Synopsis: Brace yourself for more macabre mayhem and monstrous madness – it’s time, once again, to pay a call on the Addams Family, television’s creepiest clan, as they wreak hilarious havoc on their unsuspecting victims. This time, love is in the air, and it seems that everyone – Pugsley, Ophelia, Uncle Fester, and even Lurch – is being bitten by the bug! Gomez, meanwhile, is burglarizing houses in his sleep, and it’s curtains for the new neighbors when Morticia tries her hand at decorating. It’s drop-dead hilarious.
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 less inspired humour. its repetitive gags. its grating laugh track. Ophelia Addams.
“Their house is a museum,
Where people come to see ’em.
They really are a scream,
The Addams Family.”
As much as I’m a fan of ‘The Addams Family’, I fervently despise ‘The Munsters’, the goofy horror-themed sitcom that was broadcast concurrently. I had the first season on DVD, and paid handsomely for the beautiful set, but struggled so hard to get through it that I eventually threw in the towel and traded it.
I’ve often found that, in North American TV and cinema, there frequently are carbon copy projects vying for attention. I’m not sure how that happens and who greenlights these productions, but for every ‘A Bug’s Life’ there’s an ‘Antz’ and for every ‘Dante’s Peak’ there’s a ‘Volcano’ being made somewhere.
Frankly, I don’t know who decided that it would be a good idea to compete directly with ‘The Addams Family’, an untested (and unconventional, to say the least) show, but it seems like a dumb idea in retrospect; not only is there a chance of cannibalizing each other’s audience, but their fates depend on each other.
Perhaps it was all just one big coincidence, but the two shows debuted on different channels (‘The Addams Family’ on ABC, and ‘The Munsters’ on CBS) in September of 1964, less than one week apart. This carried on for the whole two years, during which The Munsters outdid The Addamses slightly in the ratings.
I seriously don’t get it: ‘The Munsters’ is a “dumb dad” show with Fred Gwynne as Herman, head of the household. The show’s only feature is that all of the characters (save one!) are based on classic Universal monsters – in appearance only. Beyond that, they (mostly) have standard personalities and problems.
Like ‘The Addams Family’, the gags are recurrent, if not gratingly repetitive. But ‘The Munsters’ were clearly catering to the kiddies, whereas Charles Addams’ brand of humour was quirkier and edgier, if not morbid. Case-in-point, ‘The Munsters’ played at 7:30pm, a time during which younger kids might still watch.
I really tried to enjoy ‘The Munsters’, but I just couldn’t do it; the characters are unoriginal and the humour is too low-brow. Still, years later, I nonetheless gave their two motion pictures a chance. I found them hard to swallow too, but it was more effortless than having to watch 38 ghastly half-hour episodes.
In one season!
This second season of ‘The Addams Family’ is also fairly lengthy but, at 30 episodes, it’s more manageable. Interestingly, both ‘The Addams Family’ and ‘The Munsters’ produced fewer episodes in their second seasons than their first (Addams: 30 vs 34 and Munsters: 32 vs 38). Perhaps the writing was already on the wall.
With ‘The Addams Family’ the show continues in the same vein as it did before, though it makes a few adjustments: Wednesday and Pugsley are less present (and rarely together at once), Fester’s recurring gags are less prominent, Ophelia Addams shows up a lot, and the stories are more about odd jobs than fish-out-of-water.
Even the house has been changed up a little bit: the doorbell and gate are barely noticed, the greenhouse is less featured, whereas there is now a fireman’s pole down the living room and a donkey’s butt with a spiraling tail on it. We also get to explore other locations in it, like Morticia and Gomez’s bedroom.
Unfortunately, the humour isn’t nearly as sharp or absurdist as it was in the first season. It feels as though the producers tried to make the Addamses more accessible, softening the edges a little bit. The result is a show that’s more middle-of-the-road than before: fewer great episodes, but also fewer truly bad ones.
My favourite episodes were:
1. My Fair Cousin Itt: Gomez has written a play for Wednesday’s birthday (unwittingly ripping off ‘Romeo and Juliet) and they’re all performing. They decide that Itt will be the lead, Claude, while Fester is the understudy and Lurch is the second understudy. Naturally, behind the scenes shenanigans unfold as they compete for the part. Gomez then contacts a legendary director to produce the play; the man has fallen on hard times and needs the money, so he agrees. But he gives Itt a hard time. Consequently, Morticia and Gomez work with Itt to make his speech understandable. Their efforts help him speak in a deep artiste voice leading to unintended consequences. This one is good fun and a great start to the season. Watch for Gomez balancing a chair and dishes on his chin (sort of). What a nut.
