[The following story includes major spoilers from Wednesday season one and plot details from Smallville.]
With the Netflix series Wednesday, creators Al Gough and Miles Millar gave viewers something they had never seen before: the world of Wednesday Addams, away from her kooky, lovable family.
The breakout show, which opened to the second-largest premiere week in the two-year history of Nielsen’s weekly rankings, is the latest in a long list of Addams Family adaptations. What’s unique about Wednesday, however, is that it largely follows one member of the clan (with a helping hand, ahem, from Thing) and her life at Nevermore Academy, a boarding school for “outcasts, freaks and monsters.” Within days of being at her new school, the teen goth icon is wrapped up in a fantastical whodunnit that she’ll spend the entirety of the first season solving: Who’s killing Nevermore students, and why?
By the end of the finale, Wednesday discovers that her almost-beau, Tyler (Hunter Doohan), is actually a monster called a Hyde that has been “activated” to kill the outcasts and is controlled by none other than Christina Ricci’s Marilyn Thornhill, aka Laurel Gates. The Gates family has been trying to rid the world of outcasts since the 1600s when their ancestor Joseph Crackstone was killed by Wednesday’s ancestor Goody Addams. Laurel resurrects Crackstone in hopes of finishing what he started and ridding the world of outcasts forever, only for him to be killed yet again by an Addams.
In a recent interview with , Gough and Millar open up about what drew them to the Wednesday character, how they paid tribute to the original Addams Family and what their plans are for season two — if they get one. The creators also reflect on their time on Smallville 21 years after it premiered, what they’d do differently if they were making the show today and whether they’d want to reboot it.
Let’s start by talking about Wednesday. What made you want to create a show based on this character?
Al Gough: It was a character that we all really loved, and nobody had spent a lot of time with. And it’s a character we’d only seen really as a 10-, 11-, 12-year-old, who is part of a family and would have a funny line in the scene, but we didn’t know much about her. Her sort of fearlessness and her ability to always be herself with something, that was interesting, and we thought, well, “What if she was a teenage girl? And then what if you took her out of the family and put her in boarding school, which is ostensibly a new family? How would she react?”
There were a lot of callbacks to previous Addams Family iterations. How much inspiration did you take from those?
Miles Millar: I think we definitely wanted to honor the legacy of the Addams Family, and I think it’s something that was important that we do, and we always, always, enjoy doing as well. We think it gives a shoutout to the fans. There’s a nostalgia element to the show as well. I think we also went back to the original Charles Addams illustrations. That was certainly something that we talked to Tim about, and he was a huge fan of Charles Addams growing up. Looking at his body of work, it’s so fresh, acerbic, subversive, morbid, fun. There are production design elements we literally ripped out of his panels, which we thought would be a really fun Easter egg for people who do know Charles Addams and can reference that. Even casting Christina Ricci was just something that we felt was such a delicious moment to have the two Wednesdays in a scene together. It’s something we always think it’s a great thing. In Smallville, we had Christopher Reed come in in season one, and it was such an amazing episode. I think it really joins the generations of fans, and it’s something that we definitely feel pleased about and proud of.
Wednesday sort of dialed into the Latin family experience more than some of the previous versions. What went into that creative decision?
Gough: Well, it seemed like something that had been alluded to in a lot of other versions, but nobody had ever actually come out and done it. They cast Raul Julia obviously as Gomez in the film, and we just thought it was something that we wanted to lean into more and have as a piece of this new version of Wednesday and to sort of honor that and represent that. So, that’s really where that came from.
I was blown away by the finale and did not expect Tyler to be the Hyde and throwing in the plot twist of Christina Ricci’s Thornhill/Laurel Gates was even more shocking. What was the creative process like in making those decisions?
