Genre: Drama, Black Comedy Director: Barry Sonnenfeld, Mark Palansky, Bo Welch Starring: Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, K. Todd Freeman Presley Smith
If you’re looking to read a happy dreamworld of a review, that fills you with joy and delight about the world… you may be better off somewhere else. Not that you’re wrong to look this way of course, but that sort of disclaimer is apparently useful to some people.
That hasn’t worked for one Mr Lemony Snicket who’s Series of Unfortunate Events has been taken up by Netflix and given its own series… and they actually pulled it off.
And its actually one of the best Netflix exclusive series that I’ve ever watched. And this is not hyperbole (especially considering some of its competition *cough* Iron Fist *cough*) This is an amazing watch and an excellent reconstruction of the book series that its based upon. It probably helps that someone called Daniel Handler was involved in the project, I’ve never heard of him myself, but some people might have.
The series is introduced to us by one Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton) who tells the woeful tale of the Baudelaire Orphans, Violet, Klaus and Sunny. (Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes and Presley Smith respectively) These children, who lose their parents to a terrible and mysterious fire are sent to live with the villainous and distinctly untalented Count Olaf (played by talented Neil Patrick Harris) who desires the enormous fortune left to the orphans. With Olaf and his henchmen stopping at nothing to get what they want, the three children must use their wits and each other to save themselves, and unravel the mystery connecting these people together.
I’ll get on to how well they captured the story from the books on to the tv series later, but for now I want to start with the design of A Series of Unfortunate Events. (Which I will refer to as Unfortunate Events from here on) The series itself uses gothic imagery first and foremost, matching the tone of the story that it’s telling to the viewers. How Count Olaf’s house is designed, the various locations that are visited and the characters take cues from Victorian design ideas that give it a timeless feeling. However, this isn’t too overbearing; it does remember to have bright moments spread out in the series.
Unfortunate Events keeps its tone dark throughout, but never to the point that it’s too depressing to watch. There’s always something to come back to, whether it’s the black comedy elements, the enthralling story, or even the narration that Mr Snicket provides.
Added to that its songs and music keeps with the dark and humorous themes of this series. It was certainly a good choice to have this feed into the story.
When reading about the casting choices initially… well, I won’t deny that I had reservations with who they chose to play Count Olaf and Lemony Snicket. I was less worried about the Baudelaire Orphans since they seemed at least okay in their acting. But Patrick Warburton as Lemony Snicket and Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf? Curious choices to say the least.
However, I’m happy to say that I was wrong about that; these were excellent choices to play such important characters. Warburton’s presence suits the role of the narrator constantly interrupting the story for humorous effect, its something I definitely enjoyed watching over the alternative of having a more withdrawn and underplayed Lemony.
And Count Olaf? His character is played to great effect, striking a balance between the sheer unpleasantness that he personifies (whatever role he’s playing) and the comedy that he adds so that the series isn’t such a miserable story to walk through. Though there were times that I felt it was less Olaf on stage and more Barney from How I Met Your Mother (which here means more humorous than sinister), it still works very well for the story that is being told.
His introduction alone, where he opens the door to his home with a menacing, “hello, hello, hello” is what sold me on the villain, and that was never lost throughout.
With the children themselves, they’re played well enough, though I will say that nothing particularly stood out for me. They’re acceptable in the roles that they are given. Violet being inventive and taking a leadership role, Klaus being inquisitive and just generally the brainy type, and Sunny… likes to bite things and play poker. Its clear with the latter that there were limitations with what they could do but I think it was done as well as they could have. Its through their eyes (And Mr Snicket’s) that the story is told, and that’s good enough for me.
Other characters were good too, with the Baudelaire Orphan’s guardians providing interesting spins on the admittedly one note characters that they could be in the books. Banker man Mr Poe (K. Todd Freeman) plays the role of well meaning (but perhaps less all seeing than he thinks) executor of the Baudelaire Estate. We also have new characters or expanded roles from the books that add some more context to Unfortunate Events that was somewhat lacking before.
And this is what brings me to the story itself. As I said the tale in the books translates very well to the TV series, matching it word for word in many cases. The four books that are formatted into episodes are split into two parts each which helps to keep them more self contained than another certain film version that rushed through pretty important plot elements. Not that anyone involved in the project was bitter about that, and they certainly don’t take time to take a jab at that version of the story.
And with the addition of new characters or new character roles, the story does feel more connected than before. The conspiracy and secret organisation stuff that developed in later novels are woven into the earlier stories, which will likely make it more digestible for when it will come up in the next series. But as I said, the stories are self contained and enjoyable on their own as well as taken as a whole with no episode particularly deviating from the fine quality held throughout.
I first read (or more accurately listened to) Unfortunate Events as narrated by Tim Curry over a decade ago and still remember the story of the very first novel almost word for word. You’re probably thinking how weird that is for someone to hold onto that, but I guess I just found it so entertaining and enthralling a story to remember.
As much as I adore this series, however, I will concede that not everyone may enjoy it as much as I have; it does have a bit of strangeness to it that can be difficult to get into. And though Mr Snicket’s warning at the start is mainly for entertainment purposes, it is still a warning to be mindful that it may not always be satisfying. It is literally A Series of Unfortunate Events.
But that was never a deal breaker for me upon discovery and I would still recommend reading/watching it to fans and newcomers alike, especially since its more in the public eye than ever.
And with the release of this new adaption, I’m just happy that it has my attention again. Not only that, but how others have liked it too. In an age where film adaptions of children or young adult books are under more scrutiny than ever, its refreshing to have an adaption on TV (so it can take its time) that follows the story almost word for word (while also adding new material) that is somehow… Somehow, excellent to watch.
A Series of Unfortunate Events, in my opinion, is nothing less than the best series available on Netflix that I’ve watched. I’m not sure if everyone will like it, but the same was true of the books they were based on. And well… Mr Snicket did warn you.
But if you are interested do give it a watch, because it may not be as miserable as you’re led to believe.
Rating: 5/5 (a term which here means fantastic, from my point of view)