2. Morticia’s Romance, part 1: On Morticia and Gomez’s 13th wedding anniversary, Morticia regales the whole family with the story of how they met and fell in love. Surprisingly, Gomez had been morose and sickly for 22 years, but everything changed the moment he met Morticia – whose sister, Ophelia, he was due to marry. He and Ophelia, a flowery, chipper, but violent eccentric, had been betrothed for years, but he’s just not into her. However, he’s really fallen hard for Morticia – and she for him. What are they to do?
The story is concluded in episode 3.
This episode isn’t as funny or clever, but it’s certainly interesting; it establishes the family’s history and the characters’ connections (for instance, Thing is Gomez’s childhood friend, Lurch has long been his butler, Grandmama is Gomez’s mom, and Fester is Morticia’s uncle – unlike in the movies). Plus which, Gomez and Morticia are so cute together (aren’t they always?). Watch for Morticia playing a shamisen while singing in a high-pitched wail and see the whole family slide down a pole in the middle of the living room!
10. Gomez the Reluctant Lover: After discovering that Pugsley is lovesick, Morticia and Gomez are too distracted to enjoy their badminton, fencing, and drumming. So they try to help him out, which leads to the boy copying a love letter Gomez once wrote for Morticia. But little do they know that his intended is his teacher!
When she comes to see the Addamses to discuss the matter, a misunderstanding leads her to believe that Gomez wrote it for her. She falls for him. Because the woman has never been in love, Morticia suggests that Gomez play the part long enough for her to feel wanted. But it doesn’t play out quite as expected.
I love this one because it’s once again exemplary of Morticia and Gomez’s lovely dynamic, where they are so tight that they’d do anything for each other; their trust and earnestness is truly endearing. Watch as Morticia uses a dental drill on Gomez for his enjoyment. Sadly, they’ve worn it out right before touching a nerve, but he pleads for her to continue. And watch Gomez have a total trampoline fest in the living room.
The following were notable, if not memorable:
3. Morticia’s Romance, part 2: Following-up on episode 2, the evening after Morticia completes the story of how she and Gomez met. Negotiations between the two families for Gomez and Ophelia’s wedding have come to a head – while Gomez and Morticia are ever deeper in Love. But Fester has a plan to set up Ophelia with another man: none other than Cousin Itt. Unsurprisingly, all’s well that ends well. As enjoyable as this story is, I much prefer the adult Gomez – he’s less sniveling and cowardly. Morticia brings out the best in him, yes, but I wish he was just innately this way.
11. Feud in the Addams Family: Extended family member Abigail Addams is trying to wrestle control of the family fortune away from Gomez, saying that he’s incompetent; she’s coming to town to meet with lawyers. Coincidentally, Wednesday has a crush with a boy’s whose family are trying to cozy up with Abigail. So, when Morticia and Gomez invite them for tea, it all goes downhill.
One of the highlights is when each family member, in turn, tries to provide romantic advice to Wednesday. It’s all very cute. The episode is silly at the end, but it’s still good. Watch for Gomez destroying a doll house with a wrecking ball – after putting King Kong and Fay Wray on it, of course. Strangely, Morticia reproaches him for having too much fun. Weird. Seems out of character. And yet, she and Gomez play cricket together in the living room. idk.
19. The Great Treasure Hunt: As Morticia and Gomez have a romantic moment in the attic during a thunderstorm, they find Pegleg Addams’ treasure map in an old chest. So, naturally, they decide to go on a treasure hunt! But first they have to scour the house for the other half of map. For their adventure, they hire a couple of seafarers – who at first want nothing to do with these “goofs”, until they hear of the 20 million in Spanish gold. Their plan: to return late at night and steal the map. Heh heh. Good luck. One of things I like about this episode are the attic and outdoor settings – they freshen things up.
21. Pugsley’s Allowance: Pugsley wants an allowance, but… he wants to work for it, leaving Morticia and Gomez aghast. So Pugsley looks for a job, interrupting a surgery to prove his worth with a scalpel, and then digging a tunnel into a bank vault to count the cash to prove himself. It’s a silly but amusing episode. Of note, Ken Weatherwax had by then honed his acting chops, so building an episode around Pugsley actually works. Watch as Morticia and Gomez spear a basket that Uncle Fester’s in, for fun, and later tying him up and leaving him there for the rest of the show – which he enjoys.
