Streaming on: Netflix
Episodes viewed: 8 of 8
The best thing about Barry Sonnenfeld’s kooky-spooky Addams Family movies was Christina Ricci’s Wednesday Addams. Pig-tailed, dead-eyed, looking as fragile as porcelain but really as deadly as a nail gun, she stole both shows. So, on the one disembodied hand, she’s the ideal subject for a spin-off series, here spawned by Smallville guys Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, and in a no-brainer of no-brainer moves, lead-directed by Tim Burton; on the other hand, however, Ricci’s a tough act to follow.
Fortunately, Wednesday has a not-so-secret, toxin-tipped weapon: Jenna Ortega. Formerly seen in You and Scream, Ortega is a worthy match to Ricci as the OGG (original goth girl), and receives her implicit blessing via Ricci’s guest spot as carnivorous plant-loving den mother Miss Thornhill. In fact, Ortega meets a far greater challenge than her predecessor ever faced: preserving the now-teenage Wednesday’s barbed demeanour over an eight-episode arc, while also allowing her to develop, just a little, as a person. She has to evolve enough for us to keep caring and not dismiss her as one-note, while never betraying Wednesday’s darkly precious sociopathy and succumbing to (ugh) growth. And Ortega pulls it off with grave-faced aplomb. It’s a mini masterclass in less-is-more performance.
Jenna Ortega makes the show supremely watchable for Addams fans and newcomers alike.
What’s less successful, sadly, is the setting, as impressively realised as it is (by production designer Mark Scruton). The Addams Family have always worked best in relief, their morbid foibles accentuated when placed against a backdrop of normality, where regular folk are often aghast at their antics. Supernatural boarding school Nevermore Academy, however, draws Wednesday into a mix of characters in many ways odder than she is: werewolves, gorgons, sirens and other strangenesses.
Wednesday is also given plenty to kick against, including her own long-shadow-casting mother Morticia (faithfully portrayed by Catherine Zeta-Jones, even if she doesn’t glide quite so magnificently as the films’ Anjelica Huston and lacks the required chemistry with Luis Guzmán’s Gomez). Even so, the early episodes clang to the sound of an ever-present question: surely Wednesday should feel right at home here?
In this sense, having Burton at the helm of the first four doesn’t actually help. Gothic flourish is his stock-in-trade, and he doesn’t hold back. But a little stylistic restraint might have been more effective. The season focuses on matters more crowdpleasing than intriguing, making Wednesday the ass-kicking anti-hero of the day as she unravels a series of twisted killings (some surprisingly gruesome for the 12 rating) in a very Harry Potter-ish mystery plot.
Praise the dark lord, then, for Ortega, the unblinking eye of this eldritch Gen Z storm. Despite its flaws, she makes the show supremely watchable for Addams fans and newcomers alike. Without a doubt, she is Wednesday’s MVP (most venomous predator).