Wednesday, February 8, 2023

‘Wednesday’ Review: A Gothic Nancy Drew [Spoiler-Free]

TELEVISIONNETFLIX'Wednesday' Review: A Gothic Nancy Drew

Wednesday on Netflix is already a hit, and it’s no wonder why. The goth teenager will surely ignite a new trend of gothic fashion and teen sleuths. Think Veronica Mars, Nancy Drew, and Riverdale, but with an even darker twist. Wednesday Addams also has Buffy Summers’ wit and fighting skills, and the show borrows from Harry Potter aesthetics, but with Tim Burton’s signature magic. 

The Addams family has seen many iterations in pop culture since its creation by cartoonist Charles Addams in 1938. Wednesday was famously played in the ’90s movies by Christina Ricci — who has a mysterious and juicy role in the show — and has now become a full-blown teenager with mommy issues and disgust for the patriarchy.

The show is at its best when it revels in its titular character’s trademark cynicism and smarts, which make her the coolest teenager at Nevermore, the school for “outcasts, freaks, monsters”. Of course, Buffy, Veronica Mars, and even Veronica Sawyer in Heathers all paved the way for television’s new age of empowered teenage girls. It is still incredibly pleasurable to watch Wednesday, played by the pitch-perfect Jenna Ortega, verbally eviscerate everyone who gets in her way while making no apologies for her confidence and skills. She’s bossy, but she’s no “girlboss”; Wednesday is loyal to her friends (which she reluctantly makes) and a fierce advocate for the underdogs and the outcasts.  

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Speaking of which, the show could do more with its supporting characters, especially the characters of color. Bianca (Joy Sunday), as the school’s queen bee and Wednesday’s rival, nerdy friend Eugene (Moosa Mostafa), town bully (or is he?) Lucas (Iman Marson), and Wednesday’s roommate Enid (Emma Myers), who got the most developed story arc as her closest ally, are all thankfully explored further in the second half of the show. Hopefully, a season 2 will fully flesh out the secondary characters beyond the usual tropes. 

The weakest part of the show is the addition of the male characters as the romantic love interests, which seemed forced and lacked chemistry. Thankfully Wednesday retains her aloof, cautious personality throughout despite those tired storylines. Without giving too much away, I was incredibly relieved when the show moved away from the stereotypical love triangle and female jealousy over an average white male love interest. The show’s hints at queerness remain to be explored, with viewers on the internet eagerly speculating over potential pairings (although nothing is confirmed). That would make season 2 a lot more interesting. Another puzzling aspect of the show is Wednesday’s reliance on and trust in law enforcement and the judicial system, and specifically the local sheriff, which can be explained by storyline convenience but still feels out of place for such a rebellious, free-thinker character who was quick to point out the town’s history of violence by the settlers to unsuspecting tourists.  

The series still shines in its storytelling because it knows its audience. Murder mysteries and spookiness abound. Friends and enemies are not what they seem, the twists and turns are compounded by Wednesday’s innate distrust of other people and her emerging psychic abilities. Gwendoline Christie is a magnetic force as the school’s principal. Last but not least, the show sprinkles some of the Addams family lore, and the appearances of Uncle Fester and Thing will delight fans of the original characters. Gomez and Morticia, wonderfully played by Luis Guzmán and Catherine Zeta-Jones, are not as present as fans may wish, but their past and love story are explored as well as their complicated relationship with Wednesday. 

Ultimately, the show belongs to Jenna Ortega who brings to life the deadliest teenage girl of all in a spooky, captivating performance. 

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