How does a piece of media become a classic? Time is certainly a factor. Whether it’s a book, movie, or a particularly captivating ensemble, classics remain relevant and hold up through changing cultural landscapes. One such enchanting “classic” emerged between the pages of The New Yorker in 1938 with the publication of The Addams Family, a series of cartoons created by Charles Addams. These cartoons, and the uncanny family featured within them, have since undergone countless iterations, from TV shows to films to a Broadway musical. And on Nov. 23, Tim Burton’s Wednesday was released on Netflix, offering a dubious addition to the Addams Family collection.
It places Wednesday in a modern setting, uniting old and new characters alike. It’s packed with references to older adaptations of The Addams Family—like the iconic double-snap of The Addams Family theme song—but doesn’t shy away from uncharted territory, either.
Unlike previous variations, this adaptation centres around the Addams clan’s oldest daughter, Wednesday (Jenna Ortega). The show takes place at Nevermore, a boarding school established for “outcasts,” as the show dubs students with strange or supernatural abilities. Sent by her parents, Wednesday navigates the new school while developing dangerous and unpredictable psychic powers. Ultimately, she is sucked into a sinister mystery at the heart of Nevermore in a slightly tired storyline.
The new directions that the show takes may be entertaining, but they undermine the Addams Family’s trademark charm;Wednesday instills the Addams Family with an awareness of their own peculiarity. They are self-identified “outcasts” which, in many ways, erases the whimsy that made their previous iterations compelling, existing as nutty anomalies in our regular world. Wednesday shatters the old paradigm with a plot centred on the conflict between “outcasts” and “normies,” or, non-magical humans, creating a structured plot at the cost of demystifying the characters to set up social groups for easy storytelling. While this is a good way to appeal to the show’s younger target audience, it’s ultimately disingenuous to core qualities of the source material.
But where Wednesday subverts hallmarks of the Addams Family, it adds nuance to Wednesday’s character. Her previous iterations didn’t need to face significant character progression—she remained static as a reliable comedic background figure. Wednesday imbues her with a distinct character arc that uncovers a darker side to her personality, although it’s not an entirely successful evolution. Lazy attempts to make her relatable bring about the Netflix-ification of Wednesday Addams, plagued by a love triangle and I don’t want to turn out like you! parental conflicts. The show’s attempts to humanize Wednesday with played-out cliches offer no intrigue. Ortega’s impressive performance partially redeems this, capturing Wednesday’s deadpan nihilism and staying true to classic depictions of Wednesday while bringing about new iconic moments—notably, the dance sequence that has recently taken over TikTok. Even in the midst of mediocre writing, Ortega’s performance is consistently captivating and her co-stars pale in comparison.
Admittedly, I dreaded the release of Wednesday. In my eyes, Wednesday Addams is perfect the way she is. That is to say, the way she was in the early 90s films directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. Since the series is so well-loved and established in popular culture, any creative liberties taken by the creators of Wednesday would have almost inevitably faced criticism. Readaptations tend to alienate die-hard fans of the source material, but sometimes they are what continuously breathe life into a story. While I consider the Sonnenfeld films to be classics, others might say that the true classic Addams Family is the animated TV series of the 70s or the sitcom of the 60s.
Wednesday does many things wrong, but it is nonetheless a fun addition to the Addams Family canon. The show marks the timelessness of Charles Addams’ invention and paves the way for future retellings that may also, someday, be upheld as classics. It hasn’t besmirched Wednesday Addams; instead, it’s kept her cold, black heart beating.