The Addams Family and Tim Burton is a match made in merry hell. The runaway-hit Netflix series Wednesday conjoins the macabre humor of Charles Addams’s original creation with Burton’s gloriously Gothic sensibility. Throw in a compelling central mystery and a dazzling lead performance, and the result is the best new series of 2022.
Darkly beautiful to behold, Burton’s Wednesday is a feast for the eyes (starting with that lofty dorm room in a gargoyle-adorned Queen-Anne-style mansion). The show’s setting features murky woods and cobwebbed ruins, hidden passageways and secret underground chambers. Wednesday also clearly works within Burton’s American Gothic wheelhouse, with its depiction of neighboring town of Jericho–a modern-day village whose quaint appearance cannot cover up its sinister roots that stretch all the way back to Puritan times.
There’s a classic slasher element to the first season’s storyline, as a shapeshifting beast dubbed the Hyde preys on a sequence of cast members (while Wednesday, an aspiring dark-crime writer, works to “unmask” the killer). Along the way, references to Poe abound (the author’s tales in general, but also–via the series’ Nevermore Academy locale–to his ever-popular poem “The Raven”). Stephen King fans will delight in a midseason scene of an ill-fated school formal (a bloody brilliant homage that has been overshadowed by a certain dance routine gone viral). If the overall proceedings tend toward the formulaic, as the show recalls other Netflix ventures such as The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (with its plunges into paranormal romance) and Stranger Things (with Wednesday standing in for Eleven, as the heroic leader of a band of “outcasts”), at least it is a winning formula that is copied.
Admittedly, the casting does feel a bit uneven; Wednesday’s parents, in particular, disappoint. Catherine Zeta-Jones gives a wooden performance as Morticia (one unworthy of predecessors Carloyn Jones and Anjelica Huston), and Luis Guzman (Gomez Addams) delivers his lines as if he’s in a perennial state of gastric distress. But the statuesque Gwendoline Christie is the embodiment of glamor and British charm as Principal Weems, and Emma Myers is delightful as Wednesday’s perpetually-bubbly, would-be-werewolf roommate Enid. Let’s give a well-deserved hand, too, to the prestidigitator Victor Dorobantu, who steals scenes throughout as a convincing, more-than-just-digital-fx Thing.
Of course, the success of the series hinges upon Jenna Ortega’s turn in the title role. Anyone who watched her in X knows that Ortega possesses an incredibly expressive face; I was concerned heading in that the strictures of the Wednesday character would prevent the actress from demonstrating her dramatic range. But Ortega manages to channel the stoic snarkiness of Christina Ricci in the 90’s films while also presenting a more rounded figure. Wednesday’s ongoing series format (vs. the episodic nature of a sitcom) necessitates a character arc, and over the course of the first season the teenage Addams grows increasingly less standoffish and more human in her interactions. No easy task to come off at once as sneering and endearing, but this Wednesday makes it look easy. Already a star in the making, Ortega establishes herself here as the most talented young actress currently practicing her craft.
Ultimately, the series evinces a lot of heart–and not just the tell-tale kind. Wednesday’s child might be full of woe (according to the nursery rhyme line that inspired Morticia and Gomez’s christening of their daughter), but Burton’s brainchild Wednesday is full of wonderful entertainment. I’d be kooky not to give it two enthusiastic two-snaps.