If there’s one thing fans of The Addams Family should know before watching Netflix reboot Wednesday, it’s to expect the unexpected. Yes, the look – pigtails, pale skin, pinstripes – is similar to the ‘90s classic. Yes, she remains po-faced and prickly. Yes, it’s still set in a creepy mansion. But dip a toe beyond the first few episodes, and you’ll find a very different Wednesday to the one we’ve come to know.
It all starts with a long car journey. Our titular enfant terrible is in hot water after setting killer piranhas on some school bullies. As a result, she’s being packed off to Nevermore academy in the mountains, where she can grow up around other ‘outcasts’ – which means lots of fantasy types like gorgons, vampires and lycans. While there, Wednesday’s supposed to make friends and keep out of trouble. Luckily for us though, someone starts attacking students in the woods. Wednesday appoints herself lead detective on the case and we have ourselves a teen murder-mystery.
It’s at this point (about episode three) that the big differences become apparent. Previously an antisocial menace with psychopathic tendencies, Wednesday is here made more human. She’s still antisocial – greeting most of the other pupils with haughty dismissiveness – but eventually manages to strike up actual relationships. In Enid (Emma Myers), Wednesday’s smiley werewolf roommate, she has a true pal. Then there’s scheming siren and ‘it girl’ Bianca (Joy Sunday), who provides a compelling frenemy. And after deflecting his initial advances with a disdainful stare, Hunter Doohan’s local ‘normie’ Tyler develops into a lasting love interest. We got snatches of these things with Christina Ricci in 1993’s Addams Family Values, but not on this scale. Taken much further and Wednesday might be Twilight fan fiction.
Fortunately, that never happens. This is a reinvention, not a rewriting – and the core character survives intact. Wednesday’s acerbic wit, her sassy putdowns, are put to excellent use by Jenna Ortega, who is perfectly cast. She’s spoken in interviews about “challenges” and having to fight to protect her vision for the role, but any creative differences appear to have been worked out.
Surprisingly, the other Addams add little to proceedings. Catherine Zeta-Jones was born to play Morticia, and she makes a suitably spooky couple with Luis Guzmán’s Gomez. Neither has much in the way of a character arc though, feeling a bit forgotten amid the soapy teen drama of Wednesday’s day-to-day life. Brother Pugsley merits barely a mention, and despite a fun cameo Fred Armisen’s Uncle Fester soon sidles out of frame. The only exception is Thing, Wednesday’s disembodied pet hand, whose cleverly worked action sequences add some slapstick silliness as well as a surprising amount of pathos.
And yet regardless of the difficult relations, Wednesday ends up a rare spin-off success story. It’s creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky – and an absolute treat.
‘Wednesday’ streams on Netflix from November 23