In Netflix’s colorful yet inherently dark spin on the Addams Family, Wednesday, executive producer Tim Burton gives the iconic family a makeover — and it comes with two meticulously braided pigtails. Following the gloomy child-turned-sullen teenager after she’s enrolled in a boarding school for supernatural outcasts, Wednesday brings a fresh perspective to an old favorite. Her dreadful journey of self-discovery sees Wednesday (Jenna Ortega) navigating a new school, annoying crushes, and the occasional murder in ways that resonate with a generation of new fans without losing the guillotine-sharp edge that Millennials and Generation X have come to love. Wednesday’s dreary sarcasm, nihilistic worldview, and insistence on smashing societal norms (and the patriarchy) make it easy for young audiences to connect to the franchise in a way they wouldn’t have been able to before.
Originally a nameless background character in Charles Addam cartoons, Wednesday Addams has transformed from a voiceless side character to a macabre icon of self-acceptance. Early versions of Wednesday saw her as a ghostly child intent on beheading dolls and, although solemn, she was drawn with a broad, vacant smile. That smile followed Wednesday into ABC’s first live-action tv show, The Addams Family (1964), which saw her stripped of any ill nature or intent due to censorship issues. It wasn’t until Christina Ricci — who returns to the franchise as Ms. Thornhill in the Netflix series — dawned the now iconic black dress in The Addams Family movies that Wednesday’s gloomy demeanor and sadistic tendencies became a masterclass in individualism. In a time when television preached family values and morality, Wednesday clashed with cheerleaders and co-opted a play to speak about the genocide of a nation. But her darkness and rebellion stood on their own, not as symptoms, but as character traits as normal as the bubbly girl next door. Wednesday’s freedom in expressing her morbidity was a calling card for a generation, one that Jenna Ortega simultaneously embraced and made entirely her own in Netflix’s gothic comedy.
A More Grown-Up Version of Wednesday
Ortega seamlessly slips into Wednesday’s skin as the 16-year-old maneuvers through her most challenging endeavor yet: high school. Enrolled in Nevermore Academy after an incident involving piranhas, a school swimming pool, and a group of jocks who bullied Pugsley, Wednesday has to navigate her place in a school filled with supernatural outcasts. Although a school filled with “fangs, furs, stoners, and scales” seems like the perfect setting for someone with growing mystical powers and an eccentric family, Wednesday’s dower demeanor, cuttingly sarcastic one-liners, and habit of dragging everyone around her into danger doesn’t exactly make her the most popular girl in school. The setup could easily make Wednesday’s antisocial nature seem like something to overcome, but unlike similarly moody protagonists such as in The Craft (1996) or Beetlejuice (1988), Wednesday’s quiet fury doesn’t hint at inner self-loathing or misdirected loneliness. Instead, Ortega uses it as a launching point to make Wednesday a fully formed, fleshed-out character. This is a Wednesday that still uses bone-dry humor to threaten those around her but is also vulnerable. It’s a Wednesday who craves being alone but still finds an unlikely best friend in a pastel-loving werewolf. She’s Wednesday, but she’s grown up. And in growing up, Ortega subtly weaves new dimensions into the brooding teenager in ways that remain true to the spirit of Wednesday. Fans of the adolescent who strapped her brother to an electric chair in a game of ‘Is There a God’ will still find comfort in Ortega’s gallows humor, signature locks, and wardrobe that makes her right at home at a Siouxsie and the Banshees concert. But while there’s enough of the old Wednesday to keep old fans invested in her new journey, there’s no mistaking that the grown-up version of the child classic is entirely her own creature.
‘Wednesday’ Embraces Modern Themes
For teens and young adults who are beginning to find themselves amid unprecedented political, social, and economic change, Wednesday’s grim, nihilistic worldview is once again a refreshing change of pace. Audiences don’t want to be reminded to look on the “bright side” of things while facing insurmountable student debt and a mounting climate crisis. In validating that the “world is a place that must be endured,” Wednesday positions itself as a series that understands the fears and frustrations of being young in a world that feels like it’s falling apart. Sometimes there is no quick fix, and the best thing to do is to acknowledge that things suck, perform séances, and remind German tourists of the whitewashing of American history. Wednesday’s sharp wit and unflinching tenacity in calling out inequality and outdated social norms directly align with a demographic determined to dismantle the blueprint laid out by generations before. Watching Wednesday embrace her inner turmoil as she navigates mundane obstacles like crushes and stares down her (sometimes literal) monsters is as empowering as it is authentic. For countless teens and young adults, her struggle is painfully relatable and sends a clear message: It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to feel lost, speak your mind, and be unapologetically yourself in a world trying to make everyone conform. There’s strength in Wednesday’s cold, unblinking stare, and examining that strength ushers in a new age for The Addams Family.
By reframing the franchise’s family dynamic to focus on a teenage Wednesday, directors Gandja Monteiro, James Marshall, and Tim Burton can shape the show around modern themes that feel relevant to new audiences. Outside of navigating the socio-cultural complexities of a boarding school filled with werewolves and sirens while unraveling the mystery at the heart of several murders, Wednesday is still a young woman dealing with external pressures. Her struggle to find herself outside of her mother’s legacy will resonate with everyone who abandoned tradition to forge their own paths, as will her desire to be seen as someone outside of the role society has given her. Wednesday won’t go quietly. She will rage until she rips down institutions (and psychic visions) determined to shape the future for her. It’s a unique point of view that offers showrunners Alfred Gough and Miles Millar the advantage of tackling gender roles, familial expectations, and distrust of authority figures in a way the franchise hasn’t been able to before. Considering Wednesday’s massive opening weekend, the combination is working.
Captivated by Wednesday’s eerie dance moves and deadpan insults, viewers flocked to the 8-episode series, making it one of the most-watched on Netflix. Surpassing even the fourth season of Stranger Things, Wednesday is reemerging as a stone-faced hero in a world that is tired of having their mystical powers mansplained. Blending nostalgia with relevant issues allowed the Addams Family to pull in a new fan base without alienating the old, allowing everyone to find strength in Wednesday’s defiance. And although it might take some recalibrating to place Thing in a world of Instagram filters, Wednesday has enough self-awareness and doses of its traditional cheesiness to make the transition an easy one.
Every episode of Wednesday is now streaming on Netflix.