Alfred Gough and Miles Millar are no strangers to giving beloved characters the coming-of-age treatment, having previously created the teenage years for none other than Clark Kent in the long-running series Smallville. Their new Netflix series, Wednesday, gives pop culture’s favorite black cloud, the distinctly pigtailed and perennially scowling Wednesday Addams, a Gen Z-appropriate update. In this universe, the “outcasts,” as they’re known, are acknowledged if not entirely accepted by the “normies,” and include the four horsemen of the abnormal apocalypse: furs (werewolves), fangs (permanently sunglassed vampires), sirens (mermaids), and stoners (permanently beanied gorgons).
After a prank gone awry at her normie school, Wednesday is shipped off to rural Vermont to attend Nevermore Academy, a haven for outcasts of all stripes (think the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters if everyone shopped at Hot Topic.) There, Wednesday finds her antisocial tendencies sorely tested by a “vast cesspool of adolescence”: a perky werewolf roommate named Enid (Emma Myers), resident queen bee Bianca (Joy Sunday), and a seemingly harmless loner named Rowan (Calum Ross), who’s somehow resurrected after a gruesome death in the first episode. As the plot progresses, Wednesday’s emotionless affect and deadpan retorts attract the attention of Tyler (Hunter Doohan), a townie barista from nearby Jericho who happens to be the sheriff’s son, and an artsy hunk named Xavier (Percy Hynes White) who can make his drawings come to life.
Unlike werewolves or sirens, Wednesday seems to be human through and through (or maybe that’s just the cannibalism talking). Played by scream queen Jenna Ortega in a jaunty all-black school uniform, Wednesday isn’t exactly known for emoting beyond a clenched jaw or faint smirk. Like the equally acerbic cartoon character Daria Morgendorf, a sarcastic retort is never far from reach. But she still has a disembodied hand to do her bidding and what seems to be a stable home life, all things considered (Morticia and Gomez, as played by Catherine Zeta-Jones and Luis Guzmán, seem as in love as ever). If Wednesday really wanted to rebel, she’d embrace the Lisa Frank aesthetic and go full Valley Girl.
Not on Tim Burton’s watch, of course, who helms the first four episodes with aplomb. He peppers in everything from string covers of the Rolling Stones to a memorably Carrie-esque school dance (called, naturally, the Raven). And in a canny bit of casting, an adorably bespectacled Christina Ricci portrays Wednesday’s dorm mother and Nevermore’s staff horticulturist. Playing against type, she’s revealed to be the school’s first normie teacher, ruefully admitting that she’s too weird to fit in with the regulars but too square to be accepted by the outcasts. Other adult chaperones include Game of Thrones’ Gwendoline Christie as Principal Larissa Weems, Morticia’s old school chum, and Riki Lindhome as Dr. Valerie Kinbott, Wednesday’s school-mandated therapist.
Unlike her peers, Wednesday might not possess telekinesis or retractable claws, but she does have to contend with unpleasant psychic visions. The first half of the series sets up the central conflict, a mysterious prophecy that involves her ancestor Goody Addams. As a young girl, Goody escaped the mass killing of outcasts perpetrated by Jericho’s deranged pilgrim leader. 400 years later, in a book stashed in a secret library, Wednesday is foretold to somehow bring forth Nevermore’s destruction. If this weren’t enough, there’s also the presence of a shape-shifting creature that lives in the woods and feasts on human limbs.
One of the show’s central themes is that all of us, normie and outcast alike, have inner monsters to wrestle with, whether it’s actions we’re not proud of in our past or unpredictable outbursts when things don’t go our way. And in addition to dealing with adolescence, the outcasts also have to grow into their powers (or not; the “late bloomer” metaphor of powers and puberty is rather unsubtle). Episode 4 ends on a cliffhanger, with the monster seemingly claiming another victim and town-and-gown relations worse than ever after a handful of Jericho bullies crash the school dance. Wednesday, who metaphorically lets her hair down with Tyler (Thing must have helped with her updo) and even has a brief heart-to-heart with Bianca, faces a choice: embrace, however reluctantly, the aspects of her humanity that she most despises, or find herself buried six feet under.
You can stream Wednesday on Netflix beginning on November 22.