Wednesday: Funny, Dark, And Flawed

By | December 12, 2022

Wednesday Is Quite An Unexpected TV Adaptation

Wednesday is such an odd project conceptually. If you told me a few years ago that Tim Burton would direct a new show about The Addams Family that starred Wednesday in a paranormal high school and barely featured Morticia and Gomez—at least in its first three episodes—I would’ve called it a blatant nostalgia grab. An excuse to use established characters in an unrelated story simply for recognition. I don’t mind sequels, prequels, and tie-ins, and I’ve enjoyed things like Ghostbusters: Afterlife and various Star Wars projects, but Wednesday seemed like a potential doomed voyage.

And you know what? I was right that they didn’t need Addams Family characters to make this show—but I still liked aspects of it, and many of its best moments revolve around its morbid protagonist. I have strong complaints, and we will get to them, but it’s not surprising Wednesday gained so much popularity. 

There Is An Obvious Reason Many Like This Series

So, with that in mind, it’s obvious where to start the review. As you may have heard, Jenna Ortega pulls off one of the sharpest, funniest, and most nuanced performances I’ve seen in a show like this. She gets peak dialog writing and subtle characterization. Despite Wednesday being an overpowered showoff with a barbed-wire personality, it’s easy to empathize with her and her difficulty making friends, finding connections, and forging an identity for herself. You can often tell what she’s thinking from her subtle expressions alone. The show forces you into her headspace, and gradually you learn to interpret her way of speaking. It isn’t long before what should be horrifyingly violent threats come off as Wednesday caring about people. I don’t recall/know if this is accurate to her other major representations in the original show, comic, and the four movies, but she carries this series.

But I said you didn’t need Addams Family lore for this to work, and I meant it. Wednesday in Wednesday is essentially a precocious teenage detective archetype with a goth gimmick. Even in a dark academia setting (an esthetic subgenre revolving around things like Gothic architecture and idealized education environments), she could’ve been an original character without this series missing a beat. The show is already remarkably tropey: Wednesday is a writer who doesn’t like modern technology, despises cliques, and has a lot of stock “coming-of-age” moments. They could’ve leaned in harder on these points and forged their own narrative and protagonist without these trappings, and likely it would’ve worked—just with less marketing potential.


Wednesday Barely Utilizes Its Own Source Material

In one way, though, it noticeably maintains its roots. Dressed up as horror, family melodrama, or whatever else, it’s a comedy through and through. Wednesday is full to bursting with jokes, and almost all are dry and deadpan. The pacing and most of the delivery almost doesn’t care if you catch the tongue-in-cheek nature of it or even notice things are meant to be a joke. Snarky remarks happen at a frankly intense speed, and there’s a unique pace to dialog. Two characters are silent—almost uncomfortably so—and then snap into this almost fencing match of brutal quips or character-building information. And it almost always works. I bet if I went back, a lot of dialog in this series would seem strangely worded, but it’s hard to catch the first time. You almost get put under a spell. That said, when this spell breaks, you notice it. Expositional dialog is often where it happens the worst; the mayor talking to the sheriff was so amateur “as you know” dialog it ruined my immersion. The other issue with this style of comedy and dialog is much more typical: some jokes and statements felt questionable or overtly mean-spirited. If you’re going to revolve dialog around threats, barbed comments, and allusions to torture, murder, and kidnapping, you must be careful not to mess up, and I don’t think the show always threaded that needle.

Jokes In This Series Do Not Always Land Properly

They also set up worldbuilding like one manages cats—they basically didn’t. There was likely little forethought to a lot of it. And this problem takes two forms: one serious, one admittedly nitpicky. The serious part is the social commentary that mostly exists through metaphors. As a property, The Addams Family seems made to explore the lives of people who don’t conform to a “normal” lifestyle or are considered “normal” by society. It shares that with a lot of X-Men stories. But, like many X-Men stories, this show takes that concept, goes all over the place, and doesn’t consider the implications. Wednesday touches on—or makes into full plot points—topics such as racism, colonialism, bigotry, genocide, classism, and more. The genocide of Indigenous people in America’s past seems to be a major part of the overarching mystery. I got to episode three, and I have no idea how they will handle this and certainly don’t know how they can without it being problematic or offensive.

