Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for Wednesday Season 1.Wednesday is a 2022 Netflix series created by Miles Millar and Alfred Gough, a new expansion to The Addams Family franchise by way of a supernatural high school murder mystery. The show follows the titular Wednesday Addams, brilliantly played by rising star Jenna Ortega, as she is sent to the hallowed halls of Nevermore Academy, a school for vampires, werewolves, psychics and all breeds of outcast.
Nevermore Academy was incredibly present in the marketing and promotion for the show leading up to its release, with not only two dedicated features, one an in-universe advertisement and the other a behind-the-scenes preview, but also a promotional gift box containing merchandise relevant to the fictional school, along with an acceptance letter. It’s abundantly clear that the show’s creators put a lot of effort into making this place come to life, with a snappy purple uniform, school-wide events and a star-studded cast of faculty, including Gwendoline Christie and Christina Ricci.
The Gothic Style of Nevermore Academy Is Part of the Reason Why It Works
The campus is large and gothic, with spider web windows, and statues of gothic icons such as Edgar Allen Poe and Hamlet’s Ophelia, the design of the school is incredibly impressive and filled with a lot of practical props rather than computer wizardry. Inside the school grounds there are classes in fencing and phytotoxicology, and, of course, plenty of hidden mysteries and secrets that Wednesday, who plays something of a gothic Nancy Drew, sinks her teeth into regarding the history of both the school and the sheltered town that neighbors it.
Of course, an extraordinary and mysterious boarding school is a beloved setting, especially in fantasy and horror. Hogwarts, of course, of the Harry Potter franchise is the one that people will most often draw their minds to, there is also St. Vladimir’s of Vampire Academy, and The Academy of Unseen Arts from The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, just to name a few. And those are just the boarding schools, Sky High, Monster High, fiction and media is full of educational establishments many wished to go to. Which is surprising, because school is usually the last place people want to be.
School sucks. Good memories can be made there but within the public consciousness high school especially is usually portrayed as an underfunded hellscape of hormones, with boarding schools, at least to many Americans, being used as a threat rather than an opportunity to go to a magical place. Standardized exams are stressful, you’re constantly under the thumb of authority figures, and some on the bottom of the arbitrary social hierarchy can feel the world is out to get them, especially if they’re part of a marginalized group. Despite this, or maybe even because of it, the school setting is almost an escapist fantasy, whether you’ve graduated or not.
Magic and Mysteries Can Make School Cool
Human beings crave belonging and have an innate desire to learn. Schools, at their best, can supply that, but that reality is definitely not universal. While more “realistic” school-set fiction can supply good conflict and drama, the bread and butter of a magical school is escapism and world-building. The goal is to make you want to go to the school yourself, and allow you to stay in that world so long as you’re reading the book, or watching the show or movie. Going to class can mean honing extraordinary abilities, your teachers can be superheroes, and your classmates can be just as weird as you were in high school. Institutions like these keep all the good parts of school, learning, making friends, and making memories, not exactly removing the bad parts – you still need conflict – but also adding the perks of any good fantasy or paranormal tale, the parts one can only dream of.
Approaching it cynically, school settings are a fantastic way to sell merchandise. If the school has some kind of uniform or insignia you’re practically printing money, especially on clothes and accessories. Looking closer however you’ll find an opportunity to really place yourself into a fictional world, and cater it to your own personality. What would you want to learn at Nevermore High? Which team would you join in the Poe Cup? What secrets would you discover? The Owl House’s Hexside, The School for Good And Evil, and Ravenwood of the MMORPG Wizard 101 blend their tribalism with curriculum deepening the lore and giving more ammunition for fans to create self-inserts and original characters. There’s an ability with magical schools to slip so easily into that fantasy land, to become a part of it, which is too good to ignore. You can be a student at Nevermore too, without having to be, or even associate, with the main characters.
The Lack of Authority Figures, Like Parents, Allows for Creative Freedom
From a writing standpoint, schools are an incredibly plot-convenient setting, especially if it’s a boarding school like Nevermore. Most, if not all the relevant cast can be under one roof, and rather than being complete strangers they have one instant connection: They’re all classmates, who both learn and live together while breaking off into their own little social cliques. All the advantages of a regular high school story, your jocks and nerds, the prom, bullying and banter, with the added bonus of sharing a living space, which can come with its own story opportunities. Like college, but with more drama because everyone is a teenager.
Another significant advantage is the lack of parents and authority figures that can have secrets and connections of their own in the form of teachers and other staff members. While parents, like in Wednesday, can be a significant plot point and have characters of their own, when crazier things go down in some high school shows you tend to wonder about the adults present. In a boarding school, there’s already an answer: They’re at home, maybe they’ll be brought in when something big happens, or if there’s an allocated parents’ day. But the presence of proper authority figures is totally optional, allowing for more creative freedom. In these stories, the kids rule, and that can allow for a lot of drama.
Nevermore Academy is one of the strongest parts of Wednesday, which in itself is a very strong show in Netflix’s polarizing catalog of “for teens” content. With immaculately spooky production design, leaning joyously into the tropes of high school dramas and supernatural mysteries. Tying it realistically into Addams lore, and while the mystery can go to dark places, no matter how dark it gets, the outcasts among us would still want to call Nevermore Academy a home.