Tim Burton directs a perfectly cast Jenna Ortega as Gomez & Morticia’s daughter finding her way in a creepy & ooky world.
Jenna Ortega is having quite the year. Between the success of Ti West’s brilliant slasher X and leading the new Scream franchise, she’s poised to become our next reigning Queen of Creepy. This looks even more likely now as she brings the definitive goth teen to life in Netflix’s Wednesday, helmed by Tim Burton.
The Addams Family might be one of the most enduring families in our pop culture subconscious, joyfully macabre, weirdly horny, and an early example of a show where the audience is in on the joke. The clueless discomfort of the “normies” serve up the punchlines. It was a playful jab at the idea of the heteronormative, nuclear family of the mid-20th century, one that is still paying dividends in a time when the concept of family has shifted and morphed with the times. But the Addams endure in part because it’s a story about outcasts sticking together.
ˆWednesday takes this concept a step further and asks what is it like to be an outcast among other outcasts? After the titular Wednesday Addams (Ortega) is expelled from Nancy Reagan High (lol) for a piranhas-in-the-pool incident in which a swim team bully loses a testicle, she’s sent to boarding school at Nevermore Academy, where her mother Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and father Gomez (an always-welcome Luis Guzmán) first met. So much of Wednesday deftly deals with the intricate struggles between mothers and daughters, particularly in those awkward teen years. Wednesday desperately wants to step out of her mother’s elegant shadow, something that will be nigh on impossible when attending Nevermore, where Morticia is still lauded as one of the most popular and beloved students to ever attend.
Naturally, Wednesday is immediately poised as the outcast among outcasts, in a school with vampires, werewolves, gargoyles and telekinetics, Wednesday stands apart, impressed by nothing and reluctant to form any bonds. She’s even given a special school uniform in shades of black and grey, separating her from her peers. And yet Wednesday is neither dour nor uncaring. She bonds with her rainbow-loving roommate Enid (Emma Myers), a character that is coded so queer her parents even threaten to send her to “werewolf conversion camp” to help her inner werewolf “come out.”
Some critics have accused the show of queer baiting with Enid’s character, and it’s a fairly glaring misstep to have such a strongly queer-coded character be straight. In fact, if there is anything about Wednesday that rings false, it’s the total lack of queer kids to be found at Nevermore. Wednesday’s only real contemporary, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, had queer and trans characters that were written with thought and care, so it seems an egregious oversight that Wednesday wouldn’t have a single LGBTQ character, aside from one kid who has two moms.
Disappointing exclusions aside, Wednesday still moves along at an unhurried clip, with a decent mystery and some genuinely touching moments. Wednesday takes young beekeeper Eugene (Moosa Mostafa) under her wing while charming both the sweet, tousled son of the local sheriff and the soft-eyed artist in her class. She even goes from Frenemy to Friend with queen bee Bianca (Joy Sunday), who is dealing with mommy issues of her own.
Everyone seems to want to see Wednesday succeed and find her place, from her friends to her teachers, even the vaguely menacing Principal Weems (Gwendoline Christie at her most glam) just wants what is best for Wednesday. But Wednesday finds herself unprepared for popularity, and we get to see those teenage growing pains play out in a very Addams way.
Wednesday is undoubtedly Jenna Ortega’s vehicle, but it also marks a return to form for Tim Burton, who directed the series created by powerhouse team Alfred Gough and Miles Millar. Burton puts his classic spooky-ooky stamp on the series while paying respectful tribute to previous incarnations of the character. There’s even a significant role for Christina Ricci, a Burton favorite whose career launched with her portrayal of young Wednesday Addams in Barry Sonnenfeld’s 1991 The Addams Family feature and it’s glorious 1993 follow-up The Addams Family Values—maybe the best sequel since The Godfather Part II.
The best parts of Wednesday, aside from Ortega’s faultless performance, is watching these kids learn at an early age how to find their people, how to draw boundaries with parents and slowly become independent. And how sometimes, the weirdest thing you can be is just like everyone else.
Wednesday is now available on Netflix.