The Addams Family (1964-66): Season 1

Synopsis: They’re creepy and they’re kooky, mysterious and spooky! The Addams Family, America’s first family of ghastly giddiness, are here in all of their ghoulish glory in the original TV series based on the delightfully demented imagination of Charles Addams. Tarantulas, torture racks, and tombstones have never been so much fun! Join Gomez, Morticia, Uncle Fester, Lurch, Cousin Itt, and the rest of the gang for a fiendishly funny and altogether ooky experience. It’s time to pay a call on…The Addams Family!

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The Addams Family (1964-66): Season 1 7.75

eyelights: Morticia Addams. Gomez Addams. Morticia and Gomez’s relationship. the Addamses’ quirks. the shows’ silly black humour. Vic Mizzy’s theme and score.
eyesores: its repetitive gags. its grating laugh track.

“They’re creepy and they’re kooky,
Mysterious and spooky,
They’re all together ooky,
The Addams Family.”

I’m a huge fan of ‘The Addams Family’, the original 1964-66 series that ran concurrently with ‘The Munsters‘. Though I also like the movies, they’re darker than the show, which was far kookier. I really enjoy its irreverence and unconventional perspective on modern human relationships.

I feel at home with the Addamses.

I like the show so much, in fact, that I’ve been averse to exploring the other shows that were spun from Charles Addams’ twisted imagination. Though I’m admittedly a fan of its movie counterparts, I have a daunting feeling that the other shows would pale in comparison – at least, in my eyes.

There are two reasons.

The first is the show’s oddball humour. Though I also love its mildly morbid streak, it’s the weirdness that amuses me most. Where else would you find a wall-mounted swordfish with a foot in its gullet? Where else would you find a (potentially) disembodied hand wandering about the house?

Though the writers often rested on fish-out-water scenarios or simply had the Addamses do the opposite of what was considered typical, they also threw in the most nonsensical, absurdist touches, like Gomez’s counter-intuitive business sense or Lurch being beckoned from right off-frame.

I adore absurdist comedy (hence why I’m such a fan of Monty Python or movies such as ‘The Big Lebowski‘), so the Addamses’ outright peculiar world is completely in keeping with my brand of humour. If it doesn’t make sense at all, or it’s counter-intuitive, I will likely get a good laugh.

It’s quite surprising just how sharp some of the dialogues are, given that it’s a show which is often compared to ‘The Munsters’, a severely low-brow kiddies show. I’m frequently quite impressed by the funny and/or clever turns of phrase that the writers peppered the show with.

The second reason why I love ‘The Addams Family’ so much concerns its cast of colourful characters and the performers that incarnated them. Though they’ve been revisited in various iterations through the years, it’s this particular combination that makes me such a fan of the show.

  • Gomez: The family patriarch, Gomez Addams is a vivacious, playful character whose eyes are so overflowing with zest for life that they swallow the screen whole. It’s not uncommon to find him in yoga poses, standing on his head or fencing in the living room.

He’s rarely fazed by any misfortune and even relishes the challenges brought forth by them. For example, his business sense is so counter-intuitive that he’s frequently heard celebrating his losses. It’s hard to imagine that the Addamses remain wealthy with his acumen.

But, somehow, they do.

My favourite part about Gomez is how totally enamoured he is with his partner, Morticia; he’s always devouring her with his eyes, and the moment that she speaks French to him, he can’t help but lavish her outstretched arm with kisses. This guy is in LOVE, all in CAPS.

Awww…

John Astin is brilliant in the part, as he seems ready and eager for anything; he goes all out and he really seems to be enjoying himself. Of course, that could just be the mark of a good actor, but he consistently has a glint in his eye that suggests he’s digging it.

He’s perfect.

  • Morticia: Morticia is the Addams matriarch, and was considered the head of the family in the cartoon series. Perhaps it’s a sign of TV times, but the balance of power was slightly shifted to Gomez for the show, though they’re nearly on equal footing.

