In 2004, Paramount Pictures released the movie adaptation of the first three books in Lemony Snicket’s “A series of Unfortunate Events”, which accounts the tale of the charming Baudelaire orphans and their struggle with, not only the vile Count Olaf, but also a perpetual proceeding of pained phenomena.
While the movie definitely had positive aspects, such as its burtonesque aesthetic, its quirky score, and its talented cast (it starred America’s favorite over-actor, Jim Carrey, and America’s favorite overly-opinionated actress, Meryl Streep), the film came across to most audiences as… underwhelming (a word which here means: “overshadowed by a third in a series of movies which was also based on a set of well known children’s novels, these having to do with pet owls, flying brooms, and a villain with no nose”).
One of the biggest issues with the film adaptation was the fact that it attempted to cram three entire books in the span of a less than two hour runtime, causing plot points to become muddy, and changes of locations to be quite jarring. It made sense at the time why the creators of the film made the decision to combine the three books. The first entry in the series simply was not substantial enough to support a straight-to-film adaptation. To be honest, a feature length movie was not a good match for the source material. The Series of Unfortunate Events needed to be just that — a SERIES!
And now, thirteen years later, Netflix has released this series. And how do the melancholy misadventures of the Baudelaire bambini fair on the star-studded streaming service? (Alliteration is hard! How does Snicket manage it?) Let’s find out, shall we?
Sinister Spoilers ahead….
If you have not yet viewed the egregious episodes, and you wish to empathize with the Baudelaire’s plight by witnessing the account first hand, please stop reading now. As Mr. Snicket would say, “please immediately click off the internet site on which this article is displayed, and feel free to find your on-line entertainment elsewhere; such as watching videos of felines, giggling at pictures with accompanying witty text, or having wholesome and intelligent political discourse on your favorite social media platform.”
A Colorful Cluster of Characters
Much like its cinematic predecessor, one of the best aspects of the Series is its casting. When I initially heard that Patrick Warburton would be playing the part of the austere author, Mr. Snicket himself, I was honestly a little confused. I always envisioned Snicket as a quiet, more reserved character, and Warburton is best known in roles in which he is boisterous and cocky. I was also concerned about the fact that the villain, Count Olaf, was going to be played by Neil Patrick Harris. Even with his effectively creepy performance in the movie “Gone Girl”, he still seemed like an odd choice for me. I was wrong on both accounts. These two actors definitely give the best performances of the whole show, and really get into their roles. Harris IS Olaf. He was able to strike that balance between disgusting villain and goofy idiot that makes people both want to cringe at the sight of him, and want to continue to watch him out of morbid curiosity. Warburton also captures the borderline depressed tone with that dash of cynical wit that makes reading Snicket’s work so oddly enjoyable. His understated, borderline monotone, portrayal is something that I have not seen from him before.
While the performances of the villain and the narrator were the highlight, those of the young actor and actress who played Klaus and Violet were kind of just…OK. They seemed wooden most of the time; almost intentionally so. Honestly the way they delivered their lines added to the whole aesthetic of the story, so I don’t really consider that a negative. Just don’t expect them to be nominated for any Emmys. The CGI used to portray the more improbable expressions on baby Sunny was a bit off-putting at times (see Tarkin in Rogue One), but other than that, i really liked how they portrayed her as well.
Many of the other performances (Asif Mandvi as Uncle Monty, Joan Cusack as Justice Strauss) were also standouts in their own right. All of the performances added to the fun, dismal-yet-also-hopeful, feel of the show.
The visuals in “Unfortunate Events” also captured the tone of the books extremely well! The world feels very contained and is intentionally made to look artificial. You could say that the show was filmed as a Wes Anderson movie on a cloudy day. It had a lot of Anderson-y tropes as well (Symmetrical shot composition, pastel colored scenes, fourth wall breaking narrator, etc)! Basically it’s both very colorful and very gloomy without one aspect taking away from another.
Also like many Wes Anderson movies, the pacing tends to drag a little. You really start to notice it on the last two episodes. Don’t get me wrong, book fans will enjoy the level of detail and effort to be faithful to the source material. I did! New viewers, however, might have to work to get through some scenes. As i stated before, the show is a very faithful adaptation, and because of this, there are simply times when things just slow down.
*Remember that SPOILER WARNING? Well it definitely applies here, so if you haven’t seen the show or read the books, I’d strongly suggest utilizing that nifty little vertical bar on the side of the browser window.*
A lot of the background elements that the early books only vaguely hinted at (the secret organization, the eye symbol, a certain set of parents) and that the later books only vaguely resolved, get thrown out into the open from episode one. While I enjoyed having some of my questions answered from when I read the books, I felt like the direct references to some of these elements took away from the potential mystery of the show. That being said, the addition of the side plot with the parents was still an interesting change, and the twist at the end of the season was very well done. I look forward to seeing what new things Daniel Handler adds to future seasons.
Also, the references to streaming services and their comparison to other media cracked me up. Good Job.
The Debatable Deliberation
I liked this first season! Sure, the pacing was slow at some points, and some of the effects weren’t top shelf, but I attribute those minor issues with “First Season Syndrome.” As far as first seasons go, this one was definitely very well done; intelligent yet silly, fun yet depressing, distracting yet thought provoking. It makes me excited to see the next season, yet apprehensive because… well, look at the title of the show. This adaptation, while being faithful to its source, also adds new things to keep it fresh. It will make long time fans happy, while intriguing new viewers. I hope this review was helpful, either in getting you interested in the show, or, as Mr Snicket would prefer, rejecting the show, blocking it from your queue, deleting your account, and moving to a remote area of the world where there is no chance you could be negatively influenced by the knowledge of the terrible events that have happened, and will continue to happen to the poor Baudelaires.