Let’s face it. A pseudo-occult or fantasy-themed situation probably would not fly with the reality-obsessed, modern television audiences who prefer their Must-See-TV to be infused with a dosage of upwardly mobile 20-somethings or Joe Average Family reality. (Remember what happened with The Charmings in the ‘80s? But then again, there was the rather popular ALF.) Nevertheless, The Addams Family is one of those rare gems that could still probably draw in a steady viewership, even today.
Such as the case for any work that has stood the test of time; several pieces of the puzzle contribute to the whole picture. The writing team(s) of the show were solid, working well off of the characters that had already been pre-established by Charles Addams himself, fleshing them out a bit more and translating them to the small screen. Another important factor was the perfectionist nature of director Sydney Lanfield, a noted martinet who had helmed a good chunk of the series.
Perhaps the most recognizable feature that made The Addams Family so successful was the tremendous ensemble cast. From theatre-trained John Astin as the cigar-smoking, yoga-loving, entrepreneurial mogul/head of the family, Gomez Addams, to Academy Award-nominated actress, Carolyn Jones as his mellow, intellectual, and insatiable wife Mortitia. Rounding out the cast were former child actor Jackie Coogan as the goofy Uncle Fester, Broadway and vaudeville veteran Blossom Rock (who was incidentally, Jeanette MacDonald’s sister), and the hulking, 6’9” character actor Ted Cassidy as the family’s monosyllabic butler, Lurch. Gomez and Morticia’s two precocious children, Wednesday and Pugsley, were played by Lisa Loring and Ken Weatherwax, respectively, and gelled well with the more-experienced cast members.
The Addams Family, Volume 2, captures this cast and the show right when The Addams Family was hitting its stride; the actors having found what intrinsically makes each one tick and superbly conveying it to a receptive audience. Nearly every major—and even supporting character—on The Addams Family has their moment in the spotlight in the episodes presented in this set. Even the family’s disembodied hand of a manservant, Thing, gets his time to shine in the episode, “Thing Is Missing” and even gets a love interest of his own in “Morticia Meets Royalty”.
From the smallest member of the family to the largest, the Addams’ butler, Lurch emerges as a superstar in “Lurch, The Teenage Idol”. The underrated Ted Cassidy plays the character to perfection, delivering just the right amount of emotion and lack thereof from beneath heavy character makeup as the unflappable Lurch. Lurch is perhaps the only truly sane member of the Addams Family whose monstrous height still makes him an outcast, but he lovingly tolerates the family he tends to and in turn, they incorporate him into every aspect of family life, as well.
In addition to great characterization, the episodes themselves treat the viewer to intriguing backstories into the Addams’ history and family tree. Gomez frequently references infamous members of his own family in various episodes and fans learn how Gomez and Morticia met and almost didn’t marry in the two-parter, “Morticia’s Romance”. Carolyn Jones takes on a fun, well-played, dual role as both Morticia and her flighty, blonde sister Ophelia, who was pre-arranged to marry Gomez in this narrative prelude.
Over 40 years later, The Addams Family still manages to be funny. There are few, if any, dated references in the latest two-disc set of the beloved, ‘60s television classic. Sure, there’s an abundance of sight-gags and even slapstick humor that is rarely seen in a contemporary setting, nevertheless, the wit and writing is as sharp as the edge of the rapier that Gomez play-duels his cara mia Morticia with. While shows with implausible, fantastical premises from the ‘60s such as Bewitched, I Dream of Jeanie, and My Favorite Martian were highly successful in their day, The Addams Family is probably one of the most iconic, having been successfully translated from the Charles Addams-penned cartoons that originally ran in The New Yorker.
Significantly less sinister, but no less sophisticated than Charles Addams’ conception, the Addams Family in their original, morbidly malevolent state may not have translated as well to the small screen. The early ‘60s and found the country still in the throes of McCarthyism. One could only be pleasantly twisted, and not downright subversive. Years later, the film version of The Addams Family with Raoul Julia and Anjelica Huston, while still retaining the loveable, good-feeling nature of the television rendition of the family, would come much closer to the Addamses of The New Yorker comics.
As far as the television series goes, the implied, cartoon violence was meant in good fun. Playmates Wednesday and Pugsley had no sibling rivalry. Instead, the brother and sister duo bonded over blowing things up and wreaking havoc as a team. Similarly, Gomez had a comparable playmate in Uncle Fester, enjoying explosives well into middle-age.
It’s almost impossible to mention The Addams Family without a word about their equally creepy contemporaries, The Munsters. While both macabre television families lived in cobweb-lined homes, their attitudes and philosophies on life differed greatly. Although the Munsters possessed probably more freakish outward appearances than the Addams, beyond the penchant for bat-flavored stews, their values mirrored the more traditional, Ozzie and Harriet-style norm of the times. On the flipside, The Addams Family turned the concept of the normal, nuclear family à la the Cleavers on its ear, espousing more of an anti-establishment view than The Munsters.
While both shows are beloved and are equally entertaining, The Addams Family pushed the envelope just a little bit more. Morticia was probably sitcom land’s first overtly sexual creature, displaying a previously unseen zest for romance with her equally amorous husband, Gomez, who made no bones about hiding his arousal whenever ‘Tish spoke French.
Although The Addams Family twisted the subtle knife of subversion into the ABC television lineup in its heyday, there were certain things that they couldn’t get away with. One of the original Charles Addams concepts involved a third Addams child, a baby named Pubert. This character, for storyline purposes and a name that sounded too much like the word “pubic” that could possibly offend more conservative audiences, was nixed. Eventually, baby Pubert would be featured in the Barry Sonnenfeld-directed films during the ‘90s.
Interesting facts such as Charles Addams’ original concepts were discussed on The Addams Family: Volume 2‘s bonus features. The mini-documentary, “Mad About the Addams” features thoughts about the show from a wide range of fans, actors, and television scholars, most notably, writer Stephen Cox—who penned several books on classic television sitcoms, such as Gilligan’s Island, The Beverly Hillbillies, and tomes on both The Addams Family and their CBS-network counterparts, The Munsters.
Also included among the bonus features are guest commentaries by Thing and Cousin Itt on select episodes, episode trivia, and “Guest Star Séance”. An interesting and Addams-related look at popular character actors of the many a ‘60s sitcom, the “Guest Star Séance” feature includes mini biographies of such little-known, but highly-recognizable thespians as Margaret Hamilton (who portrayed Morticia’s mother, but was better known as the Wicked Witch of the West of The Wizard of Oz) and Richard Deacon (in a bit-part as a vocational counselor on The Addams Family but most recognized for his role as Mel Cooley on The Dick Van Dyke Show), among others.
Overall, The Addams Family: Volume 2 is a great collection of the show at its peak, able to introduce new fans to the show as well as satisfy long-time Addams’ lovers and fans of classic television.