Unlike the cartoon version, who is elegant but withered, this Morticia is absolutely lovely, like a delicate flower wrapped in black. No matter what happens, she’s always composed, pleasant, and pristine; she’s the grounding element of the Addams clan.

It doesn’t prevent her from being eccentric as well, however: watch as she trims the heads off roses, knits bizarre outfits for friends and family or feeds her beloved carnivorous plants. She may be the quiet one, but she certainly isn’t lacking in quirky personality.

One could easily dismiss her as an Ice Queen, but the sexual tension between she and Gomez is always brimming right below the surface. Her eyes light up at her partner’s amourous advances and she takes delight in his many endeavours, successful or not.

Together, the pair are saccharine incarnate.

(Laced with a touch of cyanide for taste, naturellement)

Carolyn Jones is superb in the part. The role doesn’t make any extreme demands of her, so she conveys everything through subtle gestures and expressions. She’s the perfect counterpart for Astin, whose exuberance could only be balanced by her levelheadedness.

  • Wednesday: Wednesday is the daughter of Gomez and Morticia. She’s a cutesy little thing with braids on either side of her head. She seems like the perfect little girl, but she has ghoulish predilections, playing with a headless doll whom she calls Marie-Antoinette.

She’s not much of a character in the show, only popping up from time to time to pepper the cauldron, but she’s adorable. Unfortunately, Lisa Loring isn’t entirely credible here, her delivery being fairly typical for a six-year-old actress. But she still has presence.

  • Pugsley: Gomez and Morticia’s son, Pugsley is a doughey young simpleton who plays with explosives, his pet octopus and torture devices. He seems a bit vacant, as opposed to the cartoon version, which made him out to be a more sinister, cruel and malicious type.

Pugsley is even less of a character than Wednesday, and is all bland, flavourless – when he even gets screen time. Ken Weatherwax’s performance doesn’t help matters much, as he’s just there, feebly spilling out his lines if need be. Let’s just say that Pugsley isn’t missed much.

  • Uncle Fester: Uncle Fester is the most colourful family member aside for Gomez. A bald, pale, rotund man with dark recesses encircling his eyes, he’s also the least scrupulous of the lot; he’s prone to letting the end justify the means – and would, if not for Gomez and Morticia.

In that sense, he’s probably the closest to Addams’ original version.

His biggest gimmick is lighting a lightbulb with his mouth, something he does far too frequently over the course of the season – if not throughout each episode. Like Pugsley, he also likes to play with explosives – when he’s not relaxing on a bed of nails or having his head popped.

Screen legend Jackie Coogan incarnates Fester and he’s absolutely perfect, grimacing wildly and speaking in a high-pitched screech that befits his offbeat character. If only he’d been given better material to work with by the writers, Fester would have been far more enjoyable

  • Grandmama: A secondary character who usually shows up with Fester but who takes a backseat to him, Grandmama is a haggard old woman who dabbles in spellcasting and fortune telling, to various degrees of success. She can frequently be found in the playroom (i.e. torture chamber).

Blossom Rock is perfectly fine in the part of Grandmama. She doesn’t stand out or rock the boat in any way, which is probably appropriate; she makes Grandmama seem sweet but is somewhat forgettable. She essentially offers a solid but understated comic performance.

  • Lurch: Lurch is the Addamses’ butler, and though he plays a minimal part in the proceedings, he literally and figuratively towers over every moment he’s in. He’s a grim, sullen, moody giant who’s happy working for the Addamses and delights in playing his harpsichord.

Though his gags are repetitive, I can’t get enough of them. I love seeing him flatly respond to the door or to the Addamses with a creepy “You rang?”. I chuckle madly when he wipes the hats off guests’ heads. And his groans and glares of disgust for everything are a delight.

And, of course, I adore that he always walks in from just outside the frame when beckoned. It mocks a TV cliché (how often are characters on standby, ready to appear?), for starters, but it’s also nonsensical (was he invisible to the Addamses before he stepped up?), which I love.

