Cartoonist Charles Addams (1912–1988) created the much-loved Addams family in 1938. The family appeared in a series of single, unrelated cartoons. Addams didn’t name the characters or attempt to give them a backstory. The characters became the people (and things) that we now know so well when the 1964 television series introduced them into our living rooms.
This first The Addams Family TV show ran for two seasons (1964–1966) and had 64 thirty-minute episodes. Lisa Loring played Wednesday—a cute six-year-old with raising spiders as her main hobby. Wednesday stands in contrast to the rest of her family, which is decidedly weird. As time went on, Wednesday’s character changed. In 1991, Christina Ricci played her as a dark-minded pre-teen. In the Netflix 2022 series, Jenna Ortega’s Wednesday is just as macabre but older. Nevertheless, she keeps her black pigtails.
The Netflix series Wednesday sees Wednesday thrown out of her school for tossing piranhas into the swimming pool while the water polo team is practicing—but this isn’t simple malice. Wednesday is defending her brother, Pugsley, from bullying. Wednesday is dark and different, but she’s not evil. She is sent to Nevermore Academy, a school with a long connection with the Addams family. Once there, she has to deal with the staff, students, and locals and solve a murder or two. In many ways, Wednesday is the story of an adolescent girl trying to find her way in the world.
The series was filmed in Romania, the home of Dracula and a country that offers many locations—not least Nevermore Academy—that perfectly suit the storyline. There are several references to the Addams family’s back story and other cultural icons. Part of the fun is trying to spot them.
10 Finger Clicking Good
The theme song to the original show starts with the lines:
“They’re creepy, and they’re cooky. Mysterious and spooky…”
And features the cast doing a lot of finger-clicking. Carolyn Jones, who played Morticia, can hardly hold back a smile as the camera shoots her double click.
In the modern Wednesday, there is a secret society at Nevermore Academy, and there is a riddle that tells you how to get into their library:
“The opposite of the moon. (Sun).
A world between ours. (Nether).
Two months before June. (April).
A self-seeding flower. (Pansy).
One more than one. (Two).
Its leaves weep to the ground. (Willow).
It melts in the sun. (Ice).
Its beginning and end never found. (Circle).
Every rule has one. (Exception).”
If you read out the first letter of each answer, the secret instruction—snap twice—appears. Wednesday does her finger clicking even though she thinks the society is a dumb idea. The simple snap is a homage to the 1964 theme song.
9 Pesky Pilgrims
In the 1993 movie Addams Family Values, Christina Ricci’s Wednesday famously hijacks a Thanksgiving play at Camp Chippewa. She causes mayhem as she and her friends turn the script on its head and lead a rebellion against the colonists.
In Wednesday, the pilgrims turn up again. This time, the Nevermore Academy students have to visit Pilgrims World—a theme park in the nearby town. Wednesday has to hand out fudge to visitors and makes it clear that she thinks this “pathetic whitewashing of American history” is, well, a fudge.
Wednesday’s obvious dislike of pilgrims comes from their persecuting her relative, Goody Addams, way back when. This reveals a dark side of the Addams family. In many ways, it perverts the idea of the American Dream. Usually, this takes the form of gentle parody; in the Pilgrims’ episode, it’s much more direct.
8 Take a Bow
As we can see in this clip, Jenna Ortega’s Wednesday is pretty good at archery. It’s a skill that Christina Ricci can be seen developing as Wednesday in the 1991 film The Addams Family, in which she enjoys shooting arrows at her brother, Pugsley. Pugsley doesn’t quite get the hang of it—in Addams Family Values, he manages to kill an American bald eagle.
Ortega didn’t limit herself to practicing archery. To play Wednesday, she also had to learn to box, fence, speak German, and play the cello. Wednesday treats everything with an impressive level of cool competence; Ortega could do no less.
Executive producer (and director of four episodes) Tim Burton demands a lot of his actors, and his crew has responded with great performances in modern classics such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland, and Edward Scissorhands. Burton enjoys making Gothic horror movies but usually adds a bit of dark humor. Wednesday must have been a treat for him.
7 Scouting for Girls
On Wednesday, Jenna Ortega says she could eat a girl scout for breakfast. This is a reference to a scene in 1991’s The Addams Family.
