The Changing Face of The Addams Family | The Big Picture

The Changing Face of The Addams Family | The Big Picture

When Charles Addams created the original Addams
Family comics strip in 1938 as a series of single-panel gags for The New Yorker, his
characters didn’t even have names – he mainly had the concept and… the concept. But the concept was good! Take the idealized American middle-class family
and turn the concept inside-out and on its head but still in a recognizable enough way
that the difference would itself be the joke. He wasn’t the first or the last to make that
sort of opposite-juxtaposition a staple of absurdist comedy, it’s a bunch of gags in
Lewis Carroll’s original Alice stories, L. Frank Baum’s OZ books and it was the premise
behind the massive early-60s popularity of the Bizarro World backup stories in DC Comics
Superman books. But along with Addams’ having invested his
cartoons with the addition charm of a ghoulish horror-movie aesthetic culled from Old Dark
House movies, occult mysteries and Depression-era pop-trends and folk-gossip about mysticism,
old-world witchcraft and the likes of Alestair Crowley etc; by the time The Addams Family
got to television as a sitcom in 1964, American culture had delivered them the perfect target:
suburbia. [theme song] Whereas the prewar comic strip Addams’ had
been caricatures of the Northeast American Nouveau Riche Middle Class, the sitcom that
birthed the most instantly iconic and lasting versions of Gomez, Morticia, Wednesday, Pugsly,
Uncle Fester, Granny, Lurch, Thing and sometimes Cousin Itt located The Addams House square
in the middle of the New American Dream neighborhood, where the ghoulish (possibly undead? Possibly Satanic? Vampiric? Occult? Maybe all of the above – it’s never totally
clear) family with the haunted house and frightening habits lived unhappily ever after alongside
perplexed and terrified normals. But where the comic strips core joke was The
Addams’ matter-of-factness toward the obvious oddity of their circumstance for the humor of the reader, the sitcom’s brilliant masterstroke in comedy was to turn them into satire
by reversal of Middle Class American insularity and myopia: Whereas the “normal” neighbors,
guests, (and the laugh track) were positioned to react to The Addams strange, ghoulish,
funny-version-of-scary behavior, occasional supernatural powers, enjoyment of pain, references
to monstrous or inhuman relations and just plain “not rightness” as aghast surrogates
for the audience… the Addams were just as perplexed by them! That was the gag: Gomez and Morticia weren’t
aware that they were the weird neighbors – as far as they could see, they were normal, their
house and their way of seeing and doing things was the proper correct standard way and everyone
else must be the weirdos doing things wrong or chasing some goofy trend. Message to audience: Hey! Comfy suburbanites shutting yourselves off
from active culture and assuming you know best all the time? This is how stupid you look. As literally one joke to build an entire show
around? Pretty damn good! But how long can even a “pretty-damn good”
one joke show actually last? Eh… about two seasons, as it turns out – although
seasons were longer back then so there were ultimately 64 episodes of this to subsequently
syndicate mostly as daytime fill-in programming… pretty much forever after that, at which point
The Addams Family found it’s true fanbase: Children! At which point, something unexpected happened. See, just as it was with The Flintstones
(originally intended as using “Cavemen and Dinosaurs” visual puns to satirizes post-war
American suburbia’s obsession with newfangled household appliances and conspicuous consumption);
Baby Boomers who were at that point… still actual babies liked The Addams Family
for the visual humor and wacky characters, but the idea that Gomez and Morticia and
Fester were more or less being “made fun of” by the laugh-track as a way of taking
the piss out of mommy and daddy by way of ironic mirroring didn’t really register to like five year olds. Instead, what a whole generation saw in The
Addams Household was a family that anarchic, rule-breaking, counter-cultural and shamelessly
different from what the rest real-world culture was telling them was the “right-way” to
be: Instead of sleeping chastely in twin beds and never acting like sex or anything biological
existed, Gomez and Morticia were all over each other all the time. Instead of being meted out “father knows
best” stern moral discipline, Wednesday and Pugsly were encouraged and supported in
whatever they wanted to do by their parents- even (hell, especially!) things that were unusual and dangerous. Now, the intended grownup joke is “Obviously,
these are inappropriate behaviors and it’s funny that they act the opposite!” But to a lot of my parents generation growing up watching them? The Addams Family seemed like a preferable
option to “The All-American Family;” a ready-made misfit’s escapism fantasy a’la
Hogwarts or The Xavier School. Of course, “The Boomers” didn’t stay
perpetually-unsettled misfit children, the grew up into a performatively-revolutionary
generation of teenagers and then middle-aged adults with an identity crisis nowhere near
as complex as they insist it is. Which is why it was probably inevitable that
when The Addams Family got the big screen reboot treatment in the 90s (which, in spite
of how it was marketed in the press at the time, was very much based more on the show
than the comics) the pretense to satire remained but the attitude and gimmick flipped around
on themselves… almost organically, like it couldn’t have been thwarted if someone
tried. And to be clear, this isn’t a “knock”
on the movie – the movie is really funny, exceptionally well-cast and the sequel is
even better in many respects. It’s just that the subtext of the reworking
is… awkward, and bizarrely and fascinating as a result: In the 90s movie, The Addams are stranger
than ever and still glibly insistent on their own righteousness; but now they’re broadly
aware of the outside world’s apprehension toward them, there’s an implied history akin to witch-hysteria or something and the family to varying degrees are shown as taking playful, malevolent
joy in lording their ability to survive attacks and respond in kind with frightening and/or
violent retaliation upon “the normals.” The movie also returns to playing up the idea
of The Addams as being not simply comfortably well-off but fabulously generationally wealthy,
connected to an ancient family dynasty and both films (though in notably different contexts)
setting up the Addams’ fortune (which, presumably, allows them to “get away” with living
as they do) and various villains desire to steal it from them as being symbolically interchangeable
with their free-spirited non-comforming strangeness that the “normals” (by implication) are
jealous of and therefore persecute… except that, since the movies are going for more
extreme slapstick horror-movie style gags than the show or the comic ever did, are here
depicted to include things like casually getting away with murder, torture, etc. Not that we’re meant to take any of it seriously – these are, essentially, live-action cartoons. The relevant point is, rather than a betrayal
of material or of fanbase, one can effectively track the evolution of generational projected
fantasy through these adaptations: The generation of the early-60s who watched the black and white Addams Family as kids and fantasized about simply living a life outside the restrictive rules of conventional
society through them and became “hippies,” “trippers” and “Flower Children” as teenagers and
college students would – in rather large and society-remaking numbers – “grow up” into
an 80s and 90s adult fantasy of, well “having enough money to buy your way around the rules
of society!” Which is, more of less reflexed in the fantasy of Addams Family movies. Which are more like a Dracula vampier thing of being, so wealthy that you can even kill people and get away with it. Ha, it’s fun. No judgement – good gig if you can keep it,
I’m sure. And yes, the second one “Addams Family Values”
puts a self-aware tweak on this with the “Addams Kids in Summer Camp” subplot’s payoff,
wherein Christina Ricci’s Wednesday cements her stature as the prototypical Late-GenX/Early-Millennial archetype – woke as hell… but extremely violent about it. There’s been other do-overs since then, of course,
including a cartoon where John Astin returned to voice the role of Gomez and a whole other TV show even, that also did two seasons. And now a new animated movie which (unsurprisingly)
is visibly struggling to find a place for The Addams to even fit in a post-Pixar world where
family entertainment coming soaked in subtext is now an expectation. It’s mostly a jumble of ideas, mostly feeling
stuck between a pretty solid Wednesday-centric story that the filmmakers actually feel more
interested in and a less-good rest of the family story that wants to remake The Addams
into a gentrification allegory where they’re the first family to move into a decrepit area
of New Jersey marshland that soon becomes “redeveloped” by a suburban sprawl town
that sees them as a problem which… is an odd mix of metaphors? But good effort, I guess. Either way, it would seem that as long as
there’s a society – as you may have heard… we live in one, by the way – The Addams Family will probably be there to snap back at it. I’m Bob and that’s The Big Picture.

