Does Wednesday, the new Addams Family-inspired Netflix series, feature the Addams family we first met in Charles Addams’s cartoons? No. Is it the Addams family of the 1960s sitcom? Nope. Is it the Addams family of the beloved 1990s movies starring Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston as our horny Goth parents, Gomez and Morticia Addams, and featuring Christina Ricci’s iconic performance as the laconic Wednesday? Definitely not. Is it even the more recent animated Addams family with the pitch-perfect casting of Oscar Isaac and Charlize Theron as Gomez and Morticia? Not even that. In fact, the Addams family of Wednesday is barely the Addams family at all.
Jenna Ortega is simply outstanding as the Zoomer Wednesday Addams. There’s no reason for anyone over the age of 16 to watch this show, but Jenna Ortega provides the major point of interest for adults curious about what the next-gen Wednesday is like. I maintain that every generation of kids deserves their own Wednesday—we, the lucky ones, got Christina Ricci—and even as the show around her flails haplessly to a tepid conclusion, Jenna Ortega IS Wednesday. She holds the whole thing together with a furrowed brow and frown that grows more severe by degrees, and a perfect aplomb that suggests a kid running rings around the adults in her life. Ortega’s Wednesday feels wholly her own, less ghoulish than Ricci’s take, but no less a maniac bent on destroying everyone and everything around her. Ortega’s antisocial antiheroine is still, somehow, charming.
Mostly. Ortega’s performance never falters, but the writing of Wednesday, the character, and Wednesday, the show, is uneven at best. Wednesday takes her Miss Independent routine so far, it’s a fist-pump moment when everyone finally gets around to telling her how awful she is. That’s not on Ortega, it’s100% on the writers, who not only set up a mystery plot that manages to be both bland and overcomplicated, but also misunderstand the nature of Wednesday’s introversion. Up until now, Wednesday has never been depicted as self-involved. She’s just a loner who doesn’t fit into the suburban American milieu around her. But Wednesday pulls her out of that context and puts her into a school for “outcasts” called Nevermore Academy, and I guess in order to make Wednesday a “freak among freaks”, the writers just decided to make her intolerably selfish. Wednesday is off-putting, but she’s not supposed to be unlikeable. Honestly, if it weren’t for Ortega working overtime, this Wednesday would be unbearable.
Frankly, a lot of (older) people (who remember the 90s movies) are going to struggle with Wednesday. It’s not really an Addams Family thing. It feels most like someone wanted to make a “special school” story a la Harry Potter or the X-Men but had to stick an Addams Family skin on the idea in order to get it produced. The series doesn’t even feel particularly “Tim Burton”, even though he is a producer on the show and directs half the episodes. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children offers much more visual spectacle and overall Burton weirdness, and that’s mid-tier Burton at best. Wednesday mostly feels like a YA mystery decked out in all the gear at Hot Topic. There’s a love triangle, with Wednesday torn between a “normie” townie boy and a hot “outcast” boy at her school; there’s a monster in the woods only Wednesday has seen; and someone or something is killing students, and all of it comes with this weird “normie/outcast” framing that relocates the Addams family to a supernatural world. Oh, and Wednesday has powers.
Some people—mostly the desired YA audience—will go for this, I’m sure. This is a chance for all the introverts who spent high school reading to see themselves as a heroine. But none of the elements really work. The mystery is easy to figure out, the monster design is kind of neat but that’s not enough to float the whole storyline, and the love triangle falls completely flat, because Ortega has zero chemistry with either boy. The only boy Wednesday believably cares about is Eugene (Moosa Mostafa), a big time nerd, and the only person she has chemistry with is her glitter pen wielding roommate, Enid (Emma Meyers). And here is where Wednesday falls into an ugly trap—it co-opts the language of representation without offering any real representation.
The normie/outcast setup is a thinly veiled allegory for the treatment of the LGBTQ+ community in the real world. Enid, for instance, is a werewolf who has not yet transformed. Her family is worried about when she will “come out” and wants to send her to a “conversion camp” to draw out her inner wolf. Like, they literally use the term “conversion camp”. You can certainly use an outcast narrative as an allegory for othered communities such as the LGBTQ+ community, but the more you make it a 1-1 comparison, the less effectively it works (see also: the increasingly ham-fisted X-Men movies). Wednesday is beyond the pale, not only using actively harmful elements in a cutesy way, but also teasing a Wednesday-Enid romance that never materializes. Wednesday is ripe for an enemies-to-friends-to-lovers story, instead we get a bunch of milquetoast boys running around contributing nothing.
It's also just gross to glom onto representation without actually committing to represent anything. In the year 2022, this is not only cheap but inexcusable. Either offer real representation or leave the co-opted language at the door. Wednesday is trying to have several cakes and eat them, too. It wants to claim the Addams family without doing anything particularly Addams Family, it wants to use the language of LGBTQ+ oppression without meaningfully supporting the LGTBQ+ community. Jenna Ortega is great, and will undoubtedly earn ghoulies dedicated to her Wednesday, but the show is barely watchable outside her performance.
Wednesday is now streaming on Netflix.