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‘Wednesday’ review: Jenna Ortega makes delightful anti-heroine in Netflix’s Addams Family spinoff

Jenna Ortega steps into a role played indelibly by Christina Ricci in a few ’90s feature films (and, memorably, by Lisa Loring in the classic TV series). Wednesday her own.

Ortega’s Wednesday Addams is the perfectly creepy and wacky eight-episode accumulation of deadpan line readings, precise comedic physicality, and expressive eye rolls. The character never had to face the project-carrying focus of this iteration, but thanks to Ortega’s hugely entertaining blurring of arc width and subtlety, plus creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar’s refusal to overexplain or overexplain the eternally nihilistic goth favorite, evolve. , Wednesday comes into its own here. While the overall series is rarely quite up to the leading lady level – adjust your expectations for a more above average CW dramedy – there are plenty of promising elements that I hope Wednesday gets the chance to make a second season with some refinements.

Wednesday

It comes down to

If Jenna Ortega wasn’t a star before, she is now.

broadcast date: Wednesday, November 23 (Netflix)
Form: Jenna Ortega, Gwendoline Christie, Riki Lindhome, Jamie McShane, Hunter Doohan, Percy Hynes White, Emma Myers, Joy Sunday, Georgie Farmer, and Christina Ricci. Starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Luis Guzman, and Fred Armisen
creators: Alfred Gough and Miles Millar

The series begins with Wednesday as a public school outcast who learns that her brother Pugsley (Isaac Ordonez) is being bullied and responds with an elaborate and potentially deadly prank against the water polo team.

In no time, Wednesday is shipped off to Nevermore Academy, a rural Vermont school for the exceptionally gifted — that’s vampires, werewolves, sirens, and the like, not math nerds or theater kids. Wednesday, who begins to have visions she can’t interpret or control, isn’t thrilled about being among supposed peers, but parents Gomez (Luis Guzmán) and Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) are overjoyed to see their daughter go to their beloved alma mater. . They hope Nevermore will be as good for Wednesday as it was for them. This optimism doesn’t stop them from sending disembodied hand Thing (Victor Dorobantu) as a spy.

Note that Gomez and Morticia – with Zeta-Jones and Gomez giving the original animated incarnations a surplus of PG-level horniness – are hardly supporting figures here, popping up in the premiere and a mid-season episode. Wednesday’s jovially sadistic Uncle Fenster (a pretty deranged Fred Armisen) appears in one episode. Lurch (George Burcea) hardly appears. This is not The Addams family. This is all Wednesday, although as a supporting character Thing is very useful (sincere apologies).

At Nevermore, Wednesday is warned about her behavior by headmistress Larissa Weems (Gwendoline Christie), Morticia’s former classmate (don’t try the math), and has to get quick advice from an irrepressibly feisty psychiatrist (Riki Lindhome) in the nearby town. Wednesday isn’t thrilled about that prospect – nor is she eager to befriend her bubbly new roommate Enid (Emma Myers), brooding schoolboy Xavier (Percy Hynes White) or overwhelmingly normal townsman Tyler (Hunter Doohan), who happens to be the son. from the town sheriff (Jamie McShane), one of many authority figures who isn’t exactly a Wednesday Addams fan.

Smallville creators Gough and Millar — the show comes fair due to its CW vibes — have given Wednesday a very solid structure devoted much more to a serialized season-long arc than anything episodic. Wednesday arrives in Nevermore at the same time as a huge monster with long limbs and teeth, a creature with ties to a multi-generational family mystery and possibly a Wednesday-related doomsday prophecy. Tensions are high with the local community, fueled by the disapproving sheriff (Jamie McShane) and ambitious mayor (Tommie Earl Jenkins).

A lot is happening inside Wednesday and the overall mysteries are executed in a way that keeps the series going, but at one point no one asked what feels like a big question: is a Wednesday Addams series one you want to get “swept away” into various prophecies , apocalypse and increasingly menacing Big Bads? Or do you really just want to see Wednesday being unrelentingly sarcastic and indiscriminately expressing contempt?

The first season builds to a climax with several CG creatures fighting with limited vision in a dark forest and Wednesday reduced to each Buffy-lite heroine’s capacity. It’s kind of thrilling and proves you can absolutely build a Wednesday Addams series at a school for supernaturally enhanced teens and the result will be interchangeable with legacies or Hair-raising adventures of Sabrina or your chosen descendant of Hogwarts or Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. But why would you?

Wednesday needs more episodic episodes because the parts of the series that work best are the ones where Wednesday treats vaguely normal high school things – even those elevated for Nevermore – as objects of her disdain, but joins in anyway. There is a competition between different school houses that continues to raise the stakes in fun ways. It’s a good episode. The kids have to do community service at a theme park set in the town’s witch trials, naturally drawing Wednesday’s wrath. That’s a good episode. There is a prom she has to go to on Wednesday. It’s a good episode and, with in-character dancing, delivers Ortega’s best moment. That stuff is almost all in the first half of the season, while the second half is mostly mythology, letting most of the show’s character development slip in the name of plot.

The series could benefit from being more episodic and it could benefit from just being funnier. Gough, Millar, and most of the writers come from drama backgrounds, and even the best of Wednesday’s scathing, fatalistic takedowns have a first draft feel. Part of 1993’s why Addam’s family values the original 1991 film largely adopted into people’s affections is that Paul Rudnick’s script is basically one one-liner after another, even though I don’t remember the plot at all.

This is not to say that the second season of Wednesday should go full Borscht Belt but after Gough and Millar do their thing maybe someone like a Chris Kelly & Sarah Schneider (The other TWO) should be brought in just for a punch-up draft? Or maybe a Gloria Calderon Kellett (One day at a time)? Because as tempting as Wednesday’s idea of ​​tapping into her Latina roots may be, the realities here are token references and unrealized potential.

Speaking of unrealized, or at least underrealized potential, the appeal of first half season director Tim Burton needs to be tempered a bit. There are delightfully weird beats here and there in the early episodes, but whether due to budgetary or scheduling challenges, the show gradually becomes less distinctive and generically darker – so much so that most viewers don’t notice when Burton hands the baton to Gandja Monteiro and James Marshall for the last four episodes. The production design in and around Nevermore is solid, with occasional playful homages to cartoonist Charles Addams, but these two ridiculous statements crossed my mind several times: Hair-raising adventures of Sabrina it seemed like it cost more and when it comes to Tim Burton stories about special kids in special schools, Miss Peregrine’s home for quirky children was a much more Burtonian production.

With so much going on, it’s left to the cast to keep things together. Myers, as the cement of the two actresses, provides an amusingly sunny foil to Ortega’s dark excellence Wednesday as a story of female friendship, which generates a rapport that fortunately does not require Wednesday’s “taming”. The series doesn’t exaggerate its love triangle, but Doohan and Hynes White are refreshingly “normal” and likeable as the male leads. Christie has that Elizabeth-Debicki-in-The crown quality where you often feel her presence in front of minor co-stars – Ortega and Ricci, particularly as Nevermore’s first ‘normie’ faculty member – is only meant as a peep joke, but there’s a pain in Weems’ past that Christie remains underline nicely. A second season may allow other Nevermore students – starting with Joy Sunday and Georgie Farmer – to take on real personalities.

Or maybe the second season would just offer more of Ortega, whose steady rise from Young Jane onward Jane the Virgin until you to functions inclusive scream and X gave the impression that she was ready for a full-fledged starring vehicle. She’s special inside Wednesday and if the show isn’t up to its standard, it has room to grow.

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