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  1. Is it not super fucked that part of the joke of Morticia and Gomez is that they genuinely love each other and want to spend time together and that's part of their characterisation as freaks?

  2. I saw this video and thought "Well, there's no way that Bob can keep me entertained for an entire video about the Addams Family!"
    I was wrong.

  3. What I always loved about the Addams family was the fact that while they always were perplexed by how "normal" people lived their lives, assuming THEY were they normal ones despite their incredibly morbid hobbies and habits, they were also incredibly friendly and tolerant of their normie neighbors (you can tell I wrote this part before I remembered the two live action Addams Family movies and their take on dealing with the "normies"). They're also an incredibly loving family that truly cares about one-another, too, including Thing and Lurch who aren't technically family members (depending on the continuity, that is, since Lurch is supposedly made up of several Addams family members in some incarnations).

    It's actually a fun contrast with most sitcoms you see, while many "normal" families resort to having dysfunctional relationships to create gags, the Addams family's macabre activities act as the main "jokes" while they act like a perfectly functional unit. I can't help but feel like that's the reason they've lasted so long, or at least part of the reason.

    PS, Gomez and Uncle Fester are tied for my favorite characters.

    PPS, since a sequel to the new animated movie has already been announced, I hope they introduce Ophelia Frump in it.

  4. I suppose I'm at the weird end of this having grown up mostly with the cartoon on boomerang and what a lot of people my age remember (say, between '94 and '99) is a version of The Addams Family more reminiscent of Rocky Horror than anything else. A kind of "for freaks by freaks celebrating the freakish" vibe that gave you that comfortable feeling of "Yeah, maybe everyone else really just is crazy for chasing a nuclear family and the American dream" as well as… Well, Gomez and Morticia, a depiction of a husband and wife duo who despite being as far from our parents ideal as possible were still better functioning adults, lovers and people. For a lot of us, they BECAME the ideal. To this day I still see memes floating around lambastic the glorification of The Joker and Harley Quinn's abusive relationship in favour of Gomez and Morticia Addams, a supportive, loving couple of adults who function not in spite of non-conformity but because of it.

