Wednesday: Did Netflix Just Find Its New Stranger Things?

Could Jenna Ortega’s Addams Family spinoff, Wednesday, replace Stranger Things as the biggest show on Netflix?

Jenna Ortega covered in blood at dance in Wednesday
Photo: Netflix

The fifth season of Stranger Things will be the last for the flagship Netflix series, but fret not, for it appears that the streamer has found something… stranger. Wednesday certainly appears to be bigger after its first week of release, in any case.

Netflix confirmed as much when the company trumpeted viewing data for the Jenna Ortega series late Tuesday afternoon. According to the streaming service, Wednesday chalked up 341.2 million hours of viewership in its first seven days, as per Netflix’s own internal analytics. This topples the record previously set by Stranger Things 4 back in late May/early June of this year, as well as any other English language series. However, it is still under Netflix’s all-time record holder, last year’s Squid Game, a drama in the Korean language that totaled 571.76 million hours of viewership in its first week.

These are absolutely staggering numbers for Wednesday, which is also currently ranked as “No. 1” in 83 countries, and a resounding vote of confidence for a series that seemed fairly high-concept when it was previously announced in 2020. Back then, it seemed a bit bizarre that director Tim Burton would finally tackle the Addams Family characters—an intellectual property he flirted with adapting as a film series in both the 1990s and 2000s—but as a television series spinoff titled “Wednesday.”

Yet the eventual Young Adult series, which was created by showrunners Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (Burton is also attached as an executive producer), proved to be made of its own dark magic. By combining the acerbic dark humor of the original Charles Addams New Yorker cartoons (plus the classic ‘90s family movies) with the formula of recent YA murder mystery shows, Wednesday has threaded a needle and struck a nerve. Indeed, the new series features Burton’s typically family-friendly Gothic aesthetic but also a plot line that wouldn’t be out of place in a Harry Potter movie.

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Perhaps most important to its success, however, was the sharp casting of Ortega as a now teenage Wednesday Addams. Ruthlessly brutal in her deadpan comic timing and literally unblinking in her thousand-yard death stare in every scene, Ortega seemed to fulfill the character’s destiny of becoming a Goth icon, as well as create an impressive star turn for the young actor. Genuinely, we expect Wednesday’s already viral dance sequence in the first season to become the stuff of Halloween party legend, which is all the more impressive since Ortega apparently choreographed the entire scene herself at Burton’s urging.

The show’s success also seems to come at a pivotal moment for Netflix as the streamer’s search for “the next Stranger Things” is reaching a precarious moment. While Stranger Things is expected to expand into a larger shared universe, as per its creators the Duffer Brothers, spinoffs are never a guarantee for continued success. And similar attempts to mix genre trappings, including horror, with YA storytelling and buckets of nostalgia have proved elusive in garnering a massive audience for multiple streaming shows, be it by way of Netflix’s own The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (which was a clear influence on Wednesday) or Amazon’s deceased Paper Girls.

While Wednesday is a different animal than Stranger Things, with the new show being both more cartoonish (as befitting its source material) and more formulaic in its serialized YA storytelling, it has struck a pop culture nerve in its first week of release. One might even wonder if the nostalgia for The Addams Family—as in the 1991 movie and its immediate sequel two years later—is stronger than folks realized, with those films hitting the same 30-year anniversaries that strengthened the appeal Stranger Things’ earliest touchstones, such as Ghostbusters, E.T., and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Or maybe folks just like Ortega’s dance moves?

Either way, Wednesday’s early success suggests Netflix’s days of dominating the streaming wars with a water cooler show that appeals to multiple generations and demographics are not behind them just yet. That’s something to snap your fingers about.