REVIEW | Tim Burton brings family-friendly macabre fun to Netflix's Wednesday

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
Thing, Jenna Ortega as Wednesday Addams.
Thing, Jenna Ortega as Wednesday Addams.
Photo: Netflix

Smart, sarcastic and a little dead inside, Wednesday Addams investigates a murder spree while making new friends - and foes - at Nevermore Academy.

The Addams Family has a special place in the heart of all fans of the macabre and gothic, a tight-knit family that dabbles in the dark and unknown while constantly showing love and appreciation for each other. Netflix's Wednesday is the first time the franchise branches out from the family into a more individual story, focusing on our favourite goth girl as she navigates the treachery of hormones and teenage boys. While a fresh take on the Addams Family, it retains its punny humour and camp sense of the dark, and scream queen Jenna Ortega perfectly embodies Wednesday's bleak character.

After getting kicked out of her umpteenth high school, Wednesday's parents forcefully enrol her into their old school - Nevermore Academy - where society's outcasts can be who they are without judgement. Instead of escaping the chains of education, our heroine becomes embroiled in a monster mystery that delves into her family's past and their connection to a string of grisly murders.

It's wild that it took this long to get Tim Burton on an Addams Family project, though he only directs half of the series and acts as an executive producer rather than a showrunner. Still, the series is as peak Burton as you can get, even when it comes to monster design, and I must say I missed his family-friendly macabre fun. While I could have gone for a little more R-rated fun, the show does push the PG rating quite a bit, with body parts strewn across a forest floor, despite never seeing the actual kills properly.

What really steals the show is our lead actor Ortega, who lives and breathes Wednesday Adams on a molecular level. A very different take to Christina Ricci's turn during her child acting days, Ortega sells the goth girl with her body language as much as her pinpointed one-liners. Her death stare is like no other, eyeing everyone interacting with her up and down while calculating every word she says before saying it. Her demeanour only breaks in special cases, and it takes a lot to crack open that hard exterior. It's good directing and writing that any emotion was used sparingly and to full effect, like her little half-smiles when she's amused or only fully smiling when Uncle Fester visits her. Even her dance scene - choreographed by Ortega herself - is a fantastic performance that encapsulates everything that makes Wednesday an endearing character that defies the ages.

Credit must be given to Victor Dorobantu, whose hand transforms into the loveable Thing, an Addams Family stalwart that helps Wednesday investigate the mystery and survive Nevermore. I didn't know I could care so much about a hand that doesn't say a single verbal word, and you always know the exact emotion Thing is expressing, from fear of Wednesday's wrath to being upset while flippantly flipping through a magazine. It's definitely a thankless job as a… hand actor? Looking at behind-the-scenes photos will give you a special appreciation of Dorobantu's art, using his magician skills to literally bring life to Thing. 

The show's downside is that it almost - ALMOST - went too hard down the Riverdale route, the same affliction that killed the last season of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. I don't particularly mind the teenage mystery take, and Wednesday doesn't completely succumb to the mindless plot jumps these tend to have, but there are moments where you're painfully reminded that this show is actually for teenagers. The final conclusion to the monster mystery felt quite rushed, and it was obvious early on who the culprits were, though the extent of it was surprising. The reuse of pilgrim history in the plot - like the camp storyline in Addams Family Values - was a nice touch of nostalgia, as well as including Ricci as the normie dorm mother. However, I wish there was more actual Addams Family in the show overall. We only get two episodes with Morticia and Gomez Addams, and Catherine Zeta-Jones and Luis Guzmán brought a different pizazz to the roles that could have been explored much further, although together, the chemistry could never compare to Anjelica Huston and Raul Julia - but who could ever top them?

Despite the lack of Addams, Wednesday is creatively and physically trying to break away from her family's identity and carve out her own dark destiny. She undergoes the usual character development arc, but from the start, she is secure in who she is and doesn't care at all what anyone thinks. Her mistakes make sense for her character, but she never compromises on her principles. She's a toxic nightmare for any relationship but never pretends she's anything but, and people still want to be around her. I enjoyed every minute of Wednesday despite its wonky plot because it's just fun, camp humour, and captures the essence of the Addams Family je ne sais quoi. For season two, all I can say is never change, Wednesday.

Where to watch: Netflix

Cast: Jenna Ortega, Gwendoline Christie, Riki Lindhome, Jamie McShane, Christina Ricci

Our rating: 3.5/5 Stars


We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.