After a laborious wait and questionable release date timing post-Halloween, Tim Burton’s vision of Wednesday has finally arrived in all its creepy, kooky, mysterious, and spooky glory. Has there been more note-perfect recent casting than Jenna Ortega (Babysitter: Killer Queen, Scream, X) as Wednesday Addams? Previously played in live action by Lisa Loring in 1964’s Addams Family, most memorably by a young Christina Ricci in 90s classics Addams Family and Addams Family Values, and then Chloë Grace Moretz in the two recent animated iterations, Wednesday is perhaps the most complex and interesting character of the family. For good reason, Netflix’s series chooses to focus on this puzzling teen, just as she is headed toward womanhood. Like the Academy of Unseen Arts in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Wednesday’s Nevermore Academy revels in its witchy delights. Not quite Hogwarts, Nevermore is a creepy centerpiece for Burton’s warped version of a teen horror comedy, tinged with romance and coming-of-age.
After Wednesday’s latest stunt at school involving an assortment of piranhas thrown into the swimming pool of awful kids that tormented Pugsley, she is abruptly expelled from Nancy Reagan High School. However, Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chicago, The Haunting) and her wild flame, Gomez (Luis Guzman, Shameless, Boogie Nights), simply wish for Wednesday to instead attend Nevermore Academy—following in her mother’s footsteps, though, is not exactly of interest to Wednesday. Wednesday is very much not happy with Morticia as her parents abruptly leave. Having been at eight schools in the last five years, Wednesday has little faith as she meets her bubbly new roommate, Enid (Emma Myers), seemingly strict Principal Weems (Gwendoline Christie, Game of Thrones, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), a tortured artist named Xavier (Percy Hynes White, The Gifted, A Christmas Horror Story), Xavier’s siren ex, Bianca (Joy Sunday), dorm mom Marilyn Thornhill (electric returning cast member Christina Ricci in a major role), and several others that will be vital on her journey. A glimpse into the hierarchy of the social high school lunchroom scene recalls any number of films with cliques, like Jawbreaker and Mean Girls.
It may all seem like an overwhelming amount of crazy to take in at once, but luckily Thing (a walking, emotive, very much alive human hand), acts as Wednesday’s grounding force tethering her to the family while away. Initially a plant from her concerned parents, Wednesday forces the hand to pledge his “undying loyalty” to her, and thus, a beautiful friendship between the two is re(born). Make no mistake, as the episodes progress, the Addams family themselves end up playing pivotal roles in Wednesday’s story. Each makes a big imprint. Fred Armisen’s Uncle Fester is a zanier, energetic take on Christopher Lloyd’s bumbling-but-charming Fester of yesteryear. Even in a small appearance, he comes off lovable. A harder sell should be Morticia and Gomez, considering the pedigree of all who have portrayed them up until this point. The biggest surprises, then, are probably Catherine Zeta-Jones and Luis Guzman as this fiery couple. They are however used sparingly—the show is called Wednesday after all, and Ortega remains the focal point. Where it resembles early Riverdale is in Wednesday‘s heavy mystery vibe, and the town itself seems almost Twin Peaks at times.
The local Sheriff Galvin (Jamie McShane, Animal Kingdom, How to Get Away with Murder) and his very handsome barista son, Tyler (Hunter Doohan), also make a major impression on Wednesday’s early time at Nevermore. Tyler offers to drive Wednesday to Pilgrim World shortly after they first meet, and takes an instant liking to her. Their will-they-or-won’t-they vibe throughout really had me invested in the romance angle. As much as Wednesday seems to go to the darkest places in any given situation, seeing her eventually open up to Tyler in spite of herself makes for some very entertaining episodes. I would go so far as to call the couple quite adorable—one of my favorite scenes between the two involves a cute date Tyler sets up for Wednesday, a picnic in a crypt watching “horror movie” Legally Blonde. It is all so weirdly specific and hilariously ironic—in other words, pure Addams Family humor.
Sheriff Galvin, on the other hand, becomes ensnared in Wednesday’s orbit by way of the series’ central mystery. Someone—or some thing—is killing, creeping, and stalking. A massive Beetlejuice-esque yet uniquely designed werewolf creature that we learn to be a “Hyde” is astounding each time we glimpse the being onscreen. Galvin and Wednesday work separately at trying to uncover the identity of the “Hyde,” the clock ticking as the sinister being collects various body parts from its victims… The mysteries and intrigue swirl, weaving a surprising and frequently jaw-dropping series of revelations that unspool. Not until the finale do we actually get to know the true identity of both the Hyde and its master.
As much as I enjoyed the previous two animated Addams outings, Wednesday is the first to feel closest to capturing the tone of those lightning-in-a-bottle live-action dark comedies of the 90s. The presence of Ricci, who had her first-ever onscreen appearance in 1995’s The Addams Family, serves as a great through line to both of these gothic takes. At eight episodes in length, Wednesday is breezy, fast-paced, and oh-so-easy to recommend because it is genuinely a blast of fun throughout. Burton directs the first four episodes, and was heavily involved in the project as one of the showrunners. His imprint is all over this thing, channeling similar energy to his underrated 2017 feature, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Jenna Ortega has delivered yet another standout performance in a year of terrific turns from her in dark dramas and heavenly horror. This could be her most iconic role yet. I would love to see a second semester at Nevermore, with all signs pointing to Wednesday putting out a bold new take on an iconic decades-old brand.
Wednesday opens up the gates of Nevermore Academy when its debut season comes to Netflix on Wednesday, November 23rd.