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They Really Are a Sree - um

Robert M. Price

I’ve been watching the TV Land Addams Family Marathon on and off. I loved this series when I was a kid during its original run and thanked God they hadn’t scheduled it in the same slot with The Munsters over on CBS! (No VCRs, then, you see.) They were both great, or so I thought then, and even now I occasionally watch an episode.

The Munsters’ inspiration is obvious. They are the great Universal Monsters with somewhat less liberty taken than the makers of the recent Van Helsing movie took. But who or what were the characters on The Addams Family? The show was based on the long-running series of cartoons by Charles Addams in The New Yorker.

Addams never gave them names until the TV execs approached him. He had always made the father/husband look vaguely Hispanic, so he dubbed him Gomez, a name ill-suited to be topped with "Addams," but the network decision was to name them collectively after the cartoonist himself.

As for Gomez’s wife Morticia, who bore more than a passing resemblance to the horror-schlock star Vampira, Addams asked himself (or so I imagine), "If ‘Patricia’ comes from ‘patrician,’ then why not ‘Morticia’ from ‘mortician’?"

The old witch? Let’s just make her Gomez’s mother and call her Grand Mama. The utterly weird guy dressed in… what? A caftan? A monk’s robe? Let’s make him Morticia’s uncle. But a name, hmmm… how about Fester? Too good to be true!

Son Pugsley, pudgy and potentially malicious, reminds you of a pug dog. Nuff said. Wednesday? Well, somebody has to sound half normal.

The butler Lurch. Again, just perfect. But what was he? The Frankenstein monster? A zombie? Ah, who cares? I used to be able to do what I thought was a passable Lurch impression till my voice changed.

What was so frightening, so weird, about the Addamses? What was it that made visitors flee? That made it advisable to prepare "a roost that you can crawl on" if you drop by? Well, they don’t seem to have been outright monsters. Grandpa and Lily Munster were, of course, Count Dracula and his daughter. They were implicitly blood-sucking vampires, though one has to suppose that, like Angel on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, they contented themselves on cow blood filched from the butcher shop.

But Gomez and Morticia were basically just wealthy eccentrics. Gomez practiced "Zen Yogi" (or Yoga, to be precise), but that’s only frightening to people who never heard of any religion more exotic than Presbyterianism. Gomez was expert at fencing, but he did not watch TV sports. I guess that’s scary to modern Americans. But not particularly nefarious.

The Munsters lived in a haunted house full of cobwebs, but the Addamses lived in a well-kept-up Victorian mansion filled with antiques, many of them gleaned from curiosity shops. But, again, this is only frightening to 60s Americans who favored suburban ranch houses and split-levels (like the ones I grew up in, in both Mississippi and New Jersey).

The Addams house was festooned with stuffed animals and mounted heads. If that scares you, I suspect you are a Vegan.

Most of today’s sitcoms seem to seek their comic tension from the grinding gears of dysfunctional relationships within a family. Their sarcastic put-downs and one-upping are supposed to be funny. Divorces and adultery are supposed to be a riot. But what do we find in The Addams Family? Here is a happy, traditional family, even an extended family that includes a grandmother and a maternal uncle. They get along fine. They speak kindly to and about outsiders, blessing those who malign them. The love between Gomez and Morticia is both ardent and obvious, and it provides a fine model for the kids. It is taken for granted that all members of the household have individual creative interests and are encouraged to pursue them.

The eccentric veneer is actually pretty minor: they don’t mind an occasional explosion. They fence in the living room. Gomez stands on his head. Morticia has a carnivorous plant. Okay, it doesn’t take much for the show to drift off into the surreal, like a Beetlejuice cartoon, but the basic scenario is a surprisingly wholesome one. It asks us to assume the ironic perspective of the Addamses themselves and to pity the unimaginativeness of the common man.


Copyrightę2004 by Robert M Price
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