Millar: Well, Al and I had never done a whodunnit, so it was something we were really excited to try. It was actually much more complicated and difficult than we anticipated just in terms that you wanna make sure that if you look back at the show that there are no loose ends. There’s no — we call it Fight Club moments — where it’s like, “Well, that couldn’t have happened.” It was definitely a jigsaw puzzle. And so we had all eight episodes complete, and then we could really make sure that all the red herrings were there, and it felt like a complete mystery, but then we didn’t know it was gonna work until an actual audience saw it. So, it’s actually a real nail-biter when you do a whodunnit because it could be so obvious. Then, when we cast Christina, it was like, “Oh, is gonna be like the guest star, who is clearly the bad guy?” which often is the case. But it’s so gratifying to hear that people were really into the mystery, and the red herrings were working. It could be that person. It could be that person. Misdirect. So that’s literally the most satisfying thing about the show for us. It’s the thing we were most worried about.
You mentioned that you had never done it whodunnit before. Did you take inspiration from any previous whodunnit stories in some capacity?
Millar: Well, just in the classic Agatha Christie detective novels in terms of it feels like she is such an iconic writer, and Wednesday is a budding crime writer as well. Anything from Murder, She Wrote to the Agatha Christie.
Gough: It was just always having enough red herrings. It was like, once you kind of figure out the mystery, that you could actually say, “Here’s the mystery” in a couple of lines, then it was how you could complicate it. As Miles said, it’s one thing to do it on the page, but then once you get into the casting, and then once you’re shooting it, there were a couple times where we would go back and sort of add a few other little touches to scenes or other things to make sure that the arrows weren’t suddenly pointing to one person or another.
You mentioned not including any loose ends. There are definitely some whodunnits that do have loose ends, so you could have taken that route — ahem, The White Lotus season two. Why did you decide not to go that route?
Millar: Well, I think for us, it’s always about feeling that the season, because there’s only eight episodes, it feels like a book, so it feels complete and really satisfying. When you reach the end of a series, you wanna feel satisfied that the story is told. It’s about tying up those loose ends, and then you want expectations and cliffhangers for questions for the next season but really wrapping this mystery up, so we can really begin with a whole new mystery next season.
When it comes to Laurel Gates’ efforts to eliminate the supernatural creatures and the misfits, what sort of underlying points were you trying to make there?
Gough: We think the nice thing about genre is that you can tell a lot of different stories, and you can touch on a lot of different topics without feeling like you’re trying to hit somebody over the head. So obviously, the whole idea of outcasts living in this world and people knowing that they’re outcasts, and then how were they treated? And then having Crackstone and the history that they know, but what’s the history that really happened? And the Gates family, ’cause they went all the way back to Crackstone, was really an extension of that. So, it was really interesting. It was telling that story of kind of a bigoted family trying to expunge their town of people who aren’t like them in its kind of simplest form.
The concept of all these kids with powers going to school together was kind of reminiscent of Percy Jackson and Harry Potter. Did you take inspiration from any YA stories like that?
Millar: We’ve always loved the genre and Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, certainly, but I think, for us, Stephen King and Tim Burton because Tim wasn’t on the project when we first started it and created it. The Stephen King element of small towns and teenage emotions run rampant felt like was sort of the elements that [we went for], and then Charles Addams, so those things were really what inspired us. It wasn’t any homage to Percy Jackson or anything like that, or Harry Potter, but as soon you get to boarding school, the comparisons are there.
We wrestled with that initially, in terms of, if we’re doing the teenage Wednesday Addams, is it funny if she’s the fish out of water in a regular high school? But then we felt like every day should get back to the family, and we sort of wanted her out of the family. And then the other thing about the boarding school offered was boarding in the world of the Addams Family. So you see, where did Gomez and Morticia go to school? What is that? How do these people exist in this real world? So, it excited us in terms of opened and expanded the world of the Addams Family, and that’s something, I think, certainly, people have been intrigued by. Now we have the opportunity in future seasons to really expand that world, and what’s great is that no one’s really explored this part of the Addams Family, so it really is a fresh canvas, which we’re excited to be able to draw on.
