What Makes ‘Wednesday’ So Special

When Netflix first announced Wednesday, to say I was hesitant would’ve been an understatement. I’ve been a lifelong fan of both The Addams Family (1991) and Addams Family Values (1993) and as far as I’m concerned, those movies were able to capture The Addams family so perfectly that the sheer thought of a remake in the 2020s felt like a recipe for a disaster, if not a complete and impossible undertaking.

As much as I love Christopher Lloyd as Uncle Fester, it’s Christina Ricci as Wednesday Addams who is and was a big reason why I fell in love with those movies all those years ago, and her portrayal of the character continues to be an even bigger reason as to why I go back and continue to watch them to this day.

However, considering those movies were hitting the thirty-year mark, it was inevitable that one day soon, somebody was going to come along and decide that these characters were due for a reboot. Considering what has been going on with the MGM library of late, Miles Millar and Alfred Gough (Smallville) decided that the time was now.

Yesterday’s Wednesday

What do you picture when you think of Wednesday Addams? is she creepy, is she kooky, is she mysterious and spooky, is she all together ooky? I’m sure this is what you envision when you picture The Addams Family. Wednesday has been around for decades but none have made such an impact as Christina Ricci’s portray in the ’90s, and there in lies the burning question: how do you keep Wednesday Addams fresh for a new generation?

What Came Before

I wasn’t sure how they were going to be able to legitimately modernize The Addams Family. These characters have been around for decades, they were created in the 1930s as a comic strip by Charles Addams, and had a television show that brought them to a wider audience in the 1960s. I wouldn’t say that they are a “product of their time” but at the same time, there is something about them that doesn’t exactly scream 21st-century material.

That said, every generation has an actor that comes around and is capable of redefining a beloved character in a way that nobody was expecting would happen. That’s what Christina Ricci did with Wednesday Addams, and by all accounts became the definitive version of the character. And as far as I was concerned, nobody was ever going to come along and take that mantle away from her. Nobody. …but hey, I’m allowed to be wrong.

What Comes Next

So who do you cast who can blur the lines of previous portrayals? You cast somebody who is going to be able to take all of these incarnations, throw them into a pot, mix it up, throw it in the oven and see what they are able to cook up. Somebody who is willing to take a good hard look at what came before, decide what works and what doesn’t and at the same time, able to make the character their very own.

Somebody who knows exactly just how to embody the magic this character possesses, somebody who is youthful but also wise beyond their years, somebody who looks unthreatening but can pierce you with a single gaze, somebody who can pull off both the cuteness of a cat as well as the ferociousness of a tiger.

Who you cast is Jenna Ortega.

Black and White and Fierce All Over

The Addams Family are by no means new characters. We’ve seen them in many different incarnations over the decades. From comic strips to black and white television, from animated series to video games. …and something called The New Addams Family, a television show that ran for 65 episodes from 1998 to 1999. (Which I will admit, I had no idea was even a thing until I did some research for this article — yikes!).

Forget the Past, Embrace the Future

As I sat there, harshly judging Jenna Ortega and comparing her appearance and performance to that of my oh-so beloved Christina Ricci. I couldn’t help but feel that there was something just a little too familiar about this character. The pigtails aren’t anything new, but I couldn’t help but see the similarities in the attitude that they both portray.

Even though Jenna said that she didn’t want to feel like she was ripping off Ricci in any way; Ricci’s version has become so iconic that it’s hard not seeing it. She’s dangerous, if not a little bit too pessimistic almost to a nihilistic degree. But as I reluctantly gave this show a chance, hunched over and squinty-eyed, something happened…

Something that I wasn’t expecting, something that doesn’t happen too often anymore, something that I’m glad reminded me that I’m not too old to embrace change. I felt myself getting completely sucked into this world almost immediately and before I knew it, my mind had changed seemingly all on its own. I liked this new Wednesday.

That’s when I knew that this show was going to be something different. That’s when I knew that this Wednesday was going to be something special. Suffice to say, it took me about 20 minutes to forget all about Ricci and fall completely in love with Jenna’s portrayal of the character. (The nerve!). From there on out; I was hooked.

Wednesday as a “Zoomer”

Wednesday doesn’t use social media. One might think how that would be possible in today’s world. She does not use a laptop, she uses a very old typewriter. She does not have a smartphone, she communicates with her parents through a crystal ball. Eventually, she comes around to technology, but the way that they were able to mesh both time periods together and the transition from the old to the new was somewhat smart and slightly clever.

