Wednesday presents a deviously charming world. This has much to do with its source material – Charles Addams’ The Addams Family cartoons, which were first published in the New Yorker in 1938. The comics revolve around the spooky Addams family, who delight in everything macabre, oblivious to other people’s discomfort around their kooky way of living. It comes as no surprise then that Wednesday – named after, and focusing on the family’s daughter – bristles with originality, comfortably settling into its witty and bizarre universe. We begin with Wednesday’s transfer to Nevermore Academy after an incident involving certain swim team bullies and piranhas. Nevermore, the school Wednesday’s parents once attended, houses all flavours of ‘outcasts’: werewolves, vampires, gorgons and more. The school establishes a pulsating world of possibilities – of love triangles, shapeshifting teachers, deadly no-holds-barred competitions and of course, attempts at murder. Add to this the legacy of director Tim Burton and an impassive Wednesday (Jenna Ortega), brimming with sharp wit and cynicism, and you have the beginnings of a binge-worthy show.
The Addams Family has always had a strong pop-culture association with Halloween, but Wednesday, which was released on Netflix a day before Thanksgiving, centers the largely invisibilised and painful history between the Pilgrims and Native Americans. This came naturally to creators Miles Millar and Alfred Gough, who took much inspiration from in the 1993 film Addams Family Values. The Addams Family has always represented ‘otherness’ (and the consequent discrimination associated with it) but Wednesday digs its heels in further by contextualising it against the history of Thanksgiving. While Wednesday’s father, Gomez, was always implied to be a Mexican immigrant, the show introduces us to his ancestor Goody Addams, an outcast who began a society in the 1600s to protect her people from the bigotry perpetuated by Pilgrim leader, Joseph Crackstone (William Houston). Crackstone founded Jericho, the fictional town that now sits adjacent to Nevermore Academy. The passing of time might have afforded the town a thin veil of tolerance but discrimination against outcasts is still rampant. When an unknown monster begins murdering them, Wednesday’s awareness of her past, and the resulting sense of duty she feels, fuels her to become a detective.
Wednesday has eight hour-long episodes over which it attempts to unravel multiple mysteries. Apart from the murderous monster, there is the issue of Wednesday’s repeated visions (of the past and the future) and the dark secret her parents seem to be hiding. Wednesday dedicates much of its energy towards keeping its suspense intact and while this might leave viewers guessing until the last episode, the lack of engagement looms large over the series.
This begins with Wednesday’s weak characterisation. As much as she excites as a concept, she lets down as a protagonist. For all her shrewdness and inexhaustible sarcasm, there isn’t enough vulnerability to help us root for her. Despite the consistent narration of her thoughts, she remains frustratingly opaque about her emotional turmoil regarding the two boys who like her or her troubled relationship with her mother, Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones). At first, the series hints that Wednesday’s rebellion – and even a large part of her personality – might stem from trying to one-up her mother. She consistently talks about her refusal to live in her mother’s shadow or “be controlled” by her. The roots of this sourness are vague enough but this gets worse when the mother-daughter hatchet is buried without any real impact on Wednesday. We’ve seen our share of sardonic female protagonists who hide under the guise of self-reliance – Sex Education’s Maeve Wiley immediately comes to mind – but they’re memorable because of the unravelling of their inner worlds. This is an opportunity we don’t get with Wednesday, which dilutes the thrill of the chase she so doggedly pursues.
This is exacerbated by the Riverdale-esque treatment of the plot and the supporting characters. A prom is woven in and so are numerous, repeated and unnecessary conversations between one-note teenagers (the love triangle between Wednesday and two boys who seem constantly uncomfortable around her is particularly exhausting). Doubt is cast on everyone except the only nice character in the series – a trademark Nancy Drew novels technique. After a while, one settles into the acceptance that there isn’t much point in asking questions (Like, how did the villain raise a dead guy when we were told that one can’t raise the dead? Or, how did Wednesday sneak into that man’s car without him hearing his car trunk close? Why doesn’t Wednesday dodge the villain’s knife attack when she’s brilliant at fencing?). With eight hours at its disposal, Wednesday’s suspense takes too long to come together and the anticipation of its climax is laced with disappointment because of the previous episodes’ “anything goes” policy. The series remains so focused on the questions it keeps throwing at us, it never pauses to ask itself if we still care.
The ending hints at a season 2, with Wednesday’s voice asking us, “The suspense is killing you, isn’t it?” We truly wish it was.
Wednesday is streaming on Netflix.