Speaking of Nevermore Academy. It’s closed now at the end of season one. So, if you were to get a season two — which I’m almost certain you will — what comes next for Wednesday, Xavier, Enid, Bianca and the rest of the students?
Gough: We wanna sort of explore and sort of complicate all of those relationships going forward. The school was closed when they left, which gave us the most possibilities for season two, and I think that’s something that we’re excited to explore. For us, the show also is really about this female friendship, with Wednesday and Enid really being at the center of that. The fact that they really connected with audiences, it has been really gratifying. So, we’re excited to explore now that Wednesday’s dipped her toe into the friendship pool, what’s that gonna look like? It’s like, she hugged. That was her big arc for the season, right? So it’s like now, we do that. Then, the other thing that’s really interesting is to continue to explore the Wednesday-Morticia mother-daughter relationship as well, which now that Morticia knows about the power, it has given her sort of an idea of how that’s going to go. How is their relationship going to evolve?
Millar: One of the other elements is that Al and I have always loved the Addams Family and this character in particular, but we’re also the father of four daughters between us. So, we have definitely culled from life for this one, and I think we’re definitely inspired to write or find a teen girl character like this, who’s so rare, who’s so self-confident, literate, smart, weird and unapologetic about all those things. Often, teen girls can start off as an ugly duckling, and they blossom into a swan, whereas here Wednesday is fully formed. I think it’s such an amazing aspirational role model to see this character. It’s so rare to see a female teen protagonist like this, and it’s something that has been really gratifying to hear our daughters and their friends talk about the show in this way. It’s really hit that target in a really positive way, even though she is so morbid and dark and kooky and crazy, but she’s actually an incredibly positive force in her world and our world. So, that’s something that I really love about this show, that it’s actually put something very positive out there.
Wednesday tipped her toe in friendship. She also dipped her toe in romance with Tyler, and there was some will-they-won’t-they with her and Xavier. Some users online are even hoping that Enid and Wednesday are endgame. Were you going for that at all at any point, or did you want to solely focus on their friendship?
Millar: As Al said, this idea of sisterhood is key to the show. We’re not gonna discount anything, and, obviously, sometimes characters reveal themselves, which is the fun thing we love about television, that it’s an organic journey. We have a roadmap, and we’d like to have routes along that map that take you in unexpected directions. So, we’re open to everything. We wanna explore that friendship in every way, but we’re not gonna be, this is where you sometimes get misdirected by fans and things like that, so it’s just being really open to see how those characters develop and that friendship. As Al said, that friendship is key to our sort of vision of the show.
If I remember correctly, Wednesday and Morticia didn’t clash as much in previous Addams Family iterations as they did in this show. Why did you decide to write their relationship that way?
Gough: They didn’t, but she was a little girl in the other shows. As Miles said, we have four daughters, and we’ve kind of watched the relationship between our daughters and our wives evolve. There does come that point where she’s trying to break away from who her mother is, or who she thinks her mother is and try to forge her own identity. And I think that’s really where we find Wednesday and Morticia. Obviously, Morticia is very kind of taken aback by this because I think Morticia is somebody that [thinks] everybody loves Morticia, so she can’t understand what is happening here. It’s really gonna be a journey of Morticia accepting Wednesday for who she is. She’s not a carbon copy of her. So, I think it’ll be a really interesting journey.
Millar: Also on Wednesday’s side, what’s amazing is casting someone like Catherine Zeta-Jones, who’s an Oscar-winning actress. She’s so glamorous and beautiful and so charismatic. So, to have someone like that as your mother, that’s a huge shadow she casts. So, I think that’s for Wednesday as well, something that she’s dealing with. I think what’s great about the Addams Family is the sense that they absolutely, 100 percent love each other. They’re the weirdest, most functional family on the planet, which is something that’s aspirational, but still, everyone’s gonna forge their own identity, and for Wednesday, that’s very important, something that’s very vital to her. So, I think the shadow that Morticia casts is something that Wednesday needs to feel she has to escape.