Ted Cassidy isn’t as bulky at the cartoon version of Lurch, who more closely resembles Boris Karlof’s Frankenstein’s monster, but he has the height and the right tone and physicality. Frankly, I can’t imagine anyone else doing the part nearly as effectively; he’s just perfect for it.

  • Thing: Is just a hand. Thing is handy, popping up from one of the many small trap doors around the house to assist in holding or doing something for the Addamses. We don’t know if there’s someone attached to the hand or not, but we never see or hear him/her/it.

Thing is the biggest departure from Charles Addams’ originals; in the cartoon, Thing was a character who always stayed in the background, looking on as the family did their thing. Why it was changed for the show is unclear, but it adds a surreal component that’s quite welcome.

Though there’s not much that can be done with just a disembodied hand, and the gags become repetitive, Thing is nearly omnipresent, adding a touch (!) of weirdness to any Addams activity. It would be strange to think of the family without the friendly manus.

  • The House: Though it’s not a character, per se, the Addamses’ home defines them nearly as much as their membership: an aged Victorian-style mansion, surrounded by a metallic gate, it’s set near a cemetery and a swamp, some of the Addamses’ favourite hangouts.

The mansion isn’t scary so much as it is weird: the gate opens and closes by itself, the doorknob stretches out, the main living area is decorated with all sorts of oddities, the greenhouse is filled with African Stranglers and the family playroom is a torture chamber.

The family is very proud of their home; Wednesday tells visitors “We like it; it’s so nice and gloomy”. But, if anything makes the place look grim, it’s really just the show’s monochrome, which makes even the most outlandish parts of the house seem grey or monotone.

What’s interesting about the Addamses is that they’re not at all malicious or evil; they’re actually all good-natured and well-meaning. They’re just completely eccentric and unable to comprehend why the rest of the world misunderstands them so. In fact, they think that everyone else is weird.

It’s a great part of why I like them so much: the Addamses define themselves by their own terms and seek comfort in their own brand of pleasure. They’re essentially a zen hub of misfits who would probably be family even if they weren’t related; they’re at home when they are together.

The setting is almost always the same, with the Addamses rarely leaving the comfort of their beloved mansion. People come to them. We’re sometimes shown other locations when we’re introduced to or follow those secondary characters, but the plots and gags fuel the episodes.

Almost each half-hour episode is a two-parter of sorts, often beginning with an initial concern or conflict, which later leads to the introduction of secondary characters and/or a secondary matter to resolve. In some ways, they come off as two short episodes seamlessly woven together.

My favourite episodes were:

1. The Addams Family Goes to School: Directed by Arthur Hiller, the opening episode introduces us to our offbeat TV family: a disembodied hand grabs the mail from the mailman, and then a truant officer comes for the two children who have never been to school, and is given a tour of the house by a morbid little girl, is introduced to Ms. Addams in the conservatory, who then calls on Lurch to get Gomez. Gomez’s verbal repartee is superior to the truant officer’s, arguing every point and counterpoint ably. Then the officer is brought to Grandmama, who handles the education, and Uncle Fester, who together scare him off. But they eventually decide to send the kids to school, to mixed results.

It’s a great opening salvo to the series, setting up recurring gags like the gate opening and closing by itself, the doorknob stretching out, Morticia’s rose-pruning, Lurch’s playing, Fester’s lightbulb, …etc. Gomez’s wackiness and mad genius puts a broad smile on my face.

3. Fester’s Punctured Romance: Gomez discovers that Fester’s been stealing the paper these past four days; he’s been feeling unwanted and has been answering personals ads, hoping to find a bride. Morticia and Gomez try to help, and together they build up excitement about his upcoming nuptials – even though he doesn’t have a bride yet. Then a cosmetics saleslady pops by and, due to a misunderstanding, Fester thinks she’s ready to move in. Alas, she’s not attractive by Addams standards.

The episode is fun because we see real glimpses of Gomez and Morticia’s fervent desire for one another, because there are discussions of the many Addams relatives, alive and dead, and due to the many misunderstandings that fuel the humour. It’s fun.

