Dina Reviews: Wednesday (Netflix series, first few eps)

Netflix's Wednesday Addams TV show gets surprising post-Halloween release date


I always had a soft spot for the Addams family. I know, shocker, right? After the revelation that I like Halloween, horror-comedy and morbid stuff, it must come as a shock that I like the Addams family.

But one of the things I always liked about the Addamses is that in pretty much every incarnation they’re outsiders who don’t actually KNOW they’re outsiders. They are cheerfully morbid and casually violent, they may or may not be inhuman or some form of undead, and they just seem incapable of realizing that this is not, in fact, the norm. Usually they miss the anvil-sized hints that their more “normal” guests and acquaintances aren’t actually into the same things as them. On the rare occasions when they DO get it, they’ll treat the guest or acquaintance with confused sympathy and essentially go “oh well, it takes all sorts to make a world, I suppose.” 

The one Addams family member who may be slightly more aware of her family’s “outsider” status, at least in later years, is Wednesday. 

Wednesday is probably the most popular member of the Addams family these days, and this is probably thanks to the 1990s movies, which totally cemented her as a character in the public eye.  Before those movies, she wasn’t a very strongly defined character… but Christina Ricci’s deadpan performance and obvious sociopathy became kind of her trademark. Later Addams family projects tended to centre around Wednesday in some way… especially the subpar Broadway musical which aged her up to 18 and the story was mainly about her romantic life. And of course there was that unofficial “Adult Wednesday Addams” YouTube series.

So it wasn’t a SURPRISE that when Netflix decided to make an Addams Family series, it was going to be about a teenage Wednesday, and a teenage Wednesday at a boarding school at that. Perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure if I liked the idea… I think the family works best as an ensemble. But when the trailers showed that the rest of the family would be in the series too, including an appropriately maniacal and cheerful Uncle Fester and a weirdly scarred Thing, I thought that maybe this wouldn’t be so bad. Even when I found out that Tim Burton was going to be director and executive producer, I thought, hey, maybe this is the shot in the arm he needs to get out of the creative slump he’s been in. His latest projects have been rather dull and unimaginative, but the morbidity of the Addams Family could be what he needs to get back on top.

So, I started watching the first episode of Wednesday, and…

…wow. One minute. ONE MINUTE. That’s how long it took for this series to totally go against the spirit of the Addams Family and demonstrate that the makers have no clue about these characters. The series opens in a generic American high school, where  Wednesday goes up to a locker and finds Pugsley tied up and stuffed into it, with an apple in his mouth.

At this point, I’m thinking so far, so good. This is the kind of thing that would happen in previous Addams incarnations too. Now it’s going to be revealed that Wednesday was the one who tied him up and stuffed him there, and she’s going to remove the apple and he’s going to complain that he was just starting to enjoy himself. But then… then Wednesday pulls Pugsley out of the closet and he’s crying and saying “I don’t know who it was, it happened so fast.” And it’s revealed that the ones who stuffed him into the locker were a bunch of the most stereotypically cliched “high school jock bullies” I’ve seen in quite some time — these guys belong in a 1980s film, not a 2020s series.  Wednesday chides Pugsley for crying and being weak, then goes up to the jocks who are swimming in the school pool… the jocks are all “ha ha ha, look at the freak sister of the human pig!” and so she releases a bunch of hungry piranhas into the pool.

And I’m just like NO! WHAT?! The Addams kids are not bully victims! They’re immune to being bullied because they LIKE it, and often mistake genuine antagonism for displays of affection. Pugsley SHOULD have made helpful suggestions on how to tie him up better and expressed disappointment about the lack of broken glass in the locker, and Wednesday should have been pleased that Pugsley was making friends, and the piranhas should not have been an act of vengeance but an act of misplaced kindness; Wednesday should have released the piranhas and then later on said something like “I just wanted to do something nice for Pugsley’s friends by making their swimming class more interesting.”