22. Happy Birthday, Grandma Frump: Gomez is building an old folks’ home with a skateboarding discotheque in it. For Granny Frump’s birthday, they decide to send her to a beauty farm. But, due to a misunderstanding, she thinks that they plan to put her away in an old folks’ home. So Fester recommends that she be overly nice to Morticia and Gomez. She tries to be helpful and look and act youthful: she skips rope, jumps on a pogo stick, does cart wheels…, …etc. They’re concerned, so they call a doctor to check her out. Naturally, it doesn’t end quite as planned. It’s a very entertaining episode, though you’d think that Granny Frump’s behaviour would be exactly what Gomez and Morticia would appreciate, in light of his plans for the old folks’ home. Hmmm… maybe this is just out of character.
28. Addams Policy: Seeing Morticia trying out her new flamethrower on the fireplace, Fester wants to try it but sets their polar bear on fire. So they call the insurance company to make a claim. The investigation leads to Mr. Digby being fired by his boss, so the Addamses decide to try to help him find new work: by opening an insurance company for him. But, to his dismay, every Addams is involved in the business – and their processes are ridiculous to say the least. It all ends well, of course.
My least favourite episodes were:
5. Gomez the People’s Choice: The Addamses get a property tax bill of 84$ and are aghast that the house is worth so little. Unhappy with their mayor, Morticia suggests that Gomez try to unseat him. So Fester sets up Whizzo, their computer, to help Gomez. They prepare for the campaign: speechmaking, baby-kissing, camera tests, …etc. Addams gets ahead in the polls, so the mayor’s staff arrange a rigged TV debate – but it works against him. Gomez gets so involved that he’s no longer his zany, passionate self and Morticia, Fester, Mama and Thing decide to sabotage him. It doesn’t work out, but he ends up being disqualified. There are a few good bits of satire, but there’s too much dumb stuff in here. Watch for a scene in which Lurch plays the harpsichord, Thing the castanets, and Morticia the bagpipes.
6. Cousin Itt’s Problem: Morticia ordered a welcome home gift for Cousin Itt: a big shaggy dog. During the party, they discover Itt’s losing his hair, so Fester orders a chemistry set to figure out a remedy. Suddenly there’s hair everywhere, but they discover that it’s only temporary and the hair loss was the dog’s. It’s just a blah episode that felt like something I’d seen elsewhere. Watch for everyone convening in Itt’s diminutive room.
7. Halloween, Addams Style: The family realizes that they don’t have Hallowe’en goodies for trick or treaters, so Lurch chops sandwiches with a guillotine, Mama brews punch and Fester makes toffee. After Wednesday’s heart is broken when a neighbour tells her that witches aren’t real, Morticia and Gomez decide to prove to her that they are. So they hold a séance, to conjure up a witch. Grandmama gets Lurch to pretend to be a witch. They conjure up “Aunt Singe”, who promises to come visit. It goes as well as can be expected.
I don’t know how, but the showrunners ruined another Hallowe’en episode – which should be a cinch for the Addams clan. Oh well. Watch as Gomez and Fester bob for apples from the ends of a teeter totter. Watch for Cousin Cackle (who looks like the “It’s…” man from Monty Python) to come to the séance; he has a delightfully demented cackling. Of note: this episode opens with Gomez carving Fester in a pumpkin, the same scene as the Hallowe’en episode of Season One. Also, for some reason, this episode looks like VHS. The transfer is crap.
8. Morticia the Writer: Wednesday and Pugsley return from school upset about their fairytale books, which have “wicked” goblins, dragon-slaying, …etc. Morticia decides to write some “proper” fairytales for children. In anticipation of Morticia’s success, which leads Fester to suggest she’ll be away for months if not years, Gomez decides to sabotage her works. It backfires: the publisher is interested in his version and the first book does well – so she gets a contract for more books. But Morticia discovers that the book’s been changed and decides to quit. Frankly, it sucks that Gomez was dishonest and manipulative like that. And it seems so out of character, contrary to the Addams spirit. Astin is still excellent, but the character is a sleeze here. Plus which, the whole schoolbook thing is rehashed from Season One.
