Wednesday Review: Jenna Ortega Supremecy Continues
Jenna Ortega cannot be stopped. The 20-year-old actress has transcended to new heights in 2022 from becoming the latest “Scream Queen” with her show-stealing performance in Scream and a smaller, but impactful role in X. She also starred in a film with the Foo Fighters of all people and her Narrative Feature Competition Grand Jury Award-winning film, The Fallout, premiered on HBO Max in January. Needless to say, Ortega has had quite the year. Now, the blossoming star sets her sights on an established IP and is taking on the iconic role of Wednesday Addams in the inspiringly-titled, Wednesday, for Netflix.
If you saw the teaser trailer for Wednesday, you likely saw Wednesday Addams (Ortega) throw piranhas into a swimming pool of jocks. Despite her small stature, Wednesday stands up for her brother Pugsley (Isaac Ordonez) when necessary. “The only person who gets to torture my brother is me,” says Wednesday before she sets the piranhas free. Sisterly love, am I right?
But this little act of retribution is just a step too far for the school’s authoritative figures, leading Wednesday to be transferred to the school both of her parents attended, Nevermore. The school is if The New Mutants was a CW show with a hint of the movie version of Camp Half-Blood (is that what Runaways was?). Upon first arriving, Wednesday just isn’t like other outcasts and has more than a hard time fitting in. Her roommate Enid (Emma Myers)? Too bubbly. The “Queen Bee” of this school, Bianca (Joy Sunday)? Beat her in a fencing showdown. It’s not until Wednesday encounters Eugene (Moosa Mostafa), the head (and only member) of the beekeeping club, that she finds some semblance of friendship. Whether this friendship is due to Eugene’s impotent demeanor reminiscent of her brother or not, the two bond as much as someone who crashes funerals (but dips the second the dirt hits the casket) and a sweet boy can.
Aside from the standard high school drama including love triangles and popularity, Wednesday goes full Hercule Poirot or Benoit Blanc as her suspicions of the school rise. There’s a bit of a murder mystery involving her father to solve, but the bigger picture arc revolves around a mysterious creature that first saves Wednesday before tormenting her in the following episodes. What is this monster? What is Wednesday’s destiny? What is Nevermore hiding? All these questions will attempt to be answered throughout the eight episodes of Wednesday.
It can sometimes be hyperbolic when critics say that a given film/TV show was placed on an actor’s shoulders. When talking about Wednesday, however, it’s not hyperbolic to say that Ortega absolutely carries the series. The pig-tailed performer shines in any scene she’s in and completely embodies this version of the titular character. From her deadpan expressions during her dry comebacks to the way she sells the emotion of watching her best friend (a hand named “Thing”) attempting to be revived by way of your Uncle Fester (Fred Armisen, who has an amazing cameo)’s lightning fingertips being used as a defibrillator, Ortega simply kills it (the biggest compliment you could give Wednesday herself).
Even if Wednesday herself very rarely shows any emotion — her Uncle Fester is the only character to have made her smile throughout the show — Ortega still finds a way to make the character kinetic to watch. The Pulp Fiction-like dancing to “Goo Goo Muck” is simply amazing when you consider Wednesday’s usual stone-cold demeanor (Wednesday definitely listens to Phoebe Bridgers and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” on repeat). Granted, we do begin seeing some chinks in the armor as the series progresses mainly due to Wednesday gaining friends, or the closest thing resembling them, at Nevermore.
Admittedly, it’s just plain fun to watch Ortega spew out one-liners or say some of the most terrifying things you could hear while keeping a straight face. Again, don’t discount her for her petite size — she is tougher than you. I must also say that I’m surprised at how much butt Wednesday kicks in the series. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that Wednesday Addams was not doing this in the original 1964 series, but boy can she kick. Whether it’s Ortega or a stunt double does not matter to me — I would not recommend messing with her.
But when it comes to the rest of the ensemble, very few from the young cast leave a mark. Admittedly, outside of anything Wednesday-centric (which isn’t a whole lot), the scenes with the whole Addams family are the most fun. Ordonez, Luis Guzmán and Catherine Zeta-Jones absolutely nail their performances as Pugsley, Gomez and Morticia Addams, respectively. It has been years since I watched the original series, but these actors all bring some life and emotion to each of their characters — namely Ordonez. He only shares a few scenes with his older sister, but the ones they share — such as their boding over throwing grenades into a pond — truly are as endearing as they are zany.
Back to the high school cast, the performances generally range from unbearable to passable with the sole exception of Myers as Enid. Myers plays the lovable puppy role very well and’s far more forgiving and patient than any friend should be when sharing a room with someone as emotionally distant as Wednesday. The two are almost the complete juxtaposition of each other, making for a fun dynamic as Enid begins to grow on Wednesday and the latter begins showing that in her own way.
There’s a bit of a love triangle between Tyler (Hunter Doohan), Xavier (Percy Hynes White) and Wednesday. Not to pick on the two boys too much, but both are outclassed by Ortega… and it’s not even close. Should that be all that surprising when they’re acting opposite one of the industry’s best young actors and a generational talent? No, not really. However, whether it’s the fault of the writing or his performance, Doohan gives one monologue in the final episode that is quite hard to watch. It’s like a horrible Halloween impression of Heath Ledger’s Joker in the “My father was a drinker” scene in The Dark Knight. Hynes White shouldn’t get an absolute pass, either, but his lack of chemistry with Ortega is painful to watch at times. Apparently having Trevor Lawrence‘s locks of hair can only go so far.