    Anyway, thanks actually, this video brought up a lot of feel good nostalgic moments. SOrry for the paragraph.

  5. Watch today's Big Picture episode early on Martin Scorsese Versus the Marvel Cinematic Universe:

  6. Interesting quick retrospect on them Bob.
    Though I would say that the dark humor that really came out in The Addams Family & TAF Values was there in the live action & both animated tv series. It was more implied.

  7. God I actually do love the 90s Movies of the Addam’s Family. The animation on this new take on it seems pretty ok and I may give it a watch, I’m just hoping it has the somewhat same humor.

  8. I saw the new Adams Family advertising at Ihop. I don’t know which was nore depressing: how awful the designs are or that I was at an Ihop.

  9. The new movie's New Jersey reference was a funny homage to Charles Addams’ Westfield origins. Always passed by the house that inspired the Addams house visiting grandparents

  10. I'm a huge fan of the 'Addams Family'. Even though I thought the new film could have been better, I'm still glad I went to see it. I hope we get more in the future!

  11. Bahahaha holy crap they look terrible. Neat they're going for the original designs, but the original cast from the TV series was perfect.

  12. I’ll have to show this to my eleven year old. He’s playing the theme song in band right now, but he’s never actually seen anything Adams Family.

  13. The camp scene speech is my favorite, it really points out how our history and culture is pretty messed up but we like to gloss over it like it never happened. Also the camp kind of reminds me of gay conversion camps we have here in texas

  14. A very interesting take on the Addams Family media continuum aside, I'm really surprised at the random Fester's Quest fade in at the end there.

  15. The Addams Family could move into the world of Bloodborne, Silent Hill, a Junji Ito manga or any Lovecraftian story and will just fit in fine. While the townsfolk scream in horror as their head explodes by gazing at whatever hellish landscape ruled by abominations beyond human comprehension, to Gomez Addams, it would be a regular Tuesday.

  16. I thought the transition from the original sitcom to the movie was massively transgressional. The Addams Family was never malevolent in the sitcom, they were just odd. In the movie, they were outright sadistic. Plus, in some ways, the sitcom was battling it out with The Munsters. Same basic premise, but with the Munsters, they were distinctly Universal Studios monsters living in the suburbs while the Addams were just "kooky." Minor discrepancy between the movies and original sitcom, Fester wasn't Gomez's brother, but Morticia's uncle, not technically an Addams, though that's a minor technicality.

  17. The best part of the Addams Family "otherness" from the Normies, I felt, lied in how Gomez and Morticia interacted. Gomez is deeply, deeply in love with his wife and actually listens to her opinions instead of trying to be the High Lord Man of the House.
    And Morticia isn't a repressed house wife stuck living as a live-in servant to take care of the breadwinner and the little gremlins she had to birth. As such, she didn't quietly resent her husband like so many did back then.
    And most importantly, they actually listened to what their children were telling them most of the time and talked to them, instead of at them.
    All of this was further scathing commentary of the nuclear family unit of the time.

  18. Huh. A nice interesting look at Addams family, and we don’t even have to bring up your hatred of joker in any… ah.

    Joking aside, great video

  19. I cannot allow a mention of the Addams Family (1991 film) without the note that Raul Julia was a goddam national treasure whose death was a loss to us all.

  20. Honestly, I liked the new movie. I'm tired of the "Woke till we choke" seriousness that now pervades culture. It was funny, well written and, modernized version that didn't try to shove a "message" down my throat.

  21. Too bad you didn't include some comments about the stage play version; it would have been interesting on hearing how it compares for your theme.

  22. What Moviebob seems to miss: we live in a Post Anime Girl world where Monster Girls are kinda common all over the internet. So each & every member of The Addams Family has to be Stranger-than-Doctor-Strange, in my opinion. (At least design-wise, anyway)

  23. I thought the new movie actually had more of a central theme than you argue to in the video. It is, by all rights, a story about immigration. A nuclear family moving away from their home, to a new country, and all the members adjusting to their new life in different ways. Morticia worries that her daughter is losing her roots, Gomez is worried that his son won’t be considered “Adams” enough by the family back home.

  24. Yeah, funny ol' world… Gomez and Morticia went from "Stuffy Suburban Mom & Dad, This Is How Stupid You Look" to "Relationship Goals."

  25. I HAAAAAATE the new designs, they’re too much of… a modern adaptation on an animation style. It looks gross, but not in a good way.

  26. Bob has a habit of mentioning how much he didn't like X movie in every video for a while after it comes out, and I'm 100% here for the Joker bashing.

  27. Can not believe that this, Monkees, Batman, and the Munsters all only got 2 seasons and were basically all on at the same time. AND are still popular today. No accounting for taste…..

  28. Gonna just take this opportunity to say how much I appreciate Barry Sonnenfeld and what he did for the Addams Family as well as A Series of Unfortunate Events. People do not give him the credit as a director he very much deserves.

  29. The irony is that when psychological analysis and survey testing has been applied to determine familial health of TV families The Adams Family ranks very high if not the highest and I Love Lucy ranks near the bottom.

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