Netflix's Wednesday review: Tim Burton captures the macabre magic of The Addams Family

Tim Burton's take on The Addams Family revels in murder mysteries, conjuring up dark laughs along the way

Wednesday Netflix Series
(Image: © Press/Netflix)

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Tim Burton and The Addams Family is one of those creative pairings that makes perfect sense, yet somehow hasn't happened in the 30 years (and change) since America's favourite gothic family hit the big screens. Thankfully, Netflix have rectified that with new series Wednesday finally bringing the gothic icons together for the first time.

So, the good news: Wednesday is every bit as spooky (and kooky) as you'd hope. While the recent animated Addams Family movies have been fun and mostly faithful aesthetic reproductions of the original Charles Addams comics, a lot of underlying malice and dry wit that crept into the 1991 movie is absent in favour of cartoon gags. 

With Rob Zombie holding down the "outcast family struggles to fit in with normal society" schtick with The Munsters, Wednesday goes down a different route by relocating its titular character to a school for outcasts after a... misunderstanding with piranhas, a swimming pool and some unfortunate teenage boy's dangly bits. While there, she becomes embroiled in a mystery involving murder, conspiracies and social angst - so the same heady cocktail you'd find in shows like Sabrina, Riverdale, Locke And Key and so many others.

The murder-mystery format suits the titular character well - her aloof nature and analytical processes help re-frame Wednesday as a Sherlock Holmes-style detective, her outsider status suddenly the perfect vehicle to explore a cleverly constructed mystery that will keep viewers guessing right up until the series climax.

Tim Burton's Wednesday

(Image credit: Press/Netflix)

The show's main setting is Nevermore Academy; less Hogwarts and more Academy of the Unseen Arts from the recent Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina, it effectively allows Burton to create a unique world and introduce a menagerie of new characters to its roster, moving most of The Addams Family to supporting tertiary roles. 

For the most part, that works incredibly well. Appearances from Gomez (Luiz Guzmán), Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Uncle Fester (Fred Armisen) generally bring about a sense of upheaval as focus is pulled away from the series' core plot, guest stars adding an extra layer of anarchy. Similarly, that gives plenty of room for the rest of the cast to establish themselves and lets the plot expand at a leisurely pace over eight 45 minute installments. 

That doesn't mean the show isn't without its pitfalls, however. Slotting into the current crop of Neflix originals, Wednesday sometimes lacks a distinctive touch. Burton's magic has always been best when off-setting the quirkiness and gothic characteristics of his creations with OTT portrayals of conformity and dayglo overloaded palettes (just think Edward Scissorhands, Batman - even Pee-wee's Big Adventure). Wednesday occasionally captures that, but also doesn't always manage to assert its own identity when stacked against the likes of Sabrina

Even so, Wednesday still taps into the macabre magic behind The Addams Family. The easter eggs are done more artfully and subtly than you'll find in your average Marvel movie these days and the show has plenty of fun with its premise and dour protagonist. Gothic icon though she might be, Wednesday doesn't embrace metal in the same way that Stranger Things or Metal Lords, but does slip cello renditions of Metallica's Nothing Else Matters and Fleetwood Mac's Don't Stop into the soundtrack feel like nice touches of alternative culture. 

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Luis Guzmán as Morticia and Gomez Addams

(Image credit: Press/Netflix)

Wednesday Addams actress Jenna Ortega has been steadily amassing a murderous filmography with appearances in You, Scream, X and even Foo Fighters' horror comedy Studio 666, so its no surprise to see her thriving in the role, bringing a new flavour to a well-established and beloved character. 

Similarly, Guzmán and Zeta-Jones excel in their roles as Gomez and Morticia Addams, offering very different portrayals of the iconic characters that are distinct from the Raul Julia and Angelica Houston versions of the characters. Christina Ricci's casting in the show is an especially nice touch, acknowledging fans' love of her version of the character whilst creating its own version.

But then, that's what Wednesday is all about, Burton's creation a deeply engaging and fun watch while deftly dodging the pitfalls of bloating that bring other shows down. Instead, with Wednesday Tim Burton crafts a fun and engaging new world out of familar characters and backdrops, reinventing the world of the Addams for another generation. Whether we get another series remains to be seen, but in a sane world a second season is just a finger-snap away.

Wednesday premieres on Netflix on November 23

Tim Burton's Wednesday poster

(Image credit: Press/Netflix)
Rich Hobson

Staff writer for Metal Hammer, Rich has never met a feature he didn't fancy, which is just as well when it comes to covering everything rock, punk and metal for both print and online, be it legendary events like Rock In Rio or Clash Of The Titans or seeking out exciting new bands like Nine Treasures, Jinjer and Sleep Token.