Thoughts on “The Addams Family”

So, after watching “The Munsters” and struggling part-way through “Tales From the Darkside”, I decided to limit the latter to weekends when I had time to write about each disk and picked up the last of the new shows that I wanted to watch before the end of the year, “The Addams Family”, the original black and white series.  I wanted to pick it up and watch it after being reminded while watching “The Munsters” that I had watched the original series as a kid (it was on after school) and after finding and watching the movies.  So I remembered that the original series was a bit different than the movie and wanted to see if my memory was correct, and also wanted to compare it to what I remembered of the one remake that I watched later (it ran frequently early mornings on one channel that I happened to have not that long ago).

The first thing that struck me about the show is that Carolyn Jones was probably the best looking Morticia.  Despite the gothic looks, she was indeed quite attractive, while the others are attractive but at least didn’t come across as generically pretty.  I also noted that I was correct in thinking that in the original series she was much more animated than she was in the movies.  She definitely cared about her children and was more than willing to express that, and so didn’t across as stoic and as unconcerned as she did there.  She was definitely more subdued than Gomez was, but the entire character of Gomez in general had always been as someone who was excessively hyperactive, and so the two of them balanced each other out nicely.

One other thing that I noticed is that in comparison to the remake, Gomez here isn’t all that competent.  In the remake, he was so competent that they had an entire episode where he tried to fail at something and at the end could only achieve the standard “failed at failing” line.  Here, he often manages to miss or fail at the things he tries to do, often in ways that put other people in danger (which, since it’s the family, is usually perceived as a good thing).  He also is beaten at most things by Morticia, who is almost hyper-competent throughout the series.  This isn’t a problem, since she’s also usually the voice of reason in the family and so her being more subdued and competent works fairly well.  This does change a little later in the series when they make her more eccentric, but that leaves Lurch and Thing as the only sane people in the show, and since they don’t talk the family becomes more insanely weird than fun weird.

One other thing to note is that the original series had the children be more normal than they are in later works, especially Wednesday.  This actually better reflected the main premise which was that this was a very odd and creepy family that, nevertheless, though that they were normal and that what they liked was really just what everyone else liked and ought to like.  What this meant was that in contrast to “The Munsters” the show focused less on using their traits and situation to create madcap adventures, but instead focused on taking what would be a more normal real-life or sitcom situation and allowing their odd take on the situation to drive the humour.  Wednesday and Pugsley, then, were acting like real kids would but starting from the odd perspective that their parents had.  Later remakes turned Wednesday especially into a creepy child, which blunted that humour a bit, although it replaced it with a different type of humour that some might prefer.  I did prefer the “we’re normal and can’t understand why people are freaked out by us” humour, even over the humour in “The Munsters”.

One thing I noticed in this series is that Uncle Fester got a lot of play in the series but didn’t really contribute much, while I felt in the remake that his oddity really did add to things, but he was also more of a background character than he was here.  I think that’s because Jackie Coogan was a bigger star at the time — he got highlighted in the credits — but there wasn’t enough for the character to do.  So he got more attention than people like Lurch and Thing but wasn’t an important enough part of the episodes to justify that extra screen time.  Lurch and Thing worked really well as secondary characters that could comment on things and add complications, and Morticia and Gomez worked well as the main leads, but Fester was either over- or underused depending on your view of the show (Mama didn’t really play that big a role in the show at all, and the children were often sidelined as well).

Ultimately, I liked the show.  Some of the episodes can be hit and miss, but I do think that I prefer how it didn’t rely on madcap adventures and instead on just having the family act as would be normal for them in conditions where what they think of as normal really isn’t.  One issue with that is that the episodes often include scenes just to highlight those oddities — for example, Lurch is trying to learn to dance and there’s a scene and a set-up for the character of the dance instructor that is only used for a small part of the episode — which makes those scenes seem very prominent and yet pointless, but overall the humour works pretty well.  I would definitely watch this show again.

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