Even though Wednesday Addams is a very dark character who is extremely reminiscent of Halloween, the one thing that I applaud the creators of the show (and Tim Burton) for doing with the character is not making her too dark. That’s not to say that there isn’t a supernatural element to it all. This new incarnation of Wednesday has been given a psychic ability in the form of “visions” that seem to come involuntarily by touching certain inanimate objects, …but that only seems to happen when the plot deems it necessary, (always a catch).

The world that they have put Wednesday in was a surprising one to say the least. By mixing the “Black and White” of the old show and instead putting her in this extremely “Bright and Colorful” world that we live in today certainly was not the juxtaposition I was expecting; nor was I expecting it to work as well as it did. Having a very dreary character in a cheerful atmosphere was a great form of balance to offset her whole attitude of the doom surrounding the gloom.

Brand New Wednesday

Wednesday comes across as this extremely calm, cool, and collected character; who appears to be almost too mature beyond her years; but this show gives a depth to Wednesday that is extremely subtle that we have never seen before. What I am talking about is, for the first time we get to see Wednesday Addams as the human that she is.

The writers aren’t afraid to make her the strong female lead, but they also aren’t afraid to make her a vulnerable teenage girl. They give her thoughts of her own and a unique view and outlook of the world where she is not afraid to speak her mind. They give her emotions and most importantly; they make her grow as a character.

Wednesday likes to claim that she doesn’t care about what other people think of her, and maybe that is true to a degree but we know that she also has feelings, (no matter how much she wants to deny it). She has boy problems, she has friend problems, she has bully problems. No matter how far she wants to push these feelings down, they won’t go ignored, and demanded that she pay attention to them. Which she finally does, …in her own way.

For the first time, Wednesday’s mask comes off and we see her for the human that she is instead of the monster that she so desperately wants to make herself out to be. Jenna is able to hold Wednesday’s composure but it’s the look in Jenna’s eyes that give away what Wednesday is really thinking and feeling. …and that, more than anything, is what sets Jenna Ortega’s Wednesday Addams apart from Christina Ricci’s.

Wednesday’s Family

Where Wednesday also shines is by taking her away from her family and giving her a story of her very own. The one thing that made Ortega’s version of the character stand out was her teenage angst and her rebellion against her parents, especially her mother. What we all fear is becoming exactly like our parents, and Wednesday is no exception. Like all of us, she wants to find an identity of her own without growing up in somebody else’s shadow.

The other members of the family don’t appear too often. In the first episode, they drop her off at a school called Nevermore in the hopes that she will change her rebellious attitude and find some peers that she can fit in with. They don’t return until the fifth episode for a parent visit at the school. She has a loving relationship with her little brother Pugsley and also seems to have a close bond with her Uncle Fester, (who only appears in the seventh episode).

Her relationship with Thing was absolutely adorable. (which I don’t particularly want to compare to either Grogu or Baby Groot), but the fact that a silent severed hand was able to bring so much humor and heart to the show was completely unexpected. I don’t know who thought to use him as her sidekick, but it was a really fun idea.

Wednesday Today

What makes Wednesday so special is Wednesday herself. …or Jenna Ortega’s portrayal of her, at least. My initial thoughts of updating the character being that of a disaster and impossible was completely unjustified because she completely subverted my expectations. She deserved a chance and by the time I had finished the series, I would go so far as to say that she also deserves the recognition because there is a lot more going for this than there isn’t.

Of course, there is much more to this show than I have gotten into: There is a supernatural threat in the form of a grotesque monster. An overarching mystery that Wednesday decides to make her top priority (that I won’t spoil). A dark secret involving Gomez and Morticia when they were young and attended Nevermore. Oh, and by far the most awkward dance number that you have to see for yourself to believe.

Like I said before, every generation has somebody come along and completely redefine a character like we have never seen before. Somebody who comes along and completely blows our minds by taking their role in a new direction and makes us say “that is the new definitive version of our beloved characters”. Ewan McGregor did it with Obi-Wan Kenobi. Heath Ledger did it with the Joker. Gal Gadot did it with Wonder Woman.

Jenna Ortega has done it with Wednesday Addams, and she shines in beautiful black and white.

*snap, snap*