Tim Burton Tries (And Fails) to Spice Up the Addams Family With His Wimpy Wednesday: Review

The post Tim Burton Tries (And Fails) to Spice Up the Addams Family With His Wimpy Wednesday: Review appeared first on Consequence.

The Pitch: They may be creepy, kooky, and altogether ooky, but one question has lingered for decades on the minds of every Addams Family fan — Where did they go to high school? Lucky for us, Smallville creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (with a little help from Tim Burton and the bean counters at Netflix) are here to give us the answer.

Nevermore Academy is a prep school for the petrifying out in the backwoods of New England, where “outcasts” (as they’re called) get to spend their high school years learning among their own kind: sirens, werewolves, witches, and all the rest. And like any good college town, the “normie” townies view them with derision and suspicion, clinging to centuries-old stories of witch-burnings to fuel tourism and their own resentment of the school.

It’s hardly the kind of environment Wednesday Addams (Jenna Ortega) would care to immerse herself in; after all, she prefers to be the one weirding people out. But her parents, Gomez (Luis Guzman) and Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones), insist on her attending, especially as Wednesday starts experiencing the same psychic premonitions that plagued her mother. Thus, the legacy goth heads to Nevermore with dismembered family member Thing in tow to look after her.

Even among outcasts, she’s pushed to the margins pretty quickly: her stony nature turns off the cool kids, and her family’s complicated legacy at the school (involving, in Gomez’s case, suspicions of murder) earn her the ire of everyone from the town sheriff (Jamie McShane) to the school’s principal, Larissa Weems (Gwendoline Christie). But when she witnesses the murder of a student in the woods by a mysterious beast, she soon finds herself in the middle of a mystery only she can solve.

A Series of Unwatchable Events: It’s easy to forget that Tim Burton was a hair’s breadth from directing the 1992 Addams Family movie; it was only because of scheduling conflicts with Batman Returns that the gig went to Barry Sonnenfeld. Wednesday is Burton’s first real turn at bat for the cult-favorite sitcom family (based on the original Charles Addams New Yorker sketches), even though it feels like his work has been taken inspiration from Addams’ screwy, oddball aesthetic his entire career.

Color me surprised, then (even if the color is black), that Wednesday doesn’t just not feel like an Addams Family story — it barely feels like Tim Burton. A lot of that is due to the limitations of the Netflix streaming series as a model: the wonky pacing that positions each overlong 55-minute episode as a chapter in a so-called “eight-hour movie”; the flat digital photography that highlights the hokey sets and filmed-in-Romania cheapness of the production; dialogue that feels tailor-made to feed the Twitter-GIF industrial complex.

Wednesday (Netflix) Addams Family Jenna Ortega
Wednesday (Netflix) Addams Family Jenna Ortega

Wednesday (Netflix)

There’s also the wonkiness of the premise itself, which drops one of horror-comedy’s greatest foils into a setting that ostensibly makes her fade into the background. As any Addams fan well knows, Wednesday’s appeal comes in her ability to stare down and terrify any “normie” she comes across, sticking out like a jet-black sore thumb among the faux-niceties of a society obsessed with conformity. Why, then, swan her off to Spirit Halloween Hogwarts, where she’s the supernatural equivalent of Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club?

The murder mystery angle doesn’t help things, the show stumbling unevenly between spooky sleuthing (think Hot Topic Veronica Mars) and warmed-over high school drama. Basically, it’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina all over again, without the relative novelty that that show brought to the table.

Ash Wednesday: It’s not all bad, mind you; if nothing else, Wednesday is a lovely vehicle for Jenna Ortega, who’s quickly growing into one of our most exciting younger stars. She’s got the death-stare and disquieting posture of Wednesday down to a tee, and it’s a joy to see her iterate on what Christina Ricci and other Wednesdays before her have built. (Ricci has a supporting role as Nevermore’s sole normie teacher and erstwhile mentor to Wednesday; it’s a fun twist, even if the role is relatively thankless up until the kind of twists you can see coming a mile away.)

When the show works, it’s in scenes that center around Wednesday’s eventual, but gradual, initiation into the world of Nevermore. Sure, it plays on the old chestnut of the withdrawn outsider learning to let people in, but Ortega finds interesting ways to let a few cracks of humanity shine through her death-mask facade. Her peppy roommate, the not-yet-a-werewolf Enid (Emma Myers), makes for a decently bubbly counterpoint, and she visibly softens when she gets the occasional visit from another member of the Addams Family. (Guzman and Zeta-Jones are unexpectedly inspired picks for Gomez and Morticia; Fred Armisen as Uncle Fester…. less so.)

Wednesday (Netflix) Addams Family Jenna Ortega
Wednesday (Netflix) Addams Family Jenna Ortega

Wednesday (Netflix)

Even as the season takes her through the most bog-standard story beats you could imagine, Ortega can make a meal of these scenes, especially given the admittedly one-note nature of the character. But it’s not hard to share in Wednesday’s boredom with the dullards around her, as the supporting cast (especially the normies) get very little to do.

There’s the expected love triangle with two similarly consumptive white boys, Nevermore bad boy Xavier (Percy Hynes White) and well-meaning townie Tyler (Hunter Doohan). Still, neither of them offers more than CW-level smolder. Throw in Riki Lindhome as a therapist whose main appeal comes in the wrenches she throws into the plot, and Jamie McShane as a grumpy sheriff who’s mostly there to drive the convoluted murder mystery, and Ortega’s talents feel wasted in a caper that’s not up to her (or the character’s) level.

The Verdict: Shockingly good casting (and a typically Gothic score from Danny Elfman) aside, there’s little to recommend about Wednesday. It feels like a reconstituted mush of Tim Burton’s late-career apathy, the vagaries of the Netflix streaming show model, and the unholy resurrection of the corpse of IP. Besides, what’s Netflix doing releasing this more than two weeks after Halloween, save for a minor callback to the Thanksgiving summer camp mayhem from Addams Family Values? It boggles the mind.

Where’s It Playing? Wednesday will be screaming on Netflix starting Wednesday (duh), November 23rd.

Trailer:

Tim Burton Tries (And Fails) to Spice Up the Addams Family With His Wimpy Wednesday: Review
Clint Worthington

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