That Familiar TV Buzz: The Addams Family (1964-66)

As a kid, even one growing up watching the shows only in reruns, you were either an Addams or a Munster. We were too young to really understand the difference between the shows. At a certain point, both The Addams Family and The Munsters were in reruns on weekday afternoons, and given that both shows ran for only two seasons each (and almost perfectly simultaneously), it didn’t take us long to become very well-versed in both of the seemingly similar but worlds apart universes. While one might surmise that I would identify with a family of monsters who didn’t really understand that they ran a little incongruously from the rest of the neighbors, as it was with Herman Munster and family, my loyalties actually ran the other way.

The Addamses were well aware of their displacement from the rest of society, and they relished it. In fact, it seemed they often went to great trouble to rub other people’s noses in the messes they left behind. They didn’t long to be liked like the Munsters did, nor did they wish to find acceptance. They were just the Addams, and they lived down the street from you, and they were weird (at least, as judged by the neighboring world) and woe to those who couldn’t handle that fact. The show was loaded with a subtly sadomasochistic air, what with all the talk and visuals of torture devices and the like, and there was always the feeling that, deep down under the surface, Gomez, the loving but deeply unhinged father, could crack and take his exploding toy train fixation into our real world on a large and terrifying scale.

But there is that word: “loving.” Because, if anything grand came out of the show besides a wonderful air of suburban depravity, quite unique from the safe sitcom world in which it resided, The Addams Family represented probably one of the most romantic couples to ever grace the TV screen. That they came out of the early 60’s unscathed is a most remarkable thing, for while I say romantic, it is with the knowledge that the Gomez and his lovely, whiter-shade-of-pale wife Morticia also represented lust. Though most of Gomez’ attentions came in the form of his merely kissing his way up Morticia’s arm and then across the nape of her neck every time she even got near a word that sounded even remotely French, there was the very real sense that these people had actual down and dirty but loving sex. Unlike other sitcoms where you swear every kid was probably adopted due to the antiseptic air of the parents, you knew that the Addams’ offspring likely came about from a couple of nights strapped down on the family rack.

The only problem I have watching the show now is that I have a near-maniacal disregard for the laugh track. Of the handful of live-action comedies that I watch today, all but one have a complete lack of any outside audience noise, real or recorded, and that is How I Met Your Mother, which honestly doesn't need it. (There are actually large gaps in the show where such noise seems to disappear, as if the producers were slowly trying to ween the audience off the forced laughing.) For the record, the others that I watch regularly are The Office, My Name is Earl, Scrubs and 30 Rock – all of which possess a blessed silence between the delivered lines, leaving the viewer to discern hilarity from their own devices. Watching the first two discs of The Addams Family: Volume One, I was struck with how the laugh track has grown even more strident and discordant to these ears. But I was also struck by how easily I was able to slip from the more recent, happy memory of the more urbane and flamboyant Raul Julia’s portrayal back into the goonier, twisted smile of John Astin’s take as a slightly shabbier (though closer to the comic vision) Gomez.

Just as there is room in the world for comic strip and cartoon versions of the Addamses, so it can be that there is room for multiple live versions of them as well. Strangely, all versions have worked to some degree or another, even in badly done animation. For it is Charles Addams’ superlatively designed characters, even if they have been slightly transformed over the years, that shine out from what has proven to be an unknowingly resilient concept. Long may they torture our funny bones…


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