Bestselling children’s book series comes to life in darkly funny Netflix adaption
THE SANTA CLARA
January 19, 2017
If the fairytale quirkiness of “Pushing Daisies” had a love child with Tim Burton’