And, after having watched a couple of eps, I think that sums up the problem with this series. It gets the visuals and the superficial weirdness of the Addams family right, but misses the substance. The Addams here are outcasts and aware of it, and their views and priorities come across as half-hearted. When Wednesday, after having been expelled from her stereotypica-bully-jock-infested high school, she is sent off to a boarding school for outcasts, and there’s a murder mystery going on and the entire thing takes on more like a “Gothic supernatural version of Riverdale” feel. The difference here is that Riverdale was a dark and angsty take on the Archie characters that started out interesting but quickly turned out to have no respect for the source material and were just interested in doing angsty dark stuff. Wednesday, on the other hand, takes the same Riverdale-ish tone and tried to apply it to the Addams family, and in this case it comes across as disrespectful to the source material because it doesn’t go far ENOUGH.

This is supposed to be a show about the “other,” the misfits and the ooky, kooky and spooky, and it just goes into streamlined clichés. The chars who are supposed to be bizarre, morbid and “other,” they end up acting depressingly “normal”… or at least the Riverdale version of normal, meaning that they’re overly angsty teenagers with awkward dialogue that might pass for snarky in a bad light but are mainly just petty and catty (for the girls) or self-important and melodramatic (for the boys). Nevermore Academy, with its “supernatural school with mysteries to solve” vibe feels like it’s supposed to be a recreation of Hogwarts, it more than anything comes across as a knockoff of the School for Good and Evil, just without the Good/Evil divide. In other words, it’s kind of just bland.

Wednesday comes to the school, and… is labeled a freak even by the werewolves and vampires and other outsiders, and there’s a bit of an “outsider among the outsiders” vibe.  Chars are propped up as strange and morbid and different, but the weirdness is all surface and no substance. While the “normies,” like those jock bullies, are just exaggerated caricatures of school bullies who go out of their way to antagonize anyone slightly different Just Because.  Every single character comes across as a shallow and insincere poser…

…with the exception of Thing, who stays at the school with Wednesday. And that’s mainly because Thing’s the one character it’s almost impossible to screw up. I mean, he’s a disembodied hand who doesn’t have any dialogue, walks around on his own and acts as a sort of “helping hand” to the Addams family. That’s his entire deal. Even with the weird choice to give him all those scars (to imply he’s been stitched together by several different hands? I don’t know…), he’s the one character who actually feels genuine. And that’s not a very high bar to jump.

(I have yet to see the episode featuring Uncle Fester, but I’m holding out hope that he’s going to be a better character too. What little we saw of him in the trailer seemed promising.)

The series’ writing is full of moments where something delightfully dark and morbid and Addams Family style black comedy is being set up… but then there’s no follow-through. Like Wednesday’s line “I was walking outside, feeling a mixture of rage, pity and self-disgust” just SCREAMED for her to follow up with something like “and then it was over before I got to properly enjoy it.” But no such thing happens, which feels a waste because the Addamses are supposed to have a different and almost inhuman point of view when it comes to these things. Wednesday’s parental issues come across as your standard teenage “my parents are so MEAN and they don’t GET me,” when we all know that the classic Wednesday would view this as a GOOD thing.

There is also a humongous waste of the “different point of view” thing with Wednesday’s roommate Enid, the perky, colourful “social butterfly” werewolf had so much potential as a contrast to her; we could have had the classic Addams “talking past one another and being unable to see each other’s point of view, but despite SO many great set-ups it NEVER follows through.

For example, ALL those conversations that could have been made SO MUCH BETTER, and so much more TELLING of the girls’ opposite viewpoints with just a small addition of a punchline or a response. For example:


Enid:
Oh, you know, you should really get on Insta, Snapchat and TikTok.

Wednesday:

I find social media to be a soul-sucking void of meaningless affirmation.

Enid:
(she didn’t say this, but she SHOULD have)
I know! Isn’t it great?


Or this one, from later in the episode:


Enid:
Don’t mess with me! This kitty’s got claws and I’m not afraid to use them!

Wednesday (again, she didn’t say this but she SHOULD have):
Promise you’ll leave some really deep scars? I’ve been considering a radical makeover.


See? This would have brought the contrasts between the attitudes into focus. Instead, the girls end up spouting petty, catty lines that could have been exchanged by any teen drama “cheerleader” and “goth girl” Whenever they don’t just give each other disapproving looks. And then of course Enid turns out to have an angsty secret and is essentially a blonde version of Veronica from Riverdale. just without the fortune and the psychopath father.

I haven’t seen the entire series yet, but what I have seen has been kind of disappointing. It’s like a generic teen drama with a supernatural slant with the Addams name slapped on. 

Oh well

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