On the nitpicky side of its bad worldbuilding: the show barely defines its own rules. I have no idea how this paranormal configuration works, even separated from the metaphorical implications. The Addams seem supernaturally resilient to damage—somehow—but now we’ve got vampires, werewolves, multiple powers, and all sorts of other magical beings casually introduced. It’s clearly not a secret that monsters exist; commingling happens all the time, and the supposed dichotomy of “outcasts” and “normies” is often played with within the story. And with little in the way of world rules at least implied, the mystery (you know, the main plot) is nigh-impossible to guess or even engage with deeply. It just gives Wednesday stuff to do and quip about. It’s also unclear if most characters even care about the deaths central to the mystery—the sirens intentionally (and without a whiff of an implication it wasn’t allowed at the school) try to behead Wednesday in a competition. Now, fair is fair: sometimes the worldbuilding is remarkably organic, with snippets of information seeded to remove the feeling of it being blatantly explained. We actually learn a lot about how sirens, gorgons, and werewolves work with basically no infodumps. Later episodes might do this more and make it feel more cohesive, but it’s muddled in its current form. 


The World Of Wednesday Doesn’t Make Any Sense

Thankfully, even if I don’t know exactly how this world works, the characters within it are usually a lot of fun. Scenes can be good even when Wednesday isn’t around. I want to see more of Morticia (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Gomez (played by Luis Guzmán) being their iconic couple selves. Enid (played by Emma Myers) is a classic bubbly character but never comes off as annoying and could easily carry more subplots. Tyler (played by Hunter Doohan) and Xavier (played by Percy Hynes White) both are stock potential love interests (assuming Wednesday is attracted to boys) but actually have their own personalities and implied lives and don’t exist purely to form a love triangle. Bianca (played by Joy Sunday) and Sheriff Donovan (played by Jamie McShane) are also trope characters, but the performances do a great job giving them as much personality as possible. I also love how Principal Larissa (played by Gwendoline Christie) is in almost open warfare with Wednesday but still wants her to succeed simultaneously. 

That said, they mishandled things on the character front to a glaring degree. There’s a bunch of jokes made at Eugene’s (played by Moosa Mostafa) expense that seemed unnecessary. The puking scene was just gross… and mean. The story also seems completely unsympathetic towards Murray McArthur’s character, who lives in the burned remains of the pilgrim building. He is choked for several moments, and it’s played as a slapstick comedy routine. 

The Comedy Here Still Sometimes Punches Down

And then there’s the other problem. Wednesday presents most, if not all, its Black characters as villains/bullies/antagonists or dislikable. You’d think for a series with these themes, they would’ve thought through choices like that. It’s not my place to discuss much more, but I strongly encourage you to find critics who can dig into this. 

Finishing up: as you can tell, Wednesday doesn’t hold up to scrutiny as well past its quippy dialog and dark esthetic. Again, the acting is solid, the comedy is delightfully acerbic, and, for a PG13 show, they correctly go hard on the blood, but that’s surface level. The show wants to be bingeable fun that also touches on serious topics, and it would’ve been a better series if they put more thought into this world, these themes, and these ideas. The Addams Family is a property perfect for topical social commentary, and Wednesday, the character, delivers some biting critiques about certain things, but the show’s approach to this must be holistically done with a lot of thought, care, and attention to both text and subtext. And I don’t see that effort in the first three episodes.

If you want to watch Wednesday for the vibes and the esthetic, you wouldn’t be alone in that—the show is very popular. But there could’ve been a much better version of Wednesday I could’ve recommended wholeheartedly, and I wished we’d gotten it.


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