Television

Netflix’s Wednesday Is a Huge Hit. I Think I Know Why Critics Hate It.

Sure, it’s a high school drama about teens with powers. Your point?

Left, a girl with an expressionless face and black braids. Right, a girl with blonde hair and a big smile.
Jenna Ortega as Wednesday Addams and Emma Myers as Enid Sinclair in Wednesday. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

Netflix’s new hit series Wednesday, a Tim Burton–helmed Addams Family spinoff focused on the eponymous deadpan daughter, has captured the record for the most hours viewed in a week for an English-language series on the streamer. The show has been acclaimed by audiences and some critics, longtime lovers of the creepy, kooky, mysterious, spooky IP (*snap snap*) and vocal fans of lead star Jenna Ortega alike.

But while most critics have praised Ortega and other incredible ancillary performances, some have hit Wednesday with the TV writer’s classic weapon: They’ve called it “like something on The CW.” The CW, the love child of former networks UPN and the WB, hosts many DC superhero shows and specializes in deliciously melodramatic adolescent dramas that often have fantasy elements—like The Vampire Diaries (a teen girl finds herself in the center of a vampire love triangle) or The Secret Circle (a teen girl discovers she’s a descendant of a long line of witches). The network has put youthful, soapy twists on familiar IP in the past, at times darkening the tone—think Riverdale (which brought serial killers and cults to the Archie comics) and Nancy Drew (whose CW incarnation semiregularly communes with the dead to solve her cases). Naturally, due to its reputation as a reliable purveyor of teenage histrionics with a touch of the supernatural, the network and its products have been relegated to the status of guilty pleasure.

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This is why Wednesday doubters have used “It’s like the CW” as shorthand. It’s a way to belittle the series for reproducing what they see as the CW’s classic failings: unoriginal or predictable plots, unrealistic and juvenile dialogue, and an overly heavy reliance on what Collider calls “boilerplate subplots,” including “rival-school drama, sins-of-the-parents revelations, [and] romantic competition.” According to Collider, this renders Wednesday “algorithmically derivative”; to CBR, it’s “disappointingly conventional.” Though the Hollywood Reporter acknowledges that the series proves that you could write a show about the impassively morbid Wednesday Addams using classic YA dramedy tropes, it backhands its near compliment by asking, “But why would you?”

Uh … for many reasons! There’s nothing guilt-worthy about finding pleasure in the machinations of a CW teen romp. Teen soaps are for adult viewers too. The romantic tension is palpable enough to give you butterflies, and the school depictions are far-fetched enough that they make high school seem more fun than your actual experience. The actors are usually hot enough to make you forget about any character imperfections, or their characters are endearing enough that you love them anyway; if you hit the jackpot, you can get both. Also, these so-called unoriginal themes are in nearly every story—everyone loves rivalry and angst over parents. What? You think your beloved little dragon show isn’t chock-full of those things?

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Wednesday doesn’t “drag what should be regarded as higher-level Netflix-quality content down to The CW’s level,” as Decider argues, but rather takes an impassive young character we all know and puts her in situations that give her a greater tolerance of the human condition. And this is funny—because she so desperately hates humanity. Wednesday elevates the always-a-bit-inscrutable character of Wednesday Addams, juxtaposing her penchant for the grisly and grotesque against the fanciful playstuff of overwrought YA melodrama. This makes Wednesday more amusingly relatable, and the melodrama more understandable.

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We see Wednesday stuck in a love triangle, unsure how to navigate new feelings of romantic attraction; she grows to understand that not everyone is useless and moronic: not her colorful roommate (Emma Myers), not the queen bee at school (Joy Sunday), and especially not her parents (Catherine Zeta-Jones and Luis Guzmán, who aren’t in the show much but nevertheless strike Wednesday as needlessly overbearing). Wednesday saves lives and goes to her first school dance, all while dealing with a complicated familial history of oppression … not to mention a new superpower. (There’s always a new superpower.) And in the end, Wednesday does that satisfying thing where the friendships end up mattering more than the romances. Wednesday starts the show as an outcast and ends it as an Outcast, having truly found friendship and made a home with other like-minded social strays.

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The CW has a knack for making shows that play on all these time-worn tropes, and make you fall for them enough that you don’t mind the fact that you saw them coming. You always get at least one of two things: a problem to solve (the shows love a mystery plot, which also plays out in Wednesday), or a world for you to escape into (I’ve already waxed poetic about my love for Nancy Drew). These shows tackle important things too, such as mental health, racial profiling and class, grief, and sexual assault.

Among all the critics, Inverse got it right: This modern-day exploration of Wednesday Addams as a teenager works well when it employs the usual devices and tactics of a CW drama. It’s got all of the meaning and shenanigans of a coming-of-age tale, combined with all of the morose whimsicality we would expect from a Tim Burton adaptation of The Addams Family. Wednesday, much like the protagonist it’s named for, is being what it wants to be without giving a damn what you think. And I, for one, couldn’t be happier to binge it all.

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