In “Wednesday,” it’s less crucial that she’s an Addams (played by “X” actress Jenna Ortega) and more vital that her name and clothing are identifiable on a cluttered Netflix homepage. Because “Wednesday” feels less like an extension of any Addams story and more like an expensive-looking, star-studded rendition of a CW-style spooky teen drama.
This Wednesday is a fully realized character in her hilarious universe, even if it pulls more from “Harriet the Spy” and “Riverdale” than from “The Addams Family.”
“Wednesday” was created by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (“Smallville,” “Spider-Man 2”), with the assistance of kooky and spooky director Tim Burton. The show’s eponymous character is kicked out of her ordinary school (piranhas were involved) and is forced to attend Nevermore Academy, the home of “outcasts,” the show’s euphemism for non-humans such as vampires, were
Wednesday’s parents, Morticia and Gomez (Catherine Zeta-Jones and Luis Guzman, clearly loving their wigs throughout the eight-episode season), attended and enjoyed Nevermore, so Wednesday is on a mission to despise it. But our aspiring detective novelist is sufficiently attracted by a spate of local deaths to immerse in the Nevermore society. She becomes preoccupied with solving the cases when experiencing psychic visions indicating she is related to the murders.
Like any good “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” rip-off, “Wednesday” provides its supernaturally empowered protagonist with a small Scooby gang of outcast allies and adversaries to aid. Xavier (Percy Hynes White), the supernatural hottie with a thing for Wednesday, and Tyler (Hunter Doohan), the “normal” hottie with a thing for Wednesday, are Wednesday’s roommates. Principal Weems watches them with eyes that are nicely lined (Gwendoline Christie).
Wednesday feels like a mash-up of teen television shows and films that came before it. A little of the small-town drama of “Riverdale,” the boarding school freedom of “Harry Potter” flicks, the love triangle of “The Vampire Diaries,” the lone female detective protagonist of “Harriet,” and a splash of “Beverly Hills, 90210” melodrama. Despite this, the series is rarely derivative, and the plot’s predictability does not mean it is not attractive. “Wednesday” aspires to the greatness of “Buffy” but comes out as amusingly cheesy in comparison to “Teen Wolf.”
Ortega assumes Wednesday’s uncomfortable loafers without incident, contrasting Christina Ricci’s outstanding performance in the early 1990s Addams Family films (Ricci offers her stamp of approval by appearing in a supporting role as a teacher). Ortega balances the thin line between stoic and robotic to create Wednesday’s rough exterior and hidden depths. She is entirely devoted to her interpretation of the role, even if it is gentler than what we’re accustomed to seeing.
The Addams Family has been adapted for the big screen, small screen, Broadway, and other mediums so frequently that it is difficult to express anything new. Some parts do not fit with creator Charles Addams’ original idea for the elder Addams child, but it hardly matters (at least if you’re not a diehard fan). Once immersed in Gough, Millar, and Burton’s world, it’s easy to hang out at Nevermore, savoring Ortega’s sarcastic one-liners and the extravagant costumes and sets.
So “Wednesday” is not filled with misery. However, we may not require any more of it at this time.