Since it was released on Netflix on November 23rd, Wednesday – the TV series that imagines the eldest daughter of the Addams Family struggling through her high school years – has become one of the most successful series in the history of the streaming platform. December 14th became the second most-watched ever on Netflix, according to data released by the company, surpassing the miniseries about serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, dahmer, and approaching the results of the science fiction series Stranger Things.
The output of Wednesday (Wednesday in English) was eagerly awaited for various reasons: Wednesday Addams is an iconic and very recognizable character, who has inspired the goth subculture for decades (the one born in England in the 1980s and inspired precisely by gothic and gloomy atmospheres) and is a classic Halloween costume. The fact that she was directed by Tim Burton, a very famous and loved director for his films centered on bizarre, marginalized and sometimes monstrous characters, has only increased the enthusiasm.
If according to critics and many viewers the first season is a bit predictable and leaves something to be desired as regards the deepening of the characters, according to many its success is due to winks at imaginaries and aesthetics much loved by teenagers in recent years, to the fact that the screenwriters have very faithfully traced the classic themes and plots of the great teenage films, and to a ballet that has gone viral on TikTok.
In the first episode of Wednesday the protagonist (played by Jenna Ortega) fills the swimming pool of the public school she attends with piranhas, where the boys who bully her brother, Pugsley, are training. One of them loses a testicle and on Wednesday she is expelled. Her parents, Morticia and Gomez (played by Catherine Zeta Jones and Luis Guzmán), decide to enroll her in the Nevermore Academy, a school for “outcasts” – or people with extraordinary powers, such as mermaids, vampires, werewolves and psychics – where they themselves studied as young people.
The Nevermore Academy takes its name from the most famous poem by Edgar Allan Poe, an American writer and one of the inventors of modern horror, and its Gothic architecture is very reminiscent of the Hogwarts school in the Harry Potter saga or an Oxford or Cambridge college. Both the high school and its uniforms strongly recall a youth subculture, or “aesthetic” of the internet, called “dark academia”, which evokes an era between the mid-nineteenth century and the forties of the twentieth century and is linked to an idealization of the British elite education – made up of dusty gothic libraries, tweed jackets, trousers and skirts and written letters by hand with the inkwell – with some dark side, which in Wednesday definitely not missing.
In fact, as soon as she arrives in Nevermore, the protagonist of the series discovers that someone is violently murdering people in the nearby town of Jericho: the search for the culprit is intertwined with the fact that someone is trying to kill Wednesday herself. As happens in many other classics of “young adult” entertainment (that is, the one designed for teenagers and twenty-somethings), such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Marsor more recently Riverdalean important part of the plot of Wednesday is also dedicated to the personal life of the protagonist, with all the typical melodramas of the genre.
The clichés are many. There is a love triangle between the protagonist, a tormented artist and a more tender and “normal” boy. The school is divided into cliques and the most popular girl in school is immediately introduced as Wednesday’s rival. There is the conflict between the protagonist and her parents (and with authority in general). There is even a school dance, during which Wednesday does a very strange dance that has been imitated on TikTok for weeks, which has attracted further attention to the series.
Up SlateNadira Goffe wrote a long article which explains the success of Wednesday claiming that it presents viewers with an easily recognizable world, perfect for escapism for a few hours. But the fact that Wednesday borrow such common themes and textures has attracted several criticisms. Up ChronAA Dowd wrote:
The algorithmically trivial nature of Wednesday it extends to the fact that he continues to saddle his heroine with ever new interests and abilities. This version of Wednesday has psychic powers, like Eleven’s Stranger Things. She plays a detective like Veronica Mars, helping local law enforcement investigate a string of murders. She aspires to a writing career, which allows the show to frame each episode through a Carrie Bradshaw-like voiceover [il personaggio di Sex and the City]. And she’s torn between two love interests, a pair of basically interchangeable white guys, as in Felicity. Sometimes, it feels like Wednesday want to be anything but the Addams Family.
The fact that Wednesday is a character belonging to a very recognizable franchise internationally, however, is certainly a central part of the success of the series. The Addams Family characters were born in the 1930s as the protagonists of a series of comics published by New Yorker, the famous American magazine, but since then they have been featured in films, series and cartoons. In short, Wednesday’s character enjoys enormous fame, which has spanned several generations, including that of goth and feminist girls who made it one of their references in pop culture since the 1980s. Today on the internet it is possible to find a large quantity of t-shirts, sweatshirts, bags, mugs and other gadgets with his face or his quotes.
The contemporary entertainment industry tip massively about expanding existing narrative universes – think of new films and series set in the world of star wars, the “multiverse” created by Marvel, the prequels of Harry Potter and game of Thrones – exactly because they have been shown to guarantee large economic returns in most cases.
In this sense, as Jerome Casio wrote up Screenrant, “Wednesday Addams has always been one of the more commercially successful members of the Addams Family, with her dark, precocious wit and unashamedly clumsy ways. Of all family members, a spin-off [in gergo televisivo, una serie il cui protagonista era già apparso come personaggio secondario in un altro film o serie] it was undoubtedly the most promising and interesting one, as the current success of the series also shows”. It helps that Jenna Ortega’s performance, the 20-year-old actress who plays Wednesday, is considered excellent by even the series’ harshest critics.