I’ve been meaning to write about the show Wednesday since it aired on Netflix, but it wouldn’t come together. Then I watched this video interview with the showrunners, and heard the interviewer call the show a comedy, and something clicked.
I like the 1991 film in a middling way. The only parts I really enjoyed were Raul Julia’s face when he gets cut in the duel with Dan Hedaya and the scene where Morticia gives Fester a tour of the family ceremony. “We gladly feast on those who would subdue us.” Excellent.
But the thing I remember most about that movie was a line from a review (yes, I know that’s weird and I wish I could find it now). In it, the reviewer asks (and I’m paraphrasing from memory) “What are the Addams family? Are they ghouls? Something else?”
And, yeah. I sort of wondered that myself while I was watching, while enjoying the feeling that I didn’t know and would never know. What exactly are the Addams family? Some seem to have weird powers. They welcome torture and death. They’re comical figures, sure, but how are they classified? What need and tidy category do we put them in?
Who cares? We might as well ask what the rules are.
But this is how a great many people experience stories about the strange and unreal. If the story is going to venture beyond the realm of the actual, they need to know how far, and in what direction, and please provide neat boundaries to let us know what we can expect.
Some stories work better this way, sure. Some don’t, and it wasn’t until I heard that woman call Wednesday (the show) a comedy that I realized that I was putting the wrong assumptions onto it. There are many kinds of comedy that have no interest in The Rules.
(Confession time: I sometimes don’t recognize comedies when I’m watching them. See also: A Simple Plan.)
But Wednesday (the show) is also a mystery, and that is a genre that is very much interested in setting up rules. So it made sense that the show is so weirdly rigid where the other Addams family stuff is very much not.
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of Charles Addams original cartoons. They were fine. I didn’t love them. I didn’t connect with them. His famous “Downhill Skier” cartoon is unforgettable, and perfectly exemplifies the point I was making above about comedy and “the rules” but I knew his most popular creation from the black and white sitcom, and as a kid my favorite character was Cousin Itt, who was created especially for the show and not by Addams himself.
So I’m not what you’d call a purist.
But as much as I enjoyed Netflix’s Wednesday, I couldn’t help but feel annoyed that the show took this weird family of suis generis characters and carefully nestled them into a setting full of stock tropes and character types that are as rigid as a cheap role-playing game.
At Wednesday’s new school, there are four houses just like at Hogwarts, although they make much less of a fuss about them. The other students are (mostly) grouped by types—werewolf, vampire, siren, gorgon—along with a few psychics bearing traditional psychic powers.
Even the family themselves have been sorted. Now there are outcasts and normies. The normies are… muggles, I guess, who are fully aware that non-muggles exist? The outcasts are everything that’s not a normie, which reframes that weirdly affecting cemetery scene in a way that bothers me. It’s no longer the Addams family itself that must resist oppression by outsiders. It’s their entire group, their whole category, which is apparently defined by the fact that they’re ostracized.
Is it weird to complain this way about a show that I enjoyed, even though it felt at times—especially the climax—that they were filling out a checklist? I would probably have written this post months ago if the show had been a failure, but it’s been wildly successful.
And why not? The young actors are terrific. The jokes mostly land. The story races along. The whole thing looks great. Plus, the rules are clear. And maybe that’s why I enjoyed it but didn’t love it.