Bored-ing School

Wednesday: Season 1

I'm a fan of The Addams Family. Frankly, that isn't a bold statement; I'm pretty sure everyone is a fan of the Addams Family. Whatever version of the "First Gothic Family" you've watched, be it the classic series or the more recent (and excellent) films, it's hard to dislike the family and their kooky hi-jinx. They're a loving family that, yes, has a very warped look at reality but that doesn't change the inherent goodness and enjoyability of this family. It's really hard to hate these Goth weirdos.

The new NetflixOriginally started as a disc-by-mail service, Netflix has grown to be one of the largest media companies in the world (and one of the most valued internet companies as well). With a constant slate of new internet streaming-based programming that updates all the time, Netflix has redefined what it means to watch TV and films (as well as how to do it). series, created by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (of Smallville, Aquaman '06, Charlie's Angels '11, and more mediocre TV), with half the episodes directed by Tim Burton, does it's best to try and make us hate the Addamses. This is a dull and dreary TV series that completely and utterly fails to understand the charm of this Goth family. It uses the Addams license to tell a generic, CW-level girl-detective series that fails to use the characters or setting in any meaningful way. As an Addams Family adaptation, Wednesday utterly and completely fails.

With that said, if you're able to ignore what the show is pitched to be and, instead, just go in expecting a generic girl-detective adventure, then the series does have its charms. It's not great, bear in mind, with plenty of lifeless adventures and shallow characterizations. It has plot lines that meander and get ignored, a central mystery that doesn't feel at all mysterious, and a lead character who changes her motivations and desires at the whims of the story. You know, just like every other generic adventure series aimed squarely at the YA set. It does it's job, and it does it reasonably well, but that's only if you give it so many qualifiers that you have to wonder why they bothered adapting The Addams Family at all.

The series stars Jenna Ortega as Wednesday, the anti-social (and at times near-murderous) daughter of Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Gomez (Luis Guzman) Addams. When her younger brother, Pugsley (Isaac Ordonez), is harassed by a group of jacks at Nancy Regan High School, Wednesday elects to exact her revenge, dumping bags of piranhas into their pool as the jocks are practicing for water polo. This leads to a number of them, including their ring-leader, getting mauled. Wednesday is, of course, expelled from the school and brought up on charges.

As part of her probation Wednesday has to attend a new school, Nevermore Academy (the same school Morticia and Gomez once attended), which is overseen by Morticia's one-time roomie Larissa Weems (Gwendoline Christie). Wednesday also has to go to a therapist, Dr. Valerie Kinbott (Riki Lindhome) to talk through her violent issues. Going to school and talking about herself are bad enough, leading Wednesday to try and escape. But then someone tries to kill her, and then a violent murder occurs right in front of her, and Wednesday realizes they just might be more to Nevermore than she first realized. With the help of new roommate Enid (Emma Myers) and bee-keeping friend Eugene (Moosa Mostafa), Wednesday just might be the Mary Sue Goth girl to save the school.

When it comes to the licenses that makes up the central conceit of this show, Wednesday horribly misunderstands what makes it work. It's not just that you can take a weird, Goth character like Wednesday and make her funny anywhere. She's a character that works best in an ensemble, playing off her family members, and the outside world, with her weird bon mots and terrifying asides. When you watch her in 1991's The Addams Family and sequel Addams Family Values, she's the character that wanders in, says something terrible, and gets a laugh before the story moves on. She's not the story.

You might think that because she carried the summer camp side of Values that she's qualified to carry her own story, but again, the misunderstands what works. The summer camp sequences in that film are just a series of thinly developed sketches all designed to let Wednesday say something funny and get a reaction out of the rest of the cast. Her violent straight man persona requires others to play along, to let her do her thing. She's there to screw up their day, to throw a wrench in the works. She's not there, though, to be the hero, to carry the story, to push the tale forward. She's the agent of chaos, the antagonist that we all love, but the story can't lean on her too much lest her shtick get tired.

Wednesday gets very, very tiresome in Wednesday. The formula of any scene and every episode is: have a character come in, say something, then let Wednesday make another tired joke, all before she moves on to do something else and repeat her act again. Where in the films Wednesday was used as a spice to liven up scenes and contrast "good people" against this violent little sociopath, Wednesday is in every scene, carrying every story, and acting as the lead for the whole piece. She can't be used sparingly because she has to be everywhere and do everything. That then raises a big issue: why would anyone tolerate having this homicidal maniac around all the time?

The show has every character and every story bend around Wednesday. Men fall at her feet, people bend over backwards to let her in, and they all act like she's the queen bee. This, despite her putting everyone down, shunning all emotional contact, and essentially acting like a raging sociopath to everyone that interacts with her. There's no reason she should have friends, nor is there any point in which the story convincingly manages to work Wednesday into the mystery plot or anything else going on. The Wednesday we know has to be shunted aside some some fun-house version of her can come out that does caring had sharing and mystery solving. But then she vanishes just as quickly and we're back to the violent and evil Wednesday that no one should like. The film is violently bipolar about its lead character forcing her into situations she'd avoid for the sake of moving the plot along. It doesn't work.

Even weirder, the show feels the need to give Wednesday super powers. It's not enough for her to be her Gothic weirdo self, but now she has psychic visions that come and go as conveniently as the plot. This is something added in for the show, as are all the vampires, werewolves, gorgons, and everything else at Nevermore. These are the "outcasts" (as opposed to the "normies" in the nearby town), and this is supposed to give us a sense that the Addams clan isn't the only oddballs out there... which also doesn't make sense, really. The point was that they were the oddballs but they never cared. Giving them more outcasts dilutes that part of what made them endearing. Giving Wednesday super powers ignores the fact that she never needed them before. It's just one more way the show tries to fit its central character into a story that doesn't need her.

The big issue is the license. This show is a perfectly competent teen girl detective story, along the lines of Nancy Drew. You can feel the building blocks that made up the show, with equal parts Nancy Drew, Riverdale, Gilmore Girls, and any ArrowverseWhen it was announced that the CW was creating a show based on the Green Arrow, people laughed. The CW? Really? Was it going to be teen-oriented like everything else on the network and be called "Arrow High"? And yet that one show, Arrow has spawned three spin-offs, various related shows and given DC a successful shared universe, the Arrowverse on TV and streaming.. What doesn't belong in that whole mix is The Addams Family. You could take any generic girl detective and give her some kind of pet (in place of Thing here) and you'd end up with the exact same story about a strange school with even stranger happenings. In fact, I'd bet it would work better because there wouldn't be any expectations about what The Addams Family should be.

Instead, though, we get a show that uses a license to tell a tale it was going to tell anyway, all so it can draw in fans of a property and steal their watching hours. There are moments in the series that are fun, and the are a few scenes where the central family comes together and you can almost see hos this version of the clan would work (and work well) in their own show. This is not that show. Wednesday is a massive and incalculable misfire that gets everything about it's central character wrong. If draws people in with the promise of one thing and then fails to deliver that at all. If Netflix and the creators could have just been honest and created something without Wednesday as the lead it might have just worked. Instead the series ties itself up in knots to create something that just doesn't work. What a waste of time and talent.