If it were up to you, how long would you want this show to keep running?
Gough: Well, the beauty of television is you could go on for many seasons, which we’ve done before. What’s also fun is the more you go, the world and the stories kind of reveal themselves. So, it’s actually something that we enjoy doing, and you also have that special relationship with an audience when they’re invested in these characters over a period of years. So, we’d like it to go on for as long as it can.
A few weeks ago, reports surfaced about Jenna awaiting COVID test results while filming the iconic dance scene. What went into the decision to have her film pending results instead of just waiting?
Millar: What we can say is that we had extremely stringent COVID protocols that were enforced all the way through the dance. Jenna tested negative the day before, and only when a positive test came back, and as soon as it did, she was escorted off the set and went into quarantine for I think 10 days. It’s one of those Chinese whispers elements. Every test, every protocol was explicitly followed, and there was no compromising of that in any decision to keep filming and film Jenna ill or sick, it was never a discussion. If she had been, we would’ve closed and let her rest, the health and well-being of the cast and crew was and always is paramount to us and everybody at MGM and Netflix. So, it was one of those things that basically was sort of blown out of proportion in terms of a story, which we understand, but the facts speak for themselves in terms of every protocol was followed, and the protocols were stringent in terms of double-masking, PCR tests every single day.
This was the most time anyone had ever spent with Wednesday, and Smallville was sort of the most time anyone had spent with a young Clark Kent at the time. What is it that draws you to tell these young stories about people that society has grown to know and care for in pop culture?
Gough: When I was a kid at school, they used to have these books that talked about historical figures when they were younger before they were the famous people that you know, so I certainly think that getting under the hood of who these iconic characters are, ’cause there’s so many things that are just givens, like with Clark Kent. It’s just like, he’s a good person. He grew up in a small town. He puts on glasses, and nobody recognizes him. It’s just like all of these things that are just givens. It’s just sort of like everybody was told that a long time ago, and nobody ever really kind of kicked the tires on it. And I think with Wednesday, it’s the same thing. She is a certain way. But it’s interesting to go, “Well, why are these people this way? What makes them tick? And how can you tell these chapters that nobody’s told before?” Part of it too is, as a storyteller, you’re always looking for a story nobody’s told before. And I mean, it was crazy in Superman, the thousands of comics and many, many years before we came along with Smallville that nobody had ever told this chapter of Clark Kent’s life. So, for us, it was just great.
Millar: I mean, also, how do you add emotional complexity to these iconic characters? Wednesday seems like a one-note character, and I’ve always found Clark Kent a one-note character. He’s just sort of a goody, goody, and Wednesday’s sort of just a snarky kid. So how do you, as a writer, take characters like those — kind of like extremes by the way — and then make them feel human? I think that really was our goal. Any writer’s goal is to make characters that feel human and real and have emotional complexity. That’s what is a fascinating journey as you begin to develop these stories and think about how did they become [the people they became]? In Clark’s case, how did he become the man he becomes, just a superhero, who is all about doing good for the world? And then Wednesday, the journey there is, we don’t know where it’s gonna go. No one’s ever seen adult Wednesday. So that’s really exciting in terms of like, we get to tell that story. How does she evolve into a woman, and how do you do that without diluting the essence of Wednesday? Her bandwidth of change, you never wanna change Wednesday too much. You wanna see her evolve, but she is a very particular kind of person, and we never want to change that.
Smallville‘s themes were very small-town Americana, and Wednesday had a little bit of that too with Jericho, but also explored a different group of people. What did you take from your time on Smallville that you brought to Wednesday?
