*SPOILERS! IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THE SERIES YET LOOK AWAY*
After feeling iffy about the movie, it was time to see if Netflix was able to give A Series of Unfortunate Events the adaptation it so justly deserved.
Starring Neil Patrick Harris, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, Presley Smith, and Patrick Wharburton, A Series of Unfortunate Events follow’s the lives of Baudelaire orphans Violet, Klaus, and Sunny as they outwit Count Olaf, who is after their fortune. So far, the show has covered the first 4 books, ending on The Miserable Mill. For this review, I’ll try to avoid comparing the show to the 2004 movie (I have a review on that here)
THIS SERIES IS AMAZING! WHERE IS SEASON 2! Alright, now that I’ve gotten my initial wave of excitement out of the way, let’s talk about it. For me, A Series of Unfortunate Event’s success can be chalked up to three things: the format, the casting, and the writing.
Netflix has really hit their stride with original programming, and this series is no different. With the help of directors like Barry Sonnenfield (known for the Men in Black trilogy and Pushing Daisies) Bo Welch, they are able to successfully create the unique world of each respective book, from the soft greens of Uncle Monty’s Reptile Room to the emptiness of Lake Lachrymose in the off-season. It fits snugly into the long format, enjoying the chance to stretch itself out and use the 90- odd minutes to really capture the feeling of the books. Netflix wasn’t afraid to embrace the series’ quirks, even letting the show poke fun at itself.
The show also is able to show the Baudelaire children’s growth through these events. The go from innocent children to being more world-weary. And this is only in a matter of 8 episodes! Which leads me to my second point..
I’ll admit I was apprehensive about the choices. Neil Patrick Harris of How I Met Your Mother fame as the main antagonist? Patrick Wharburton, or as most people my age know him, Kronk, as Lemony Snicket? How would this all work together? But as the saying goes, first impressions can be often entirely wrong. Everyone is pitch perfect to the books, while bringing a bit of their own spin to it.
The Baudelaires are played by relatively unknown young actors. Yet, by the end of the first season, they feel like old friends. It takes some time to adjust to them, especially in “The Bad Beginning Parts One and Two”. As the season progresses, Violet, Klaus and Sunny fall into a smooth rhythm. Their personalities begin to become more defined and it is easier to identify with their struggles. For example, Violet and Klaus and talking about making their home better with Aunt Josephine. The two agree not to complain, until Klaus looks down and says, “But I want to complain.” For me, this was one of the turning points for the children, and made me want to reach through the screen and take care of them myself. Every time Count Olaf appeared in another ridiculous disguise, the children’s faces just tell you everything you need to know.
A hero is only as good as its villain and I gotta say, NPH did a great job on this one. Again, like with the orphans, it takes time for him to build up as Count Olaf, but when he does, NPH combines menacing and comedic well. One great example is when Olaf, under the guise of Stephano, shows Uncle Monty his resume. With a clever over-the-shoulder shot over ‘Stephano’, you see the back of the resume is plastered Count Olaf’s acting credentials. Each disguise so fun to watch. I particularly enjoyed Captain Sham, the Sean Connery-sounding sea captain with a peg leg. They felt like Olaf playing the character, not NPH playing it. It’s evident through a lot of his reactions to specific things. Of course there are chances for him to flex his Broadway skills with a couple songs. While not needed, they make Count Olaf special for NPH.
I was most nervous for Lemony Snicket. The narrator of the series, Snicket follows the Baudelaires as they navigate these events. But wow was I in for a treat. This interpretation of Snicket fits so snugly, it didn’t take me long to get used to his voice. Wharburton’s deep voice and droll tone does everything, from warning us of the tragedy that awaits to defining the difference between rational and irrational fears. Even when he isn’t narrating and is silent for a moment, you can feel this weight on this character, due to a name : Beatrice.
I guess I shouldn’t expect anything less from author Daniel Handler (pen name Lemony Snicket) as the writer of the series. Watching this series felt like the ultimate nostalgia trip. Details were mentioned in the show what translated directly from the books, from large points like the various libraries in the guardian’s homes to the small, like the fact Uncle Monty calls the children bambini because he is so giddy they are there.
Even when the show deviates from the books, it chooses to show you moments that are not with the Baudelaires. As a fan of the books, these are fun additions to the series. It shows the lengths he is willing to go, like convincing inept banker Mr. Poe to place the children in his care. We also get to see how these events cause ripple effects to various members of V.F.D. like Jaqueline and Gustav. It feels like Daniel Handler is going through his series and giving more context to the world, specifically regarding the mysterious V.F.D., and I love it! I feel like I’m being challenged to think about the show and raise questions about these characters.
Looking beyond the plot points, can we talk about how witty this show is? I watched the series with captions and spotted so many great moments of wordplay. Again, this is so incredibly in tune with the books and makes it feel like I’m reading them again. Some of the jokes will span a whole episode. These include defining the difference between ‘literally’ and ‘figuratively’ and the use of these two in the wrong way during the play The Marvelous Marriage in “The Bad Beginning Part Two” and Count Olaf’s inability to remember that Lake Lachrymose is not a sea, but rather a large lake. It’s off beat and reminds me of another Barry Sonnenfield show Pushing Daisies. It relied on more wordplay and visual gags to appeal to audiences.
Overall, I think that the plot took time to develop, especially for the show’s first two episodes. But once everyone hit their stride, the show soars and is really fun, despite it’s attempts to prove otherwise. As far as book to movie/show/whatever goes, this is definitely one of the better adaptations and one of my personal favorites. Lemony Snicket and the show’s theme song may tell you to look away, but this is a show I wholeheartedly recommend to watch. This series gets an A-
What was your favorite moment of the series? Did I miss anything? Mention it in the comments below!