In the scene, Wednesday and Pugsley are reluctantly manning a lemonade stand littered with flasks of fuming potions. A prissy Girl Scout comes up and insists that she will only buy a lemonade if it is made from organically-grown lemons; she will eat nothing with artificial ingredients. She adds that Wednesday and Pugsley will have to buy a Girl Scout cookie if they want to make a sale.
Wednesday, straight-faced, of course, ask if the cookies are made with real Girl Scouts.
6 Ricci Returns
In the clearest possible act of homage to the past, Alfred Gough and Miles Milar, the creators of Wednesday, wanted Christina Ricci involved in some way. This could have been a little awkward because Christina had defined the character. Would Jenna Ortega resent her presence on the new show? No, there was none of that. Naturally, interviewers would always ask what Ricci thought of Ortega’s Wednesday. She was (and is) full of praise.
It’s appropriate that Ricci plays the part of Ms. Thornhill, one of Wednesday’s teachers at Nevermore Academy. In Wednesday, Ms. Thornhill is a “norm” who teaches botanical science and acts as “dorm mum.”
Like Wednesday, Ricci is something of a maverick. She has played in quite a few box-office hits and has been nominated for a Golden Globe and two Emmy Awards, but Ricci prefers working on independent productions.
5 Woe to Poe
Charles Addams might have created the Addams family, but the inspiration behind the macabre, Gothic atmosphere comes straight from Edgar Allan Poe. Wednesday acknowledges this with the Poe Cup Race.
The race is a no-holds-barred competition between the four different cliques at Nevermore academy. The vampires row “The Pit and the Pendulum,” the sirens man “The Gold Bug,” the werewolves are in “The Black Cat,” and the gorgons have “The Cask of Amontillado.” The names come from Poe’s famous stories in various genres, and the crews’ costumes and personalities reflect the stories themselves.
Poe’s tales are not generally known for their humor—one big difference between Wednesday and Poe’s dark stories.
4 It’s You, Isn’t It?
Cousin Itt doesn’t feature in Wednesday, but he was a much-loved character in the original The Addams Family series. It’s only fair that he should get a nod in the new production. And he does.
Wednesday and Uncle Fester are in the secret meeting place of the Nightshades. On the wall is a portrait of what looks like nothing more than a mop of hair. Fester tells Wednesday that this is a portrait of Ignatius Itt, who had an affair with Wednesday’s aunt Ophelia. Itt had once been a student at the academy.
3 Make Your Moves
In Wednesday episode 4, we get to join the students at the school Rave’N, where Jenna Ortega performs a very novel routine. The actress created the dance herself (which underlines how talented she is) but took inspiration from Lisa Loring’s attempt to teach Lurch how to dance in the original series. You can see some similarities between the two routines, but Ortega takes the dance to a different level.
Everyone else at the dance is wearing white and dancing with no great enthusiasm—and not much style either. Wednesday, expressionless as ever, is in black. Her bemused partner looks lost.
This has proved to be a favorite scene among fans of the show.
2 Black and White
A clear difference between Wednesday and the other students at Nevermore Academy is her school uniform. All the students wear a uniform that reflects the school colors. Wednesday, of course, is different. Her uniform is the same style as the others but is black and white (naturally, black is Wednesday’s favorite color).
Ajax, a gorgon at Nevermore, spots Wednesday and exclaims, “Wow, you’re in black and white!”
The 1964 series was filmed in black and white.
Nevermore Academy is a real place—filming took place at the Cantacuzino Castle in Romania. But does Nevermore remind you of another famous fictional school? Hogwarts in Harry Potter, perhaps? Nevermore Academy is similar to Hogwarts and takes inspiration from Harry’s school. There is no attempt to hide this; it’s simply a homage.
Nevermore contains multiple allusions to the Addams family’s back story. The portrait of Cousin Itt is one, Morticia’s famous wicker chair is referenced, and Wednesday’s house, Ophelia, is named after Wednesday’s aunt.
The academy has its own website (nevermoreacademy.com) that tells us:
“Founded in 1791, Nevermore Academy is an academic institution that nurtures outcasts, freaks, and monsters. Our mission is to help each student master their extraordinary abilities through world-class academics and unique extracurriculars.”
Edgar Allan Poe, Cousin Itt, and Morticia are listed as distinguished former students.
If you are in Romania, you can visit Cantacuzino Castle. Originally built in 1911, it opened its doors to the public in 2010.