Every October, throughout the month and right before Halloween especially, I like to sit down and binge a season of The Addams Family. With its catchy theme song and its ridiculous storylines, it waltzes its way right into my heart every time, getting me in the true eerie spirit of Halloween. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of watching the 1964 classic, I would say any October is the perfect time to begin. While it is strange, the show isn’t scary in the slightest, so for wimps like myself, it is the perfect thing to watch to get into a spooky mood. But beyond all of the carnivorous plants and Uncle Festers, looking back on The Addams Family as a program about family at its core, it really pushed 1960s television boundaries.
For a New Yorker cartoon created by Charles Addams in the early 1900s and a television show made in the mid-60s, The Addams Family was actually decently progressive where the family was concerned in relation to its TV counterparts. During a time when shows such as Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver were the “norm”, consisting of a nuclear family with a working father, subservient housewife, and overall, rather tame children, The Addams Family provided a different perspective to all of that. By portraying such a strange family within the bounds of a nuclear, suburban household, the Addams commented on the hypocrisy of certain family dynamics of the time.
In an essay called ‘The Monster Within: The Munsters, The Addams Family, and the American Family in the 1960s’ by Laura Morowitz, she discusses the various ways in which The Addams Family as a television show went against these 60s family norms. She writes:
“They consistently parody the sitcoms of the 1950s, they draw on the grotesque as a powerful tool for critiquing the notion of ‘normalcy’ they make consistent reference to pre-war and immigrant culture, and they deal repeatedly with the issue of mistaken identity to call into question the artifice of the 1950s ideal.”
The Addams’ break almost every typical family convention of the time. They refused to conform to society’s idea of what an average “American” family should be, and they honestly seemed happier for it. Morticia and Gomez as a couple were far more balanced in their respective roles as husband and wife than were other TV couples. Rather than pretending that Gomez, as the husband figure, is the smartest of the bunch, we as viewers are under no illusion that it is Morticia who holds much of the power in the household. And the show does not try to get us to believe otherwise either. This was an unusual portrayal in terms of 50s/60s TV because of the fact that characters such as June Cleaver and Margaret Anderson played stereotypical housewives, concerned only with the needs and wants of their husbands and children, while the husbands concerned themselves with being the “provider.” But as Morowitz’ essay also discusses, it was very clear that Morticia and Gomez Addams had a very vivid, loving, and even sexual relationship, which TV before then had tried to pretend that married couples didn’t have. However, because of their magnetic relationship, they also created a true partnership.
Something also clever to note about the show’s portrayal of the Addams’ is that while the family is rather strange, and their house is very spooky, as human beings, they are actually very approachable and friendly. Morticia and Gomez are always very happy to have guests and are honestly pretty good hosts. Uncle Fester also seems to enjoy guests, even if he does think they are weird most of the time. It is just those around them who are so judgmental of their lifestyle they can’t look past it in order to befriend a group of people so different. So, the choice to make the Addams amiable, as well as strange, is essential in pointing out the hypocrisy of the time. Here are the Addams, a nice family, who live in a suburban neighborhood, and yet because they choose to decorate and dress a little differently, and their interests are unique, they are practically outcasted by the town. That being said, the Addams didn’t seem to mind being outcasted (if they even realized they were) because to be otherwise meant having to change who they were, which was definitely a deal-breaker for them. And it’s not so much that the family was even actively resistant for the purpose of being different. They just loved what they loved, which made them all the more endearing.
However, at the heart of the show, the Addams are indeed spooky, but not so much in an edge-of-your-seat way. While the show may seem a little campy, with a very obvious laugh track, it is often actually very hilarious. And the extreme detail that the show creators put into the set design, costumes, and scripts to keep the Addams eeriness consistent is immensely impressive. For instance, the show, subtly at times, adds uncanny elements to plotlines that seem rather simple, but all stay in tune with the show as a whole. Thing, Cousin Itt, and other characters have almost become iconic in pop culture history. Because of how well the world and the characters were set up since episode one, never once did it feel as if anything was too unrealistic for the family. Many of the jokes play on this as well. Though it only ran for 2 years, the impression it made in the television world is something that will probably never truly fade. And jumping into their rather strange lifestyle is all part of the fun.
So, if you’re looking for a nice fall binge before Halloween, The Addams Family is definitely the way to go, if for the historical relevance, the eeriness, or both. Or, if you’ve already had more than your fair share of the 60s TV show, might I recommend checking some other Addams family adventures? Since the mid-60’s, the show has spawned a Hanna Barbera cartoon, and two 90s films. Both films usually play consistently on various channels leading up to Halloween. And while the short-lived show and the classic New Yorker cartoons may not have originally intended for the Addams to be classic figures in Halloween culture, they have thankfully lived on each year as such.