Gough: I think it was a couple things. I think one was the mixture of a lot of different tones. Like you could be an action-adventure show in Smallville, you can be a family drama, you could be a teen romance, you could be a horror show sometimes or a mystery. So, I think it was really kind of evolving that sort of mix of tones in one show that I think we then took to Wednesday and refined because like Miles said, she’s a completely different character. Clark is innately good, and that’s the one thing that you always had to kind of [stick to]. That was really a show about was puberty with superpowers and a show about extreme parenting. Clark is who he is because of the parents who found him. If he had landed in the different cornfield and had been found by Lionel Luthor, he would have grown up to be a different person. His powers are always going to be his powers, but who was the person he was going to become? And how did the Kents inform that? One of the things there that we wanted to do was we made the Kents younger, because in the comics, they were always like grandparents, and we liked him having younger parents, and they had stories.
Much like Wednesday, it’s a show that families watch together. They used to joke at the WB, it was a dads and daughters show. The daughters love the romance and Clark, and the dads love Superman. But it was always a co-viewing kind of experience, which I think is something you can never plan for. But that’s something that we anecdotally — and from Netflix — we’ve heard that that’s something, too, for people. [Wednesday is] a show that the whole family can watch together.
Millar: Adults and kids can get something out of it and both enjoy, and that’s something that’s a real privilege to do today that you create something that families can watch together, and that it’s the sense of community and sharing and something that is meaningful to everybody is really such a rare thing. I know in my house, it’s a very rare occasion we sit down and watch something together. So, I think, as Al said, that’s something you may hope for, but it’s not something you can plan for. I think the juggling of tones is something that is very true of Smallville, and this one has the added tone of much more obviously comedic, so that’s an element I think sets the show apart from Smallville. Wednesday is innately funny and also very smart, so the lot of literary references and making sure that she really feels authentic to herself, so there’s similarities in terms of those characters, in terms of really fleshing out and making them feel real.
Gough: In Smallville, it was Clark had the secret, and nobody else really knew in the town. Even though there were other people that would be infected by kryptonite, it was all very secretive. Where I think what’s interesting with Jericho is they know the school exists. They know these kids have powers. So now it’s like once that’s out in the world, how does the world react to it? So definitely, I think there’s a little more about community there than Smallville, which is just really about Clark and his family protecting this secret.
Millar: We always see genre as an allegory for something that’s very relevant, and so Smallville is about a closeted teen who can’t share his secret. So, it’s basically a gay allegory as well, for a boy who can’t express himself, and parents who deeply supported of him, and also, it’s about the ultimate illegal immigrant who then becomes the savior of the country. So, he becomes the ultimate American patriot. So it’s sort of those two themes throughout Smallville and the celebration of Americana as well.
Then, Wednesday is also a celebration of otherness and the different forms it takes and a celebration of being proud of that. Everyone sees Wednesday is an aspirational character. Everyone sees themselves as an outsider. So, she’s the ultimate outsider. In a school of outcasts, she is the ultimate outcast. So. I think that’s something that thematically works for right now as well in terms of very modern theme that is resonating, and it’s something that is the underlay of the series, but isn’t something that is preferred.
Smallville premiered over 20 years ago. Looking back on it now, what comes to mind when you think of your time on the show and how it’s played out in the rest of your career?
Millar: It was old school network television. You’re sitting down, and you’re gonna write 22 episodes, and that’s a daunting task for any writers room and any showrunner or creator. It’s a lot of story to tell that we definitely always wanted to stretch everything in terms of push the limits of visual effects, push the limits on action, push the limits. How does the show look like a movie on TV? Everything about it was highly ambitious, and I think that’s something, even 22 years later, we’re doing it in a different way, but it’s also radically different. You’re making eight episodes, and each episode, you could shoot four episodes of Smallville in the space it takes to do a single episode of this show. So, it’s just every episode here is like a little Fabergé egg that has to feel like a really just most intricate movie, but it’s a great challenge, and both have wonderful elements, but they’re different animals is I guess what I’m saying. It’s very different producing Smallville episodes to producing an episode of Wednesday.
