Always gloomy Wednesday Addams (Jenna Ortega) is expelled from a regular school for letting piranhas into the pool with a water polo team – so she takes revenge on her brother’s offenders. The girl is sent to Nevermore Academy, a place of accumulation of the same renegades as herself: here are vampires, and sirens, and other “freaks” that do not fit into ordinary society. Wednesday’s parents, Gomez (Luis Guzman) and Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) Addams, also studied there.
The heroine is settled in a room with her complete opposite – without measure the cheerful werewolf girl Enid. As Wednesday tries to fit in with the school community and clashes with Principal Larissa (Gwendolyn Christie), strange things are happening around. A certain monster is killing people around Nevermore. An old family secret comes to light. One of the schoolchildren shows the girl a strange drawing, where she is depicted against the backdrop of a burning school. He says it’s a prophecy.
Tim Burton was offered to shoot The Addams Family back in the 90s – then he refused, and a brilliant black comedy duology was directed by debutant Barry Sonnenfeld, the future author of Men in Black. Then Tim wanted to make a stop-motion animation about gothic weirdos – but it didn’t work out either: after long transformations, the project turned into a rather mediocre 3D cartoon without the participation of the legendary director. As a result, Burton and the Addamses met just now. When, frankly, the director is not in the best shape: his last good film (“Big Eyes”) came out already 8 years ago, and even that one bears little resemblance to the early Macabre masterpieces.
“Wednesday” could be his big return to his roots – a gothic black comedy in the best tradition of “Beetlejuice”. But no. Even a great formalist like Burton can’t make a Netflix show look like a non-Netflix show. However, it is important to remember that he is not the main creative unit here – but just a hired worker under the direction of showrunners Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, the authors of “Shanghai Noon”, the writers of the second “Spider-Man” Raimi and the fourth “Lethal Weapon”. But the main thing is the creators of Smallville Secrets. Another series that took famous characters and sent them into the space of relatively mundane teen melodrama.
And maybe that’s why for a series about the Addams family, “Wednesday” is surprisingly sterile. All gothic ends on the general plans of the old school, superficial references to Edgar Allan Poe and the dark outfits of the main character. Inside – the usual teenage detective: more like “Harry Potter” or “Sabrina” than the films of Sonnenfeld. Here, even the outcasts have managed to make some too emasculated and, which is completely criminal for such a story, ordinary. If “The Addams Family” showed us a family of not just strange, but sometimes completely frostbitten eccentrics, in “Wednesday” the characters express their “otherness” only in words. In fact, they are ordinary schoolchildren-archetypes: sometimes they just remind you that they are actually vampires, werewolves, gorgons, mediums, or some other evil spirits. Remind, because it is very easy to forget about it. Even mysticism in the series is too everyday.
There is a feeling that the story could well have been invented without the Addams Family – the famous IP seemed to have come to the plot already after the fact. This would explain how the characters here are not similar to themselves in character. Wednesday is not a psychopath with a fondness for medieval torture devices, but simply an introverted girl who, over the course of the story, learns the value of friendship. Uncle Fester is not overly eccentric, just a little odd (Fred Armisen plays the same role he does everywhere, ineptly). And Gomez and Morticia tell their daughter how, in their student years, they contacted the police because of a stalker chasing them. The Addams Family. To the police. There are no questions only to the Thing – his hand is clean.
The main trouble with Wednesday isn’t even that the characters don’t look like their past iterations. This can just be forgiven – everyone has the right to new interpretations. In a sense, it is even curious to see how the creators transform the crazy family to the requirements of the new time. Where all feelings must be spoken out and comprehended, so that the viewer does not inadvertently find the characters problematic. And where Sonnenfeld’s frankly aggressive humor would hardly have taken root. His characters openly joked (or didn’t they joke?) About killing people – in the series, there is a whole storyline about how Wednesday worries if Gomez killed a person in the past.
The problem is different – the new vision of the Addams is inconsistent. Moreover, it openly conflicts with their established pop culture image. As in old films, Wednesday jokes about how he is waiting for the arms of death – but in fact he sincerely worries about recent acquaintances and cries over the wounded. The heroes pretend that they are the same Addams, but by their actions they prove the opposite. Also, the series itself looks like a kind of impostor: he wants to show that this is a story about the Addams, but at the same time, the creators in it are interested in everything except the family itself. Rather, it interferes – their trademark cynicism gets in the way of a sweet story about friendship and the ability to bury the hatchet.
And just as “Wednesday” embraces its true identity, the show is slowly getting back on its feet. Somewhere near the middle of the season, the writers stop pretending to care about the Addams mythology – although Wednesday’s parents and Uncle Fester will still appear in strange awkward forays. The show plunges deeper and deeper into a detective mystical plot, and everything is just fine with it: the authors harmoniously lead the viewer through the investigation, place new vicissitudes in the right places, and each episode lead the audience by the nose – even if the answer to all questions turns out to be rather banal. “Wednesday” is something to watch for: in its genre, the series does exactly what you expect from it. He can be funny, mysterious and even creepy.
After all, Jenna Ortega is a big find. Her Wednesday is not at all the same as that of Christina Ricci (by the way, she also appears in the show, in the role of the only “normis” teacher in Nevermore), but it’s for the best. It is difficult to fight the classics on her field, but the actress manages to create her own charismatic heroine. It would be nice if the whole show realized this by the second season and finally accepted its absolute non-Addamsianness.