The Addams Family originates from Charles Addams’ New York comic strip of the 1930s (hence the title). But to Irish audiences they will be best known from the 1990s super-droll films starring Anjelica Huston as tragic matriarch Morticia Addams and Christina Ricci as her soul-sick daughter Wednesday.
On Wednesdays, the spirit of those horribly fun movies will take over Generation Z (Netflix, streaming November 23). Here, the Ricci mantle of little goth girl is taken up by Jenna Ortega. The 20-year-old is a natural in the role of a sick teenager who unleashes piranhas in swimming lessons, takes revenge on bullies, and has never met a tombstone he doesn’t want to hug or a giant hairy spider he doesn’t want to hug. wants to hug.
On Wednesday, Tim Burton will put the recent disappointments behind him and get back to basics. The shadows are long and menacing, the humor drier than a recently severed fibula.
The Gothic game is directed by Tim Burton. He certainly has a record for emo-escapism as the director of Edward Scissorhands and the author of The Nightmare Before Christmas. He directs and executive produces four of the eight episodes.
On Wednesday, he put his latest flop behind him – did you know he adapted Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children? – and Burton goes back to basics. The shadows are long and menacing, the humor drier than a recently severed fibula. A rich rococo soundtrack courtesy of Burton’s constant foil, Danny Elfman. His Burtonesque is so delicious that you expect his old co-star Johnny Depp to turn into a rock ‘n’ roll zombie.
Wednesday is more of an Addams Family spin-off than a faithful continuation of the brand. We’re introduced to the forbidden “family”: Catherine Zeta-Jones Morticia, Luis Guzman Gomez and Fred Armisen Fester Uncle. But that’s Wednesday’s story. The rest of his children are mostly in supporting roles (although Zeta-Jones completely dominates the screen when he comes on halfway through the entire episode).
It’s a big ask to put all the effort on Ortega’s shoulders on Wednesday. He’s up to the task, and it’s Wednesday’s revelation that his disruptive behavior at school sees his family taking him to Nevermore Academy. The purported alma mater of Edgar Allan Poe (“Quot the Raven ‘Nevermore'” is a line from Poe’s poem The Raven), it is a college for magical outcasts. By this reckoning, it’s like something the Brothers Grimm would cook up if they were forced to read all the Harry Potter novels back to back.
The vibe is dire for Summer as Wednesday has to deal with bullies, academic rivals and love interests, including the son of the local sheriff (Hunter Doohan). Adolescence, of course, is a scary experience in itself. In Wednesday’s case, it describes fears such as introversion and self-esteem issues. (His high level is based on fear of rejection.)
As if that wasn’t enough, there is a monster in the forest that blows up passers-by. Our fearless hero quickly makes connections between the murders and the events at his school. If there is a cover-up, who is behind it?
There are never, like all institutions, closets full of skeletons. These secrets are guarded by Principal Weems (Gwendoline Christie). Playing a sort of morally ambiguous Dumbledore, Christie pulls it off to perfection – as Ricci, in grunge-era Wednesday, a smarmy teacher with a penchant for Venus flies (and a Tori Amos lookalike).
The real star, though, is Ortega, who brings Deadly Wednesday to life as a lost girl with a complicated social life. It all adds up to an incredibly impressive watch – and as a bonus, it suggests that Tim Burton may have regained his horror mojo.