The Addams Family has taken many forms over the years, from the 1960s era TV show, to the 1990s big-budget movies, to a 2009 Broadway musical, and most recently as a two offbeat CG animated features, each shapeshifting to conform to—or, really, deviate from—the norms of the times. In the new Netflix series Wednesday, centered on the family’s ominous only daughter, the household of macabre bon vivants hews closer to the original design of cartoonist Charles Addams that first appeared in the pages of The New Yorker.
Behold Catherine Zeta-Jones as matriarch Morticia, Luis Guzmán as pater familias Gomez, Jenna Ortega as eponymous Wednesday and Isaac Ordonez as hapless brother Pugsley. Tim Burton is an executive producer and directed four of the eight episodes, helping to shape the overall look of the series. Perhaps the weirdest thing about the show, which will debut this fall, is that he hasn’t made an Addams Family project sooner.
For his first foray into television, Burton has brought along his longtime collaborator (and four-time Oscar winner) Colleen Atwood as costume designer to give Morticia her signature vampire chic and Gomez his fancy prisoner pin-stripes. Wednesday, who views the world in stark black and white, only wears the same—preferably with a razor sharp collar. Disheveled Pugsley is the only casual one in the clan, perpetually in short-pants and horizontal stripes that look like an old-school TV dialed to dead air.
The show is the brainchild of Smallville creators Miles Millar and Alfred Gough, who recruited Burton to bring his skewed sensibilities to the family of gothic outcasts. “He wanted the silhouette to look more like the Charles Addams cartoons, which is Gomez shorter than Morticia, versus the kind of suave Raul Julia version in the movies,” Gough says.
“He’s also incredibly debonair and romantic, and I think he has all those classic ingredients of the Gomez that we’ve seen come before, but he brings something also very different,” Millar added. “That’s something that was very important to the show—that it didn’t feel like a remake or a reboot. It’s something that lives within the Venn diagram of what happened before, but it’s its own thing. It’s not trying to be the movies or the ’60s TV show. That was very important to us and very important to Tim.”
Burton, who was not available for an interview, was famously pitched The Addams Family movie from 1991, but passed on it. Gough and Millar expected to get a no when they made their own plea. “Tim was always the Mount Everest of directors,” Gough says. To their surprise, Burton called them three days after receiving the script for the first episode.
“He was interested in where it was going, and the mystery of the show,” Gough says. “He had a lot of questions about the previous television work we’d done, and how we were able to achieve it. He really loved that you had time to be with Wednesday and explore the character and you didn’t have to, you know, wrap things up in an hour and 45 minutes.”
“The ambition for the show was to make it an 8-hour Tim Burton movie,” Millar adds.
The mystery of the series is a number of murders that plague the small town where Wednesday has been sent to Nevermore Academy, a prestigious boarding school for outcasts. Death and decay are not unsettling for her. They’re actually soothing at a time when she is learning to live on her own.
One way the show differs from traditional Addams Family tales is that Wednesday is not the morose little girl anymore, she’s an older teenager in high school—still gloomy, but more independent. “The relationship that kind of hangs over the season is really Wednesday’s relationship with Morticia,” Gough says. “How do you step out of the shadow of a mother as glamorous as Morticia?”
Despite their macabre natures, the Addams Family has always displayed a relentless cheerfulness and enthusiasm. This is exhausting for Wednesday. “Wednesday’s not scared of sharks or creepy crawlies or anything, but she’s afraid of emotion,” Gough says. “Their overt displays of affection drive Wednesday crazy.”
Ortega’s Wednesday also shares a love-hate relationship with her brother. He’s mostly benign—but a target of resentment from actual outsiders who bully and pick on him. “She’s allowed to torture him. Nobody else is,” Millar says. “That’s the difference. She will defend him to the end against bullies or anything else, but she has license to do what she wants. She’s protective of him in a very Wednesday way.”
“Every family is weird and this one happens to be extremely weird, but they love each other,” Millar adds. “And that’s ultimately what it’s about. They always have each other’s backs and that’s unconditional love.”
There’s one conspicuously missing person from the family photograph—Uncle Fester. Where is he? Who is playing him?
That’s going to be kept secret a little longer. “We have no comment on Uncle Fester,” Gough says. “Just watch the show.”
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