She’s creepy. Kooky. Mysteriously spooky. And witty. And gloriously dead(appropriate word choice here)pan. Welcome to the world of high-school-aged Wednesday Addams, embodied to perfection by Jenna Ortega (Scream).
The Netflix series, created by Smallville’s Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, with support from Executive Producer, Tim Burton, who helmed the pilot, launched last Wednesday with 8 episodes. Ortega takes the challenge and steps into Prada’s Monolith brushed leather lace-up shoes that were also worn to perfection by Christina Ricci, who has a supporting role in the new series.
The series is a sleuthing, supernaturally infused mystery charting Wednesday Addams’ years as a student at Nevermore Academy. Wednesday’s attempts to master her emerging psychic ability, thwart a monstrous killing spree that has terrorized the local town, and solve the supernatural mystery that embroiled her parents 25 years ago — all while navigating her new and very tangled relationships at Nevermore.
This new reimagination of The Addams Family, certainly seems like a direct descendent of the two popular 1990s films. Wednesday, while possessing a certain honest charm, is also a homicidal maniac. And she embraces her murderous ways, especially when it comes to defending her younger brother Pugsley (Isaac Ordonez).
The pilot begins promising enough with Wednesday starting another torturous day at Nancy Regan High School and finding Pugsley sandwiched in a locker. Wednesday who is developing psychic powers has a vision of Pugsley’s bullies – a water volleyball team – whom she attempts to kill with piranhas in the pool.
She fails and is expelled for attempted murder.
Her parents, Morticia (an appropriately seductive Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Gomez ( a creepy Luis Guzmań), decide to enroll her in Nevermore Academy, a school for outcasts. This is also where they went to school. Zeta-Jones, who has a commanding presence as the family matriarch, warns Wednesday to stay in school and not run away. Defiant as ever, Wednesday challenges Morticia’s warning.
At Nevermore, Wednesday is told she can be among those who are “like her,” meaning monsters such as werewolves, vampires, and all supernatural creatures. Even here, Wednesday is an outcast and fairly “normal” because she belongs in none of those cliques. The series is about being an “outcast” or a “normie.” And Wednesday is neither.
Meanwhile, a hiker is killed by an unknown creature near Nevermore. Wednesday’s parents release Thing (Victor Dorobantu), a loving disembodied hand, to watch over her. She meets her roommate Enid (Emma Myers) who is a werewolf with only claws, her complete opposite, and duels with school Queen Bee Bianca (Joy Sunday).
Later, Wednesday is nearly killed by a falling gargoyle but is saved by Bianca’s ex-boyfriend Xavier. After escaping her court-ordered therapy session with Dr. Valerie Kinbott (Riki Lindhomme), Wednesday meets barista and fellow outcast Tyler (Hunter Doohan), who also possesses a secret.
However, she is apprehended by principal Larissa Weems (The Force Awakens’ and Game of Thrones’ Gwendoline Christie) and taken back to the school. Later, Tyler and Wednesday meet at the local fair, and Wednesday gets a vision of Rowan’s death. Rowan attempts to kill her but is murdered by a Hyde-like monster.
When Ortega is on screen interacting with others, Wednesday shines. She is wonderfully suited to play The Addams’ daughter. She delivers her dry, witty lines with deadpan perfection. However, there are conflicting tones in the pilot. One minute, we are a quirky comedy with a sarcastic commentary on life. The next, Wednesday is a CW drama. Gough and Millar are no strangers to the latter, having created teen superhero drama, Smallville.
With Burton calling the shots behind the camera, the series has a Burton feel, but not Burton all the way. Wednesday at times seems like Beetlejuice light.
A mixture of Nancy Drew and Riverdale, Wednesday still manages to be a fun departure turning our favorite dark daughter into a detective. Giving her a purpose or goal rather than just delivering dark dialogue does elevate the character which Ortega embodies with grace and creativity. She brings a 2022 take to the role first created in the New Yorker’s comic strip.
Mind you, some of Wednesday’s dialogue is truly awful, yanking the series down to something akin to the CW or Freeform, but it can be overlooked with Burton’s vision and Ortega’s performance. There’s also Danny Elfman’s quirky theme.
Make no mistake though, it’s Ortega’s star power alone that helps elevate Wednesday from mediocrity into a fresh twist on the familiar. into a totally watchable and exciting twist on a familiar franchise.
Bottom Line: Wednesday is a REEL SEE for Ortega’s take on the character alone. This new version should inspire a whole new slew of Wednesday cosplay next Halloween.
Colin Costello is the West Coast Editor of Reel 360. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org