The latest supernatural teen drama just can’t distinguish itself beyond its leads.
About 10 minutes into Wednesday I was already aware that it was not going to have any real connection to the Addams Family beyond sharing names. The Addams Family, who were most successful as a satire of the stereotypical nuclear family, are a property that I really like when it is done right. Admittedly, not all of their films, shows, or even comics have managed to pull this off, but it’s still a property that can really shine when it works. When watching Wednesday immediately drop this aspect, I got some heavy Riverdale vibes and was nearly ready to call it quits. However, after saying that I was told directly or indirectly by several people that, watched independently of the Addams Family franchise, Wednesday was good on its own merits. As this has been true of a number of films and shows in the past (hell, the Shining’s not a great adaptation, but it’s an amazing film), I figured I would try to judge Wednesday on what it is, rather than what I was hoping if would be.
Having now watched all of Wednesday, I can say that it is indeed better if you just consider it completely removed from the Addams Family properties. Yes, the names are there, but it doesn’t try to capture any of the spirit beyond “creepy family.” However, it still suffers from all the same hallmarks of shoddy writing that populate most “let’s make a teen drama out of this existing IP” shows. The characters tend to fit into simple archetypes while also arguing that they’re complicated. Saying that they’re not able to be put into a box doesn’t actually make a character complex, it just means their entire personality is “doesn’t like labels.” The plot also features Tim Burton reusing plot points from his own movies, which, while something I expect from the director at this point, irked me thoroughly. My biggest complaint, though, was sadly the performances.
Jenna Ortega, though not quite to the extent of young Christina Ricci, pulls off Wednesday’s monotone and intentional indifference well. She tries to be stone-faced as much as possible when dealing with the people she thinks of as her potential victims, which is to say everyone. Ortega manages to make someone speaking with as little emotion as possible into a fairly compelling performance, particularly by sprinkling in face and voice work to make sure that the audience can tell when things actually are bothering Wednesday. The problem is that her performance might have set the tone for the show. Throughout the series, a lot of the cast play extremely subdued or monotone characters and can’t pull it off, nor should they be trying to. Wednesday is an interesting character because she constantly wears a mask of indifference or vitriol. Other characters who don’t have that kind of intentional unemotionality shouldn’t be delivering lines like they’re just trying not to make a scene. The biggest offenders were Luis Guzman’s Gomez, who constantly said romantic and dramatic things without any emotion behind it, Joy Sunday’s Bianca, whose top-girl attitude never came through her delivery, and, sadly, Fred Armisen’s Fester, who constantly feels like a zany character that was given the note “do less.” I think in trying to nail Wednesday’s tone, Ortega’s performance pulled some of the energy from many of the other performers trying to match the scene, even if it didn’t make sense for the character. This is something the director should have avoided. The notable exception is Emma Myers as Enid, Wednesday’s werewolf roommate, who manages to be one of both the best written and best performed characters in the show despite openly trying to be a stereotype on the outside. The fact that two of the leads are so good at playing opposing energies does help the show a lot, but not enough to make up for the plot issues and the rest of the performances.
Ultimately, I’m not sure this is a bad show, but it has the elements of too many other properties in it without doing anything noteworthy with them. It’s definitely better than Riverdale’s first season, but not quite the show it should be.