I think “The Addams Family” might be one of the first shows I remember watching. My dad used to put on the old 1960s TV show when I was little. I don’t remember many details from any of the episodes, but I do remember snapping along to the show’s catchy and iconic theme song. Reboots can be seen as unnecessary and uncreative, especially for characters like The Addams Family, who have starred in beloved adaptations, such as 1991’s “The Addams Family” film and the aforementioned 1960’s TV show, across half a century. I’m inclined to agree. For instance, I had no interest in watching the recent 2019 animated Addams family movie. However, Netflix’s “Wednesday’’ is a welcome exception to the trend of unoriginal reboots.
Netflix’s rendition crafts a fresh take on the famous family by shifting focus onto their daughter Wednesday who is quite a troublemaker. After playing a particularly cruel prank on some local bullies, she is forced to move out of her house and attend Nevermore Academy — a school specifically for “outcasts”, which, in this show, include all sorts of children with supernatural powers, from the very standard werewolves to the more inventive paranormal groups like Sirens (the kind Odysseus encountered) and Medusa-like children who are humorously called “stoners”. The show then unfolds as a cross between a coming-of-age high school series and a supernatural mystery. Wednesday struggles to relate to her classmates while she simultaneously hunts a murderous monster..
That being said, the show is formulaic at points. As expected for a teen drama incorporating magic, secrets, romance, and werewolves, it does tread on some familiar ground. It features standard teen drama elements such as a convoluted love triangle involving two moody, whiny, unremarkable boys, roommates who clash because of opposing personalities, and a mean queen bee who acts out due to a traumatic upbringing. At times, the show can seem a lot like Hogwarts — another famous magical school where students are classified into different groups. The show also uses the outside world’s treatment of “outcasts” as a clunky metaphor for discrimination, another common theme in recent magical and supernatural media.
However, the show is boosted by its acting — there are some truly incredible takes on characters both old and new. For starters, Jenna Ortega was born for the role of Wednesday Addams. Her deadpan delivery is perfect for the character and makes for some of the show’s funniest lines. Her Wednesday has all the lack of respect for social mores and morbid obsession with death you’d expect from an Addams. At the same time, Ortega’s Wednesday is surprisingly likable. I found her refusal to let anyone else dictate her actions refreshing and admirable. Even when Wednesday had clearly made a mistake and alienated the people around her, I empathized with her position and rooted for her to persevere, regardless of the effect of her actions.
“Wednesday” also hosts an equally strong game when it comes to casting. Emma Meyers gives a breakout performance as Wednesday’s roommate Enid. Her bright and bubbly personality is the perfect foil to Wednesday’s cloud of darkness. Another character, Bianca Barclay, is perfectly snarky and judgmental while playing the school’s resident mean girl, played by actress Joy Sunday. Gwendoline Christie is also well cast as the icy and sometimes mysterious headmistress Larissa Weems.
The show’s casting director also made excellent choices in choosing the actors who inherit the Addams family’s most iconic characters. Luis Guzman and Catherine Zeta-Jones are perfect heirs to the roles of Gomez and Morticia Addams. They have great chemistry with each other and bring genuine heart to the roles that make the larger-than-life family seem touchingly human. Thing — the Addams family’s relative who is nothing more than a disembodied hand — was played by a live puppeteer who does a fantastic job bringing genuine emotion to an often one-note character. Fred Armisen was a surprisingly good fit for the bizarre Uncle Fester.
Aesthetically, the show is beautifully crafted. Nevermore, the boarding school at the center of the show, is a Gothic palace that looks like it should be home to a Catholic mass or a plucky hunchback. The show’s costume design is excellent. The Nevermore purple and black striped blazer is a school uniform I’d actually choose to wear. Wednesday, on the other hand, is constantly wearing all black — perfectly representing her personality while also making her a goth icon. Her dress for the school dance is a particularly standout piece — it perfectly complements her bizarre dance moves that have garnered much attention on TikTok. The show’s visual choices — from set design to costumes to hair and makeup — create a cohesive atmosphere that is so enthralling it can even distract from the show’s dialogue.
The show is also quite enjoyable and well-written. The eccentricity of the Addamses has always been part of their charm, and Wednesday herself has their signature kookiness in droves. The dialogue contains lots of sarcastic, dark, and deadpan humor that continuously made me chuckle, even in the more serious or frightening moments. Although it is not a full-on horror experience, it does have genuinely frightening moments, especially some great jump scares.
Finally, the mystery at the center of the show is genuinely compelling. Throughout the show, it is incredibly unclear who Wednesday and the viewer can trust as so many adults and students are revealed to be hiding things. I would get a hunch about one character being a villain, only for that character to be revealed as innocent as soon as I was certain they were evil. The story features multiple twists and turns that kept me intrigued through to the last episode. For fear of spoiling the show for those who haven’t watched it, I’ll leave my discussion of this plotline at that.
Overall, “Wednesday” is a delight from start to finish. The show’s fantastic performances (especially that of Jenna Ortega), immersive visual worldbuilding, and genuinely compelling writing raised the show above its more formulaic or tired elements. It is well worth the watch — I think most will enjoy it, and at the very least, I rarely found myself bored during my viewing. With Netflix increasingly relying on reality competition shows and canceling many scripted shows well before they arguably should, “Wednesday” was a breath of fresh air. There is already buzz about the confirmation of a second season, and, for me, it can’t come quickly enough.