'Wednesday' review: Murky Netflix series salvaged by Jenna Ortega
Courtesy of Netflix
Another tireless attempt to revamp an existing property, the Netflix series “Wednesday,” based on the iconic Charles Addams comic strip, wouldn't gel if not for Jenna Ortega in the lead role. From the mind of Tim Burton, or more like from the ‘vibe’ of Tim Burton, the series, which focus its attention on the exploits of Wednesday Addams, joins recent series “She-Hulk” and “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” in trying to repurpose existing IP into something juxtaposed to what audiences have already seen. In this case, Wednesday Addams isn’t just a gothic and sinisterly devious character, but she can also have a boyfriend, friends, and solve mysteries like Nancy Drew. The results are mixed at best, think a cross pollination of “Twilight” and “Riverdale,” with too many predictable plot threads and not enough dreariness. Remove Ortega from the equation and this series is an unmitigated disaster.
A soapy, melodramatic fish-out-of-water conundrum, Netflix’s “Wednesday” never has a clear understanding of the character aside from quick ad-libs and small talk (Charles Addams is rolling in his grave). Even with Tim Burton’s direction, he helms four of the show’s eight episodes which all run about 25-minutes longer than they should, “Wednesday” molds itself into the same outline of modern-day YA garb (see the aforementioned “Riverdale”) but the character of Wednesday Addams, as seen in pop culture, was never your “average” teeanger. So it’s a bummer the series makes her one.
The show opens with promise, where the black-clad, pigtail sporting Wednesday gets exiled from public high school after unleashing two bags of Piranha’s into the boys swimming pool to avenge her bullied little brother, Puglsy (the sequence is set to Edith Piag’s “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien”). In a last ditch effort to salvage her educational career, parents, Morticia and Gomez (played by Luis Guzmán and Catherine Zeta-Jones who only show up in two episodes throughout the season) ship Wednesday to the prestigious Nevermore Academy where ghouls, goblins, and werewolves go for their studies.
Once Wednesday arrives at Nevermore is where the overall sense of disappointment begins creeping in. While the aesthetic might suggest a safe haven for Wendesday, it instead becomes the backdrop for an underwritten monster/murder mystery, which isn’t a very inspired choice from a creative mind who originally wanted to turn “The Addams Family” into a stop motion animated film. One element of the series that does earn high praise is the inclusion of Thing, the animated hand that becomes an integral part of the season. The CGI and practical effect usage are a highlight. If only some of that juice could have spread towards the show’s wonkier elements.
As Wednesday starts poking around Jericho, the small town where Nevermore resides despite the community's disdain for it, the series loses the welcome creative instincts highlighted during the show’s opening moments. Alas, even if you didn’t want a Wednesday Addams detective story, some of the mechanics and the attitude Ortega brings to the table aren’t the worst thing in the world. Several recurring characters (and forced love interests) are introduced: including Tyler (Hunter Doohan) a barista who is also, conveniently, the sheriff's kid, and Xaiver (Percy Hynes) an outcast who enjoys bringing his paintings to life. There’s also Wednesday’s bubbly roommate Enid (Emma Meyers), the school’s Principal Larissa Weems (Gwendoline Christie) and, in a fun bit of casting, Christina Ricci’s soothing teacher Ms. Marilyn Thronhill. Ricci, of course, played Wednesday in the much better ‘90s movie adaptations “The Addams Family.”
These individuals will certainly come into play as the primary mystery unravels itself (it deals with Wednesday’s ancestral connection to Nevermore Academy), but when the season reaches the end, with promise of more to come, it’s hard to embrace the full extent of Wednesday's arch. She ends up being just another oddball teeanger who befriends an assortment of fantastical characters and undergoes a personality tweak. Something tells me season two won’t be any less fulfilling, but if Ortega is along for the journey, maybe there's hope after all.
WEDNESDAY debuts on Netflix Wednesday, November 23rd.