Tyler’s father in the show, Sheriff Donovan Galpin (Jamie McShane) just so happens to be the head sheriff in the town outside of Nevermore. Now, I don’t have as many issues with McShane’s performance as much as the way he’s written — though his Will Forte-like cadence and Michelle Rodriguiz‘s ability to act as a cop certainly don’t help. The character is simply underwritten for being such an integral part of the show. He has his riffs with the Addams family as a whole, and after episode four or five, he somewhat buries the hatchet with them (unlike Wednesday who sharpens them). He doesn’t like Wednesday at all yet at some point, likely at the same point he makes peace with her father, he suddenly begins acting a lot nicer to her. I totally get that they meet in the middle to a degree, but it’s just a sudden shift that felt sudden.
But underwritten also fits how I would describe the Nevermore kids. Wednesday’s whole goal is saving this school, right? So why does it feel like there are only a half-dozen students at Nevermore? I’m not expecting a Harry Potter-level exploration of the school but Nevermore feels more like a gothic summer camp than an academy akin to the movie version of Camp Half-Blood. We don’t see a single class to my memory; only a community service day and a couple of extra-curricular activities. And you have such interesting characters — namely Bianca — sitting on the sidelines for the majority of each episode. She’s also delegated to a secret society that all of the other notable Nevermore kids belong to.
My last note on the writing, there are two egregiously-underwritten aspects of the show that I wish were given more attention. The first is the spirit in the show and the second is the political overtones. In regards to the former, Wednesday sees a spirit on a handful of occasions. However, it’s rarely used for anything more than exposition and a “get out of jail free” card when the jail in question is writer’s block explaining how Wednesday escapes death. There are political themes throughout such as conversion camps, “wolf-ing out” and LGBTQ+ parents, but none get more than a mention about as long as it took you to read that sentence. Granted, Enid’s “wolf-ing out” does have a vital role later, but it’s one of those instances where it feels like a metaphor and is an on-the-nose one at that. I’m not suggesting that you had to beat audiences over the head, it’s just that each statement felt like an obligatory task to check off in a 2022 series.
But for as negative as all of that sounded, I quite enjoyed the show. There were certainly times it felt like a CW show, sure, but due to Ortega’s performance and the production of the show, I was intrigued and never bored through eight episodes. To be clear, the first episode began a bit rocky for me due to its color grading. There was just an overwhelming amount of blue on the screen to make a dreary setting, but while that blue hue does return throughout the following seven episodes, Wednesday actually evolves past it and we see the titular character in broad daylight and gloomy days alike. It’s just a relief after fearing that the whole show would feature the gothic aesthetic.
The sets, while limited in scope, are also well-designed. The office of Principal Weems (Gwendoline Christine — who’s also one of the few acting MVPs) and Wednesday’s room are the obvious standouts. Both are decorated perfectly and fit the aesthetic of the characters that reside in them. It is a big odd how small the show feels at times; it really only explores bits of Nevermore and some of the outside town, but it feels like we’re only given a glimpse into Nevermore. Again, I wasn’t expecting to see Hogwarts, but a little bit more exploration would have been appreciated.
I made a note to myself that after episode four, the cinematographers were changing hands from David Lanzenberg to Stephan Pehrsson. Nothing that allowed me to get a closer examination of the cinematography itself, and while Lazenberg doesn’t do anything offensively horrid in his episodes, the show’s camerawork simply has more personality with Pehrsson behind the camera — especially in the fifth and sixth episodes. It’s not just meaningless movements, either, just look at the shot that swoops from one end to the head of the table at the parents’ weekend buffet at Nevermore in the fifth episode.
The blocking of certain scenes should also be shouted-out. There are some great shots of Wednesday and Enid’s room that beautifully capture the juxtaposition of their sides of the room that represent both their personalities and aesthetics. As you’d imagine, Wednesday’s side is filled with spooky darkness while Enid has a lot of colors and stuffed animals. And while you can kind of see what I’m talking about in the main photo for this review, some of these shots toe the (tape) line in the sand between the sides. Perhaps this sounds basic but sometimes obvious or simple is the best choice.
Quick shoutout to Danny Elfman and Chris Bacon — who composed the score. The former also composed the main theme — which is wonderful — but I just love the way that the iconic Addams Family score is sprinkled in throughout Wednesday.
Likely to no one’s surprise, the final episode of Wednesday wraps up all of the plotlines in a neat bow. Am I completely satisfied with the payoff? It’s complicated mainly because of just how many red herrings there are. Some reveals work perfectly fine, but the last reveal caused an audible groan from me. I could overlook that if not for one too many misdirects. Instead of being a layered mystery that’s unfolded in a crashing crescendo, it feels like a game of hot potato. In fairness, the whole episode would have benefitted from a better actor in a certain role… Oh well.
In the end, Wednesday is a success because of Ortega. Its mystery is good enough to keep you interested, but it’s Ortega that’ll have viewers in the palm of her hand with her perfect balance of seriousness and camp. Plus, it’s made clear that Wednesday is just the first chapter in a long story as it ends on a cliffhanger setting up more seasons (greenlight this now, Netflix). The final line of the series is Wednesday telling the audience, “I know the suspense is killing you.” You’re right, Jenna, it is.
All eight episodes of Wednesday will be available to stream on Netflix on November 23/