Wednesday Review: Jenna Ortega Shines in Another Tim Burton Classic

30 years after Tim Burton was first attached to direct an Addams Family picture, the filmmaker is getting his time to shine. The Batman Returns filmmaker had to pass on the 1991 live-action film because of scheduling conflicts with the Caped Crusader, ultimately leading to the director's arrival here on Wednesday, an eight-episode series soon debuting on Netflix. In what may end up as one of the most unique and refreshing takes on the gothic characters we've seen to date, Burton's signature stamp is on the production from the leap.

Though the entire Addams bunch appears in some manner throughout the series, Wednesday, as one might expect, focuses solely on the family's lone daughter. This is a grand departure from anything we've seen from the franchise before, as the last four movies—and the original television show, for that matter—either equally focus of the various family members, or treat Gomez and Morticia as the leads.

Here, Wednesday Addams (Jenna Ortega) is sent to Nevermore Academy, a Hogwarts-esque boarding school, only there are no wizards here; instead, the halls of this campus are packed to the brim with werewolves, sirens, gorgons, and other shape-shifting mythological beasts. Despite having a class roster full of what most would call monsters, the demented and introverted Wednesday finds herself a second home.

Tonally, this live-action series most closely resembles that of MGM's two latest animated features in that the production is very self-aware with its campiness, accentuated by the upbeat score recorded by Danny Elfman and his team. It's just as moody as you would expect, with glimmers of sunshine few and far between. Like its protagonist, Wednesday feels dark and dreary, leaving hope and luster at the door on the way in. That doesn't mean things are entirely doom and gloom, however, as the writers inject dark humor wherever they can, serving as deserved breaks amongst an otherwise insidious series.

Throughout the eight-episode first season, viewers will see Ortega's Addams slowly break out of her shell, or, at the very least, as much as one can expect from the character. On that front, the Scream star excels at every turn; using her ever-growing horror resume to her benefit, Ortega embodies the stoic personality almost too well. Even with another Wednesday on the cast—Christina Ricci from the previous live-action adaptations plays a teacher at Nevermore—Ortega's performance outshines any others we've gotten.

Wednesday is a series where the characters are put first, even if that risks sacrificing a deep or intricate story. A "whodunnit" at heart, the plot hinges entirely on a single mystery that's far less exciting than seeing the ensemble at hand. Intertwining horror with a John Hughes-ian coming-of-age tale, the character development of Wednesday, Xavier (Percy White), Enid (Emma Myers), and even Nevermore principal Larissa Weems (Gwendoline Christy) takes center stage. That's not necessarily a bad thing, mind you, it's just that Wednesday is very much character-driven instead of being dependent on a script with incredible depth.

With Wednesday, a stellar ensemble combined with a dynamic tone crafted by Burton and Elfman results in a macabre shade of an all-too-familiar tale. Despite dealing with murders and monsters aplenty, Wednesday is, at heart, a story about growing up in a world unkind to the "outcasts" and otherwise. The minimal story is certainly relatable, given most of us—hopefully—have suffered through some growing pains at some point in our lives. Though it may have fared better at the height of spooky season, Wednesday still has the right stuff in place to make it a good watch at any point throughout the year.

Rating: 4 out of 5

All eight episodes of Wednesday debut on November 23rd on Netflix.