”The Addams Family” on video
So these 12 early episodes (two shows per cassette) of ABC’s 1964-66 TV show The Addams Family don’t have the visual richness of the new movie. Three sets — front yard, living room, upstairs hallway — serve as the ”mansion.” Thing never scampers out of his box. And while the film captures the malefic edge that made Charles Addams’ original New Yorker cartoons so eerie, the series softens macabre elements.
Still, while the movie is darker and more gag-driven, is it really better entertainment? The series, for which the artist himself created character names and descriptions, conveys something more than the movie or the comic panels: the sense of a working Addams-family dynamic, as wide-eyed matriarch Morticia (Carolyn Jones) takes steps in each episode to keep her brood altogether ooky. Jones doesn’t play Tish as a wraith, as Anjelica Huston does, yet she’s perverse in her own sweet way — a witty goof on wholesome ’60s sitcom moms. Charged with instilling in others what she would call la difference, her gentle nonconformity still seems utterly hip.
Not that there isn’t plenty of worm-ridden shtick in these episodes (future volumes may unearth the remaining 52 shows). The weakest linger too long on some uptight visitor freaking out over the Addams’ foghorn doorbell or the thunderous gong that summons the butler, Lurch. It doesn’t help that these nellies are played by hambone actors such as Maytag repairman Jesse White.
Compared with such hacks, the show’s fine-tuned core ensemble seems all the more delightful. John Astin as Gomez and Jackie Coogan as Uncle Fester strike the right note of broad joviality, but keep your eyes on Jones’ sublimely understated Morticia. She oozes sheer sex, whether dropping passionne French phrases to inflame Gomez or just announcing dinner. ”We’re having your favorite, eye of newt,” she purrs, adding with a wicked flare of the eyes, ”boiled.” However warmed over the dialogue gets, you can count on Jones to keep it simmering.
Vols. 1 and 2: A-; Vols. 3 and 5: C+; Vol. 4: B; Vol. 6: B+