Ever since their 1938 debut in The New Yorker, the Addams Family have long been considered a pop culture staple as they’ve cemented their presence in all sorts of comics, animated television shows, and full-length feature films. The dark and kooky nature of family members Gomez, Morticia, Wednesday, and Pugsley have long provided a more eccentric form of entertainment, yet they remain timeless within the public sphere. Perhaps the most compelling of them all is little Wednesday Addams, the sinister child of woe most recognized by her classic braids, dry wit, and disturbing love for violence. It makes complete sense, then, that Tim Burton—master of all things macabre—would attach his name to Netflix’s new series dedicated to this goth icon.
Created by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, Wednesday is a supernatural horror-comedy series that answers one essential question: What does Wednesday Addams look like as a teenager? After getting expelled from public school for releasing piranhas in the pool, a 16-year-old Wednesday (Jenna Ortega) is shipped off to Nevermore Academy, a preppy boarding school for Outcasts. Nevermore boasts a variety of nutty characters, serving as a haven for anyone different or harboring special abilities, including vampires, werewolves, gorgons, and sirens. Wednesday’s roommate Enid Sinclair (Emma Myers) is a brightly optimistic werewolf whose color palette never seems to end; Xavier Thorpe (Percy Hynes) is a mysterious artist who can bring his drawings to life; Bianca Barclay (Joy Sunday), Wednesday’s immediate rival, is also Nevermore’s resident queen bee; and Eugene (Moosa Mostafa) is a young, bee-loving student who reminds Wednesday of her brother, Pugsley.
Nevermore is a rocky adjustment, to say the least, as Wednesday initially attempts to find creative ways of escaping Principal Larissa Weems’ (Gwendoline Christie) wary gaze. Wednesday strongly considers her forced attendance to be her parents’ idea of molding her into a smaller version of Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones), since Nevermore was where she and Gomez (Luis Guzman) originally fell in love. At the neighboring town of Jericho, she meets Tyler (Hunter Doohan), a local “Normie” she tasks with helping her flee. Eventually though, Wednesday’s curiosity leads her to instead take an interest with the monstrous killing spree that’s been terrorizing the town. As her emerging psychic abilities point her towards a bizarre set of clues, Wednesday decides to play detective and uncover the shocking mysteries at hand, much to the chagrin of Sheriff Galpin (Jamie McShane).
Wednesday is a great entry into the “gothic boarding school” subgenre of teen television, matching the likes of popular shows such as Legacies, Vampire Academy, and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, to name a few. Yet Wednesday stands out in particular due to its especially stunning visual aesthetic. Burton—who directed 4 out of the 8 episodes, all of which were available for review—is an expert in immersive worldbuilding. He showers Nevermore with a charming set of intricate details that supply the series with a fantastical escapism so easy to get lost in, and it really makes me wish Netflix would have released the show a month earlier in time for Halloween.
As much as Wednesday is an absorbing murder mystery, it’s also very much a coming-of-age story. The series puts a modern twist on a classic character, portraying even more of Wednesday’s quirks and nuances. Ortega is an absolute delight in the role, channeling Wednesday’s deadpan humor and morbid interest in death effortlessly. She taps into a social awkwardness within the sullen teen, which proves to be effective, considering how Wednesday’s snarky bluntness doesn’t translate to be quite as cute or charming as it historically has from the previous younger iterations. And it’s amusing that she’s able to remain an outcast in a school full of Outcasts, which is made evident in her black-and-white version of Nevermore’s dark purple uniform.
The most compelling aspects of the show are in the season’s exploration into Wednesday’s relationships with those around her, which she finds particularly challenging to navigate as it’s so vehemently against her independent life philosophy. Wednesday and Enid (dubbed as Wenclair online) is sure to be popular among viewers. Their polar opposite personalities creates an initially tense living environment for the both of them, but later blossoms into a surprisingly tender bond of mutual respect. But Wednesday’s most significant relationship is with Thing (Victor Borobantu), the Addams Family’s beloved severed right hand man (or rather, just hand), who Gomez originally sends to spy on Wednesday—but who instead becomes an indispensable partner to her investigation.
Wednesday successfully captures the growing pains of being 16 without taking itself too seriously, serving to be an entertaining and binge worthy addition to this year’s renaissance of teen television. Ortega’s performance is by far the highlight, tackling Wednesday’s complexities with an ease that truly cements her status as the new horror It girl. Burton’s distinct style provides the show with an air of nostalgia, yet it still feels fresh in its contemporary approach to such an iconic character. Even as we enter into the holiday season, the series is sure to offer a great deal of spooky fun for the whole family.
The show’s ending wraps up the overarching mystery in a fairly neat bow, though leaves a couple loose threads to potentially unravel in upcoming seasons. In the last episode, one of the characters asks Wednesday, “Are you gonna be back next semester?”
And I really, really hope that she will be.
Wednesday premieres Wednesday, November 23rd on Netflix.
Dianna Shen is an entertainment writer based in New York. When she’s not crying over a rom-com, she can be found on Twitter @ddiannashen.
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