Jenna Ortega plays Wednesday Addams. Photo courtesy of Netflix
LOS ANGELES, Nov. 18 (UPI) -- Wednesday, premiering Wednesday on Netflix, is the epitome of streaming content. It's got beloved intellectual property, but absolutely no creative ideas about what to do with it.
Teenage Wednesday Addams (Jenna Ortega) gets kicked out of public school for retaliating against the men's swim team, justifiably because she uses piranhas. So Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Gomez (Luis Guzman) drop Wednesday off at the Nevermore Academy.
Wednesday seems to resent her parents in a naturally teenage way, and proceeds to meet a host of new characters as her classmates and teachers. Between too many new characters and a rote mystery Wednesday investigates, the show stops being an Addams Family spinoff as soon as Gomez and Morticia leave.
Ortega nails Wednesday's deadpan delivery, punctuating the show's few punchlines, even the ones that barely qualify as dad jokes. Ortega seems to appreciate the character more than the writers of the show do.
Wednesday can fight bullies, and making Wednesday an action hero seems like a lazy misunderstanding of the character. Wednesday was so clever she could orchestrate chaos, but didn't have to fight aggressively.
Action heroes for young girls and boys to see are important, but turning any character into one renders them all generic.
Wednesday also has psychic visions that are new, and they negate Wednesday's obsession with the macabre. If the Addams Family are magic, they're no longer supernatural groupies.
The visions are only a further delivery system for more exposition. The mystery introduces so many classmates and teachers, it's hard to keep track of all the suspects, let alone care about ones invented out of whole cloth.
Bianca (Joy Sunday) is the queen bee whom Wednesday takes down a peg. Tyler (Hunter Doohan) is a barista and potential love interest for Wednesday.
Enid (Emma Myers) is Wednesday's roommate. Rowan (Calum Ross) is telekinetic, and his mom prophesied that Wednesday would come to Nevermore and destroy it.
This story is a lose-lose proposition. If the prophecy is false, it's still just a generic mystery for Wednesday to solve via psychic flashbacks. If it's true, then it reduces the legacy of Wednesday Addams to a passive tool to make this backstory function.
Nevermore is not a great setting. The name invokes Edgar Allen Poe, so it's pseudo-Addamsy, yet it's supposed to be a normal high school against which to juxtapose Wednesday.
If they're not going to put Wednesday Addams in the actual real world, they should just do The Addams Family. Wednesday in a public high school taking on mean girls would be funny. An Addams-esque boarding school that's only a little less Addams than Wednesday is nothing.
Among the Nevermore staff, Ms. Thornhill (Christina Ricci) seems relatively mild-mannered, at least initially. Perhaps that is Ricci playing against type, and making a concerted effort not to steal the spotlight from Ortega by simply supporting her.
There are some creatures, including a CGI monster with giant eyes and some mermen in the water. Again, if Wednesday Addams is not the weirdest character in the show, what are we doing here?
It's hard to see in Wednesday what affinity any of the creators, save for Ortega, had for The Addams Family. It plays like a crass opportunity to fit another IP into a standard formula.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.