5. The Addams Family Tree: Wednesday and Pugsley are going to a local kid’s birthday. They return after a fight – the Addamses were insulted as kooks, and the tarantula that Pugsley brought as a gift wasn’t appreciated one bit. The Pomeroys come by later asking for apologies. Apologies are exchanged and they have tea together while the kids play with a jaguar, dynamite, and in the torture chamber. They get in a fight again, so Gomez decides to get a genealogy tree made to prove the family’s worth.

This one’s got excellent one-liners, like “…and the rest is taxidermy” after recounting the origin of the foot-stuffed fish. I also love how supportive and enamoured Gomez and Morticia are of each other. Romance is alive and well with the Addamess: Gomez takes advantage of the kids’ absence to sweep Morticia off her feet. Nice. And watching them fence together is a gas.

22. Amnesia in the Addams Family: While exercising with Indian clubs, Gomez smacks himself in the noggin’, getting amnesia. Now he’s “normal” and reacts poorly to Morticia’s fashion sense (he even buys her a ghastly new wardrobe – all white), the décor, Lurch, …etc. “There’s a touch of madness around here!”, he exclaims to everyone’s bemusement. No one knows what to do. Fester clobbers him and he returns to his old self. But Lurch has the same idea. And so does Grandmama. And Pugsley. And Morticia. Then he trips and bashes himself back into fine form – but now Fester has amnesia.

It’s a kooky episode that gets quite a lot of laughs. I especially liked their use of voiceover internal monologues to convey the characters’ thoughts. It worked really well here.

29. Morticia’s Favorite Charity: Gomez and Morticia are going through their things to donate to the bazaar. They decide to give their most precious possessions in the spirit of giving. Unfortunately, the bazaar’s organizers are reticent to take any of it. Morticia is very insistent that they all give until it hurts, so Fester comes up with a plan to get his cherished stuff back. In the chaos, Gomez thinks a plant ate Pugsley while Pugsley is sulking in the chimney because they gave his wolf’s head clock. So Morticia goes to the auction to buy it back. But Gomez has the same idea and they outbid each other – only to lose to an eccentric. But all’s well that ends well, of course.

Frankly, I adore the family’s good intentions (they are the sweetest, nicest people – despite being odd) and their actions have real consequences. The auction got a bit silly though.

34. Winning of Morticia Addams: Morticia and Gomez are super in love, but Fester reads an article saying that the happiest couples are hiding misery. He’s concerned. He thinks that he and the others will have to make the lovey-dovey couple fight to let off all of this “pent up steam” and then make up. But their various ploys fail. So Fester invites the article’s author, a French psychologist, to come observe them. He hits on Morticia (duh… he’s French, and has been married five times) and Gomez challenges him to a duel (duh… he’s French – of course, he fences!).

The appeal for me is that Morticia and Gomez are so adorable together, so into each other. And I love how Gomez takes everything in stride, remaining lively and optimistic despite the odds and challenges. That’s the life and outlook I want. Anyway, it was a splendid closer to Season One.

The following were notable, if not memorable:

2. Morticia and the Psychiatrist: The family is troubled because Pugsley is wearing a Boy Scout uniform. Fester thinks that Gomez and Morticia have spoiled him with the playroom (a.k.a the torture chamber). Gomez then tells Morticia that he saw Pugsley playing with a baseball bat. Shivers. But they take a break to get frisky; she wants to show Gomez her new nightgown. Unfortunately, her mind’s on Pugsley, whom Gomez calls a “problem child”. They then see him playing with a puppy. They’re aghast. So Gomez has a chat with him, Morticia reads a bedtime story to him, hoping to get through. They eventually resort to a psychiatrist. That goes as expected.

Again, I love the way Gomez and Morticia look at each other; they nearly devour each other with their eyes. Yum. That’s so appealing. On the downside, Ken Weatherwax was terrible as Pugsley; he was a terrible actor, way worse than Lisa Loring as Wednesday. Fortunately, they’d both get better by Season Two.

