Netflix’s ‘Wednesday’ is the Addams Family spin

She is creepy (not wacky), mysterious, and chilling. She is the biting “dead-eyed” daughter of the Addams Family. Her and her now she’s headed to boarding school in Tim Burton’s gleefully macabre Netflix series “Wednesday.”

Premiering Wednesday, the eight-part series, from director Burton and writers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, has caskets full of fun when daddy’s “little snake,” Wednesday Addams (Jenna Ortega), is expelled from Nancy Reagan High, his eighth school in five years. All she did was release piranhas into a pool full of jocks who had bullied her little brother, Pugsley.

Nevermore Academy is the alma mater of his mother, Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones), and his father, Gomez (Luis Guzmán). Its curriculum is designed for outcasts, weirdos, and monsters, and the student body is teeming with cabals of vampires, werewolves, and mermaids. But even they are frightened by Wednesday’s corpse-white skin and all-black uniform. “Wednesday always looks half dead,” Gomez explains. “Please excuse Wednesday. She is allergic to color, ”adds Morticia. Suspiciously cheerful Headmistress Weems (Gwendoline Christie) has no intention of going easy on Wednesday.

Ortega captivates as the talented teen who’d rather hang out in a crypt than a club. She embodies Wednesday with flat affection and utter disdain for her peers. Her jerky, zombie-like movements at the school dance to Cramps’ “Goo Goo Muck,” with a deadly serious expression, no less, make for one of the best TV moments of the year.

The black-hearted heroine is sadistic, fearless, and full of fantastically sarcastic one-liners. Describing how she is plagued by visions, mommy’s little stormcloud says, “They come without warning and feel like electroshock therapy, but without the satisfying afterburn.” She does not have an Instagram or TikTok account because she considers “social media to be a mindless, soul-sucking vacuum of affirmation.” And when her horribly perky new roommate Enid (Emma Myers) gives her a tour of the school social scene, Ella Wednesday makes it clear that she’s not interested in “teenage tribal clichés.” (She’ll love Myers’ performance and character when she wraps up the series.) Wednesday puts her inherent distrust of humanity to use when a mysterious creature with ties to the school begins killing students and townspeople. Like a gothic Nancy Drew, she relies on her powers of deduction, and occasional torture sessions, to solve the mystery.

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Luis Guzmán as Morticia and Gomez Addams in “Wednesday.”

(Netflix)

christina ricci, who played Wednesday in the 1991 film “The Addams Family” and its 1993 sequel “Addams Family Values,” is the “normal” academy teacher, Ms. Thornhill. She doesn’t have transformation abilities or powers like the others. Her passion for teaching botany is what brought her to the school. But why is she really there? Clever callbacks to the 1964 movies and TV series are rare and strategically implemented in this streaming iteration of the franchise. Two snaps of the finger open the door to a secret society’s lair, and Lurch’s catchphrase, “Did you call?”, only appears once and at the perfect time.

Thing, the disembodied hand that has led a confined existence in previous productions of “The Addams Family,” now moves freely, thanks to the miracle of CGI. It’s Watson for Wednesday’s Sherlock, and the Thing’s expressions of embarrassment, alarm and dejection are a full-bodied performance. Wednesday questions the Thing when he discovers it hiding in his bedroom on the first day of school. “Mom and Dad sent you to spy on me, didn’t they?” He signals “no” with the movement of a digit. “I’m not above breaking a few fingers,” he warns. The Thing flinches, then quickly explains in sign language that he’s there for his own good. “Oh Thing, you poor naive appendage,” he says mockingly.

Burton’s sensibilities and style are everywhere in this irresistibly wacky and sardonic whodunit. Nevermore Academy is a wonderfully ghoulish place replete with gargoyles and towers, while the small historic town of Jericho lures tourists with a kitschy recreation of a pilgrim village. The mix of witch-burning artifacts and kitschy candy stalls is a Burton playground.

There’s always the danger of messing with a beloved pop culture institution like “The Addams Family,” but “Wednesday” is brilliant on every level. His namesake doesn’t have to worry about his reputation being tarnished.

It’s not like she ever cared what we think.

‘Wednesday’

Where: Netflix

When: Anytime

Qualification: TV-14 (may not be suitable for children under 14 with notices of violence, fear and foul language)

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Netflix’s ‘Wednesday’ is the Addams Family spin-off we deserve