Gough: Like Miles said, Wednesday is really chapters in a book, and Smallville, with the network television schedule, is sort of short stories in the world, that you would then tie it together with a couple episodes of mythology each season. Again, you never know why a show is going to really resonate, that show premiered a month after 9/11, so it was kind of a novelty before that, even in the press, it was kind of treated as though like, what are they doing? Superman in high school? And then after 9/11, it was kind of comfort food. It was like comfort food for the American soul because it was about Americana, and everybody knew Superman. So it’s about good and evil. And so I think it was just it was a tragedy, but it was a show that just kind of came along at the right time.
Millar: It was really moving. We used to get a lot of letters from military personnel, who were stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, that it was a highlight of their week, watching the show. So, it was a really different time in terms of that, and the show just hit that need in terms of American comfort food. It’s mac and cheese on TV. It just felt like what they needed. This one, I think also, it’s hit at the right time, and this idea that everyone feels, maybe it’s post-pandemic, it feels that it’s about the outsider, but it’s also fun. After something like Dahmer, which is a really dark place to go to, this is just a really delicious, light, spicy snack.
Is there anything you would do differently on Smallville?
Gough: The Clark-Lana thing played out way too long. Something else had to happen there. I think that was one that got a little repetitive. My younger daughter is now, finally after Wednesday, she’s going back to watch Smallville, and she’s in season two. She goes, “What’s the deal with these two?” I’m like, “It was a different time.” So, I think there are things there, if we went back, we probably would be a little more adventurous with some of those relationships and bring them to certain heads and let them play out.
Millar: We were definitely cautious and just very conscious of the fact we wanted to get to five seasons, and we ended up at 10 seasons, but we’re just like, “OK, if we split them apart, what are we gonna do?” Again, as the father of girls, I think the female characters we would do differently today. I think Lana, her agency was not there. She could have been a much stronger character, and she always felt put in positions of weakness. It’s a different era, a different time. So, that’s something I think we could have done and would definitely look at to do better.
With a lot of reboots and remakes happening, would you ever want to revisit Smallville in some way?
Gough: To be honest, no. I think we told that story, and they’re always refreshing Superman. I just read last night that James Gunn’s writing a new younger Superman movie, and I’m like, “OK.” I feel like we were very, very fortunate to do the show when we did it because we got to make the show we wanted to make, and frankly, there was no committee sitting over us telling us what we could or couldn’t do. I mean, we had Warner’s features, who wouldn’t give us certain characters that we wanted, but we got to make the show we wanted to make which we wouldn’t be allowed to make that show today. There were so many deviations from the canon. One generation’s heresy is the next generation’s gospel.
Millar: The whole premise of the show was not canon. The idea that Clark arrived in the meteor shower that killed people, and that Lex was there. All those things were completely new, added to the mythology of Superman, but we categorically would not be allowed to make that show and make those changes today, which is a real tragedy because I think what’s amazing if you look at the history of comics and these characters, is they’re always evolving. They never stand still, and the idea that there’s a certain canon you have to [follow], it’s actually leading to stagnation in terms of the ideas. Some of it’s, there’s obviously the cat calls from fandom, which people probably listen to too much that really, really has led to self-censoring, and we were still very privileged to have had that moment where we were actually free to do whatever we wanted, and it was it was amazing and very liberating.
You mentioned James Gunn now writing the young Superman movie. Do you have any advice for him after writing Clark Kent for 10 years?
Gough: I’m not giving James Gunn any advice. He doesn’t need our advice. He’s a fantastic filmmaker. He’s doesn’t need our advice. He knows he knows what he’s doing. (Laughs)
Whose young story would you want to tell next?
Gough: Oh, that’s interesting.
Millar: Well, we tried for a long time to get a young Miss Marple, and maybe that influenced us with the whodunnit element here, but it’s certainly something that was intriguing as a character who you always see. There’s something about whodunnits and mysteries that it’s a great puzzle for a writer to solve. So, I think that was something, to see how she evolved into sort of the nosy old lady in Agatha Christie was something we talked about for a while.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.