Jenna Ortega’s woe-nderful performance is why you must watch Wednesday

Prepare for an adventure full of woe as Wednesday Addams heads off to Nevermore Academy, a school filled entirely of other outcasts with unique traits. Much to her delight, danger is lurking around every corner. With a long-lost family secret, ill-timed psychic visions and the presence of a mysterious monster, Wednesday has a lot on her plate.

With Tim Burton at the helm of the first four episodes, he was very much in charge of establishing the look, feel and overall tone of the series. As a result, he does inject his trademark vibe and aesthetic, but thankfully it’s a lot more subtle than the projects he writes himself. I admire some of Tim Burton’s work, but there are times where his Burton-isms become too overbearing. That’s not the case here. The series sits on this fine line of being 70% dark and gritty, and 30% fun and campy, and it beautifully maintains that balance right through to the end. I never felt like the series ever got tonally out of whack, remaining entirely consistent across every episode – even after Burton got up from the director’s chair.

When it comes to the narrative, Wednesday had me genuinely hooked through its clever use of mystery, twists and cliffhangers. It takes a minute to fully gather exactly the extent of the season’s narrative, but once it all comes to light by the end of the second/third episode, it’s full steam ahead. The key story developments are well spaced throughout the season, resulting in great pacing that never feels rushed or boring. Interestingly, this is one series that gets exponentially better with every single episode (save for the finale). At the end of every episode, I genuinely had the reaction that each one was better than the last – and I stand by that. It just felt like with time, it became more settled in its tone while the narrative became more clear and focused.

With that said, I wish I could also say that the finale was the best episode of the season, but unfortunately it was a bit of a step backwards. I still enjoyed how it wrapped things up overall, but the approach felt misguided. Firstly, up until the finale, the series was a lot more character-focused and subtle in its storytelling. It never went for the big action spectacle, instead prioritising the tone and performances. Hence why, without spoiling anything, the finale felt like a slightly different show. On top of that, they pull out the ‘heavy exposition’ card and get very ‘explainy’ rather than trusting the audience to understand what’s going on. It’s still an entertaining and quite fulfilling ending when it comes to the story being told, but it just could have been executed better.

Now, the story is really strong and Wednesday Addams is a unique and compelling character, but let’s be real, Jenna Ortega‘s phenomenal performance is what makes this series as special as it is. I was transfixed by her performance and couldn’t keep my eyes off her. She’s just perfect in the role – committing 110% to the quirks of the character and single-handedly elevating the series. There’s plenty of stellar performances out there, but this is one instance of utterly perfect casting. Between Scream (2022), X (2022) and The Babysitter: Killer Queen (2020), Jenna is one of the most talented young actors out there where everything she touches turns to gold.

Back to her presence in this series. She exudes so much charisma and charm as Wednesday that it makes the character an absolute joy to watch. The irony is, Wednesday is a character who has a very stoic, zero-emotion aura about her, yet Jenna is able to bring depth to the role in a way that makes her feel more ‘colourful’ than anyone else in here. Her sharp one-liners are comedic gold, and it’s great watching her slay that take-no-shit attitude. As much as I enjoyed the series, and still think the narrative is very strong, without Jenna Ortega in the lead role, I don’t think this series gets anything more than a 6.5/10. Certain elements of the story wouldn’t hit as well, and the few emotional beats wouldn’t be as impactful. It just goes to show how crucial her presence is in elevating nearly every aspect of the series.

In terms of supporting roles, there’s a pretty decent lineup to complement Jenna. Emma Myers is very lively and upbeat as Enid (to be expected), which beautifully contrasts Jenna’s performance. The dynamic between the two of them is one of the season’s highlights. Gwendoline Christie puts in a strong performance as Principal Weems. She’s able to have some fun and play into the bitchiness of the role. And then there’s Christina Ricci, who brings a lively vibe to all of her scenes, proving her presence is more than just for the sake of honouring her history as Wednesday.

The series doesn’t give us much of the rest of the Addams family, but I really liked that. It manages to stay entirely focused on Wednesday and her journey, while still weaving in characters like Mortitia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Uncle Fester (Fred Armisen) to flesh out this Addams family universe.

In the end, all I can say is that Wednesday is an absolute blast. Flaunting a whimsical, kooky score and a darkly comedic tone, it captured my attention in the first episode and sent me on a great, mystery-filled narrative. Through all of its silly moments and genuine emotional beats, there’s so much to love about the series, but nothing more than Jenna Ortega’s performance. She’s brilliant in the role, bringing plenty of depth to the character and enhancing every single scene with her presence alone. If you need one reason to watch this series, it’s to witness a perfect lead performance.

8.7/10

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