4. Gomez the Politician: It’s convention time, and the Addamses are getting political: Gomez decides to back Sam Hilliard, the (former) truant officer from Episode One, and campaign for him. Hilliard freaks out; he wants nothing to do with the Addamses, but he can’t keep them away. Plus they have money and campaign ideas in trade. Gomez begins to write Hilliard’s speeches while Morticia assists him with the editing. Then the family go out in the field, openly campaigning for Hilliard, ruining his chances. Poor man.

This episode is fun because it shows the Addamses’ genuine willingness to help others – but not at all grasping the impact that they have. And what an impact! Plus it gets them out of the house a little bit, which confines them in many other episodes.

18. Uncle Fester’s Illness: Uncle Fester suddenly runs out of juice; this jeopardizes the family’s outing because Morticia needed him to power the kitchen and to light up the caves. Everyone but Morticia and Gomez are resentful of Fester for it. They suggest that moonbathing might help Fester. Then their vulture won’t eat, so they contact Dr. Mbogo in Africa. He no longer does house calls so they resignedly call a regular doctor. He’s also called upon to check Fester out, but he doesn’t know what to make of his blue tongue, explosive blood pressure, odd heartbeat, and subzero temperature – and is surprised that eating a mercury thermometer helps.

This is just a fun and silly episode.

19. The Addams Family Splurges: Fester is bored; he feels that nothing happens. So the family comes up with an outing that they haven’t tried yet: going the moon. They consult their financial adviser to see if they have the billion to spend. Not quite, so they get him to put 2K on some horse races (which, according to Fester’s calculations, will net them the amount needed). Except that, flustered by their requests, he refuses to and doesn’t tell them. Naturally, the horses all win… and he’s in a bind.

This episode shouldn’t be any good: going to the moon is ridiculous. And it’s really a product of its time, like the espionage episode. But it’s so wacky that it works – especially since the Addamses are so heartfelt and confident.

23. Thing Is Missing: Thing has been upset of late. Then he goes missing. The Addamses look for him everywhere, but can’t find him. Gomez is on the case, interrogating each family member. Nothing. And the cops won’t help. They put a Missing Persons ad in paper, which leads people to bring them all sorts of “things”. But not Thing. Then they receive a ransom note, so they hire Sam Diamond, detective, to find the culprit. They eventually discover that Thing felt neglected and set it all up.

A very predictable episode but it’s zesty and zippy. Of note, we see Morticia and Gomez play chess together, one of their many unconventional activities. Awesome sauce.

My least favourite episodes were:

8. Green-Eyed Gomez: Morticia’s old friend Lionel is coming to visit and she’s set up the whole place. But Lionel, who’s secretly a grifter, plans to scam them out of their money. Gomez is mildly jealous: to force Lionel to leave, Gomez and Fester rearrange the room to be homey and comfy, thinking that he’d hate it because they do. Then they hire a maid, hoping to seduce him – but she’s too eager, annoying him. So Gomez decides to coach her, but Morticia catches them and thinks he’s in love with the maid.

This episode is annoying because it’s unlikely: neither Gomez or Morticia are ever this insecure; they’re too tight to be shakey like this. The plot depends on things unsaid and poor logic. Plus the gags are corny. Meh.

13. Lurch Learns to Dance: Lurch receives his yearly invitation to the butlers’ ball and, as per usual, won’t go – because, as we soon discover, he can’t dance. Gomez and Morticia really think that he should get out more, so they hire a dance instructor. The dance studio sends a girl that they find too fresh and won’t normally employ, but she passes out upon seeing Lurch. So Wednesday eventually teaches him to dance. Then Morticia tries her hand at it. Then Gomez. Lurch eventually goes to the ball.

This episode is better than it has any right to be – but it’s still not great. The show that Lurch and Wednesday do for the family is embarrassingly bad, unwatchable. And his time under Morticia’s tutelage is also hard to watch.