9. Morticia the Sculptress: Morticia is melancholy, wants to be creative and put something out in the world – so she decides to take up sculpting. She chisels rock for three months and they get a critic, Mr. Swain, to come check her work out. It doesn’t go well at all, but Gomez doesn’t want to break her heart. So he hires Sam Picasso to buy the sculpture from her – with Gomez’s money. Morticia uses the money to fund her artistic endeavours, forcing Gomez to buy more of her art, putting a strain on his finances. Haha. There are a few choice one-liners, but it’s not a stellar episode. Plus which Morticia is a total bubblehead here.
12. Gomez the Cat Burglar: For some reason, Gomez is sleepwalking. Coincidentally, there’s a cat burglar in the neighbourhood now (Hmmm… I wonder who…?). Morticia is getting suspicious, so Fester promises to keep watch on Gomez, but he falls deep asleep. Then their suspicions are confirmed: they find the loot! They try to stop Gomez by hypnotizing him, but it doesn’t work and he finds out – just as the police come a-knockin’. The episode starts with corny gags and continues throughout. Yes, we see Morticia and Gomez’s bedroom for the first time. Yes, they now have a loud music machine in the living room. Sure, it’s nice to see more of the house, but the writing is too dumb for my taste.
18. Fester Goes on a Diet: Pugsley is exercising because his girlfriend Marie wants him to have muscle. Morticia and Gomez are concerned about this behaviour and convince him to stop. Coincidentally, Fester’s French penpal is planning a visit, so he decides to diet and exercise. He gets a trainer. The episode consists largely of watching Fester do his exercises with Lurch’s help, or getting tests done by a doctor, that sort of thing. And the punch? Yvette finally arrives… and finds Fester too skinny! Har har. ‘nough said.
24. Ophelia Visits Morticia: Morticia is blue because of Ophelia’s heartbreaks. Fester, who reminds Ophelia of her latest ex, is coaxed by her to join the Peace Corps – which is where her ex was when he disappeared. Fester studies for his PC test. The gags are silly an the premise is dumb. It’s the worst episode of the second season, though it’s not as bad as the worst of Season One.
Of note: There are two references to suicide, with Ophelia thinking about it and Gomez pretending for Fester’s sake. It’s quite unusual given the era and the fact that it’s a family show. Watch Morticia and Gomez skeet shooting with the good china. Also Morticia does an ice sculpture of Ophelia with a drill. Nice.
30. Ophelia’s Career: Ophelia’s heart is broken again and she keeps throwing Gomez around. To distract her, Morticia and Gomez get Fester to show her how to mix chemicals together. Ophelia eventually takes up opera singing, so the Addamses call in a world famous vocal coach. He’s not at all impressed until he discovers that she can sing multiple parts at once. Naturally, it doesn’t go as planned. Meh.
Not bad, but it’s an unfortunate end to the season and series. Watch as Morticia and Gomez oversee Fester being pulled towards a large buzz saw. Gomez and Morticia also play hockey together in the basement. Awww…. their passion for one another is so endearing!
Honestly, though I didn’t enjoy the second season nearly as much as the first one, even the worst of ‘The Addams Family’ is equal -if not better- to the best of ‘The Munsters’. Seriously. Had their bar been consistently set lower, I probably wouldn’t have become a fan, but I’d still be able to watch and tolerate it.
Not so ‘The Munsters’.
The second season does offer a few improvements: for instance, Lisa Loring is much better as Wednesday. Quite good, in fact. Ken Weatherwax also performs quite nicely this season. I also like the fact that we explore the house more and that the focus is more on the Addamses taking on new hobbies or work this time.
But it has way too much of Ophelia, a character whose zaniness is only tolerable in short doses; she just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the lot and her gags get tired fast. Plus there’s that confounded laugh track, which adds an unfortunate layer of artificiality to the humour – and which, again, isn’t as sharp as the first season.
Ultimately, the show was cancelled after a whopping 64 episodes over the course of a mere two seasons. ‘The Addams Chronicles’ author Stephen Cox speculates that ‘The Munsters’ own drop in the ratings at CBS gave ABC a bit of a fright – so they decided to pull the plug on the Addamses before they took a tumble.
We may never know for sure, but it’s nice to have an extra season of ‘The Addams Family’. Though the episodes aren’t all classics, there are nonetheless a few choice ones along the way, adding to the kookiness and mystique of TV’s most ooky family. Between the two seasons, there’s a full slate of Addams deliciousness.
It wasn’t quite the end, though: ‘The Addams Family’ would be back one last time for a 1977 reunion special.
More on that later…
Dates of viewing: Sept 20-Oct 10, 2017