Creepy? A little. Kooky and spooky? Sure. Altogether ooky? I’ll let you be the judge of that.
The Addams Family, the enduring pop culture clan of macabre mischief makers, has returned yet again to the screen, this time in Netflix’s high school drama focused on daughter Wednesday, the princess of scathing stares and perfect pigtail braids. .
In “Wednesday” (streaming Wednesday, ★★★ out of four), it’s less important that she’s an Addams (played by “X” star Jenna Ortega), and more important that her name and outfits are recognizable when you’re scrolling through your crowded Netflix home screen. Because “Wednesday” feels far less like an extension of any Addams story than an expensive-looking, star-studded version of a teen supernatural drama that might have appeared on CW.
But that’s not a bad thing: This Wednesday is a fully formed person in her own little entertaining universe, even if it borrows more from “Harriet the Spy” and “Riverdale” than “Addams Family Values.”
Created by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (“Smallville,” “Spider-Man 2”), with some help from famed kooky and spooky director Tim Burton, “Wednesday” begins as its eponymous character has gotten herself kicked out of her ordinary school (piranhas were involved) and is forced to go to Nevermore Academy, the home of “outcasts,” the show’s euphemism for non-humans like vampires, werewolves and sirens.
Wednesday’s parents, Morticia and Gomez (Catherine Zeta-Jones and Luis Guzman, clearly enjoying their wigs in their few appearances over the eight-episode season) attended and loved Nevermore, so Wednesday is on a mission to hate it. But our would-be detective novelist is intrigued enough by a string of local deaths to become invested in the community at Nevermore. When she starts having psychic visions suggesting she’s connected to the murders, she becomes obsessed with solving the cases.
Like any good “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” clone, “Wednesday” gives its supernaturally powered protagonist a little Scooby gang of outcast friends and foes to help. There’s her roommate Enid (Emma Myers), a peppy werewolf who dresses in Technicolor; Xavier (Percy Hynes White), the supernatural hunky boy with a thing for Wednesday; and Tyler (Hunter Doohan), the “normie” hunky boy, who also has a thing for Wednesday. They’re watched over by the perfectly lined eyes of Principal Weems (Gwendoline Christie).
“Wednesday” feels like a conglomeration of the teen TV shows and movies that came before it. A little bit of the small-town drama of “Riverdale” here, a dash of the boarding school freedom of “Harry Potter” films, some of “The Vampire Diaries” love triangle, the loner female detective protagonist of “Harriet” and a sprinkling of “Beverly Hills, 90210” melodrama. In spite of this, the series rarely feels derivative, and the predictable plot doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining. “Wednesday” may aspire to the greatness of “Buffy,” but comes across on the agreeably kitschy side of “Teen Wolf.”
Ortega steps into Wednesday’s uncomfortable loafers without incident, offering a pointed contrast to Christina Ricci’s iconic performance from the early 1990s Addams films (Ricci offers her stamp of approval by appearing in a supporting role as a teacher). Ortega walks the fine line between stoic and robotic, making Wednesday a girl with a tough exterior and hidden depths. She is fully committed to her version of the character, even if that is perhaps a little softer than what we’re used to seeing.
The Addams Family has been brought to the big screen, small screen, Broadway stage and more so many times that it’s hard to find something new to say. Some elements don’t align with creator Charles Addams’ initial vision for the elder Addams child, but it almost doesn’t matter (at least if you aren’t a devotee). Gough, Millar and Burton create specificity in their world, and once you get into it it’s easy to hang out at Nevermore, enjoying Ortega’s sardonic one-liners and the grandiose costuming and set design.
So “Wednesday” isn’t completely full of woe. But perhaps we don’t need any more of that at the moment.