14. Art and the Addams Family: Grandmama is very proud of her latest painting, so Gomez brings in an art critic friend of his to assess her work. Not a good idea, as it turns out. So Gomez asks Lurch to track down Picasso, whom he considers a real artist. They find Sam Picasso, from Spain, who was about to hang himself just as they called. They ask him to come move in with them, and he does (what else does he have on his plate?). They eventually discover who he is, but Gomez is keen on helping him produce so they set up a studio for him in the playroom – and he freaks out.

This is just a dumb episode. Not great.

16. The Addams Family Meets the Undercover Man: Pugsley has a powerful radio that they use to chat around the world with. But they’ve attracted attention from the U.S. secret service due to their weird correspondences. The secret service enlist the help of the local postman to get more info on the Addamses. Then they coax the local plumber and the Addamses get suspicious. So, coincidentally, they contact the CIA guy who sent their field agent in. When they discover that he’s behind it, they make a citizen’s arrest.

This one’s just the usual fish-out-of-water gags mixed with dumb contrivances. It doesn’t work.

27. The Addams Family and the Spacemen: Gomez and Morticia go out on a midnight picnic with Fester, Cousin Itt and Lurch. But there are reports of UFOs in their neighbourhood and the Mysterious Space Object HQ has been called in about it. They see Lurch and Itt in the backyard, mixing something in cauldron. They think that the pair are aliens while the Addamses think the MSO folks are Martians in disguise. After “capturing” the two Martians, the Addamses call the MSO HQ and its head comes in to see. Hilarity abounds. Not.

It’s a silly episode and very average stuff. Interesting note, though, is that Gomez and Morticia smoke from a hookah pipe together. That would have been odd back then.

28. My Son the Chimp: An organ grinder’s monkey goes into the Addamses’ property when the gate opens. No one wants to see Pugsley’s card tricks and he’s a bit lonely, so the monkey is a welcome new friend. He distracts Fester while he’s conjuring so Fester thinks that he transformed Pugsley into the monkey – who’s wearing Pugsley’s spare clothing. Meanwhile, Pugsley is trapped in a hidden room. Try as he might, Fester can’t change him back, so they hold a séance to get Pugsley back.

This episode makes no sense at all. That the monkey would escape and its owner wouldn’t notice doesn’t make sense. The switcheroo doesn’t make sense either. And the séance doesn’t make sense. WTF. It’s pretty lame, overall; it’s by far the worst of the episodes.

The most disappointing of all the episodes, though not the worst, is the seventh – the Hallowe’en one. You’d half imagine the Addamses to be the perfect match for a Hallowe’en theme, but the episode devolves into Munsters-caliber fodder that is neither clever nor funny; it’s just dumb.

The problem with ‘The Addams Family’ is that the bulk of the episodes were scripted by the same writers, in rotating teams – and, with 34 episodes in a season (unlike today’s 6 to 12 episodes), it’s really difficult to keep the creative juice flowing, to retain the show’s freshness throughout.

Thus, many of the episodes use repetitious fish-out-of-water plots and a plethora of recurring gags or spins on older ones. Of course, back then, syndication was still in its infancy and there was no home video, so one of the only ways for audiences to enjoy those gags again was to repeat them.

It’s the cast’s skill that overcomes this limitation. Though some of the recycled material is often nuanced enough to keep it interesting, the delivery is what allows it to be fun. This cast has the ability to run with whatever kooky idea is being handed to them and take it to the next level.

In any event, few are the shows that can sustain its quality level for dozens of episodes; there are inevitably going to be stumbles along the way. The only thing I truly decry about this series is the fact that it’s backed by an annoying laugh track, instead of being filmed to a live studio audience.

Otherwise, ‘The Addams Family’ is a total treat: its kooky characters are amusing and endearing, its cast is absolutely brilliant, the show is filled with offbeat, creative gems, and the music is deliriously upbeat. It’s demented fun that puts a smile on my face almost every time that I put an episode on.

I love spending time with the Addams family.

Dates of viewings: July 27-August 20, 2017

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