Plot: The series is a sleuthing, supernaturally infused mystery charting Wednesday Addams’ years as a student at Nevermore Academy, where she attempts to master her emerging psychic ability, thwart a monstrous killing spree that has terrorized the local town, and solve the murder mystery that embroiled her parents 25 years ago — all while navigating her new and very tangled relationships at Nevermore.
Review: Back in 1991, Tim Burton reluctantly passed on directing The Addams Family due to production on Batman Returns. Barry Sonnenfeld took the reins which led to the film becoming a financial success for Orion Pictures. Despite multiple lackluster live-action sequels, Burton was once again linked to a 2010 stop-motion animated reboot for Universal and Illumination Entertainment. MGM eventually delivered two CGI features which garnered mixed to negative reviews. Now, Tim Burton finally gets to lend his signature style to The Addams Family with Wednesday, a dark series centered on the eldest Addams daughter. Not only is Wednesday the first small screen series directed by Tim Burton but it also is one of his most subdued projects to date, taking a far less whimsical approach than the feature films and instead ratcheting up the violence for an enjoyable yet light macabre romp.
Wednesday opens with a scene central to the trailer featuring the eldest Addams child unleashing piranhas on the water polo team. Expelled from her school, Wednesday is enrolled at Nevermore Academy, the private boarding school where her parents Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Gomez (Luis Guzman) fell in love. Run by Principal Larissa Weems (Gwendoline Christie), a classmate of Morticia’s, Nevermore is home to students of all sorts of supernatural abilities. From Wednesday’s roommate Enid (Emma Myers), a werewolf, to nemesis Bianca Barclay (Joy Sunday), a siren, every kind of monster or spirit walks the halls. Reminiscent of Hogwarts, Nevermore is also home to a mysterious slate of murders as well as a long-running curse that connects Wednesday to the school’s founder, Joseph Crackstone. Initially reluctant to attend Nevermore, Wednesday slowly warms up to her classmates and teachers, including Marilyn Thornhill (Christina Ricci).
While the Addams clan features heavily in the trailer, Wednesday’s family has a limited amount of screen time. Pugsley and Uncle Fester (Fred Armisen) appear in a single episode each along with Lurch and Wednesday’s parents, but the disembodied hand Thing is a prominent character throughout the entire season. Much of the season is spent developing suspects and uncovering clues as Wednesday tries to figure out why she is so important to a prophecy at the school. The season is mainly spent developing the mythology of Nevermore as well as Wednesday hunting a giant monster that shares a passing resemblance to the monsters from Beetlejuice. which leads her to suspect everyone from Principal Weems to students Xavier Thorpe (Percy Hynes White), “normie” and love interest Tyler Galpin (Hunter Doohan), therapist Dr. Valerie Kinbolt (Riki Lindhome), and more. The series also introduces an ability for Wednesday which allows her to have precognitive visions when she comes into contact with people or objects. While this plot device is used to move the story along, it does serve as a fun connection to Morticia and the Addams Family’s legacy of witchcraft.
This series deviates quite a bit from the previous incarnations of The Addams Family by making the paranormal and supernatural the norm rather than being unique to the Addams clan. While Wednesday does treat the distinction between outcasts at Nevermore as isolated from the normies of the real world, the series doesn’t do a great job of making Wednesday seem odd or strange compared to everyone around her. Jenna Ortega is far more emotive than Christina Ricci was in the feature films and makes Wednesday an intriguing character in her own right. Gwendoline Christie also stands out in yet another striking role that is much more than the trailers make her out to be. Christina Ricci is also quite good in a substantial role that is a lot more than a cameo. I understand why this series spins Wednesday into her own tale but it still feels like it is missing a lot of that Addams charm that we only see in the few episodes with the rest of the family. At the very least, this is my favorite version of Thing in any of the previous Addams series or films.
The eight-episode series is being heavily marketed as being a Tim Burton project despite the filmmaker having no scripts to his credit and only directing four episodes. The remaining four chapters were evenly split between directors Gandja Monteiro and James Marshall. Four of the episodes were written by Alfred Gough & Miles Millar (one episode of which they share credit with Matt Lambert) and the other half are split between April Blair and Kayla Alpert. I am not considering these split duties to be the primary factor in the shortcomings of Wednesday, but even with a superb score by Danny Elfman this series never feels nearly as cinematic as any of Burton’s feature work. No matter how strong the actors are here, the best are relegated to supporting roles and do not carry nearly enough screen time to make up for the disappointingly generic teen-centric melodrama that fills these hour-long episodes. Millar and Gough did solid work bringing Superman’s youth to life in Smallville, but this series wastes great potential by squandering it on too many non-Addams characters.
The charm of The Addams Family was always that they were the odd ones in a world of normal people. Wednesday surrounds the title character with supernatural beings just as strange as she is which makes everything feel bland and less whimsical. Even Tim Burton’s signature style feels underwhelming compared to what I was expecting from him as this series shares more in common with Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and the recent School for Good and Evil. Even with Jenna Ortega doing an admirable job of succeeding Christina Ricci’s iconic performance, Wednesday falls short of living up to its potential while still managing to feature an intricate mystery that unfurls over the eight-episode season. There is some charm in this take on the iconic characters that may be worth returning to for a second season, but I am not sure if this series is creepy or kooky enough to warrant another run.
Wednesday premieres on November 18th on Netflix.