of the first Thanksgiving. While the white, wealthy, bratty kids play the “good” pilgrims, Wednesday and her fellow outcasts — mostly non-white, socially awkward or disabled children — are made to wear Native American outfits and pretend to be grateful for the pilgrims’ arrival.
It’s a recipe for disaster, but Wednesday manages to turn the problematic, biased celebration on its head with a few lit matches.
One of its best episodes, ‘Friend or Woe’ is proof that Wednesday shines most when echoing the movies’ disruptive potential. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen very often as the show trades a sharp, lucid criticism of American-ness and the hypocrisy of Western, middle and upper-class families for a forgettably fun central mystery.
Focused on its supernatural plot, Wednesday hardly ever challenges the most grotesque aspects of normalcy. That jarring yet hilarious conflict has always been the terrain where the Addams’ most effective comedy stemmed from, yet it’s left on the back burner here.
But the series has at least one merit: honouring Wednesday’s Latina heritage. It rights the whitewashing of the films, which cast Puerto Rican actor Raúl Juliá as Gomez but had two white actors as Wednesday and Pugsley. Not only does the show have Ortega in the lead role — with Guzmán as Gomez and Isaac Ordonez as Pugsley — but it also presents some elements of code-mixing of English and Spanish.
Elevated by Ortega’s deliciously deadpan performance, Wednesday makes for an enjoyable watch. Its original themes are guaranteed to resonate with a new audience and leave room for other instalments, but it may be hard for hardcore fans to buy into this sanitised version of the character.
The protagonist’s pitch-black humour and socially conscious one-liners are less impactful in the magic-imbued setting, and her usual emotionless demeanour crumbles to make her, tragically, more sympathetic and likeable.
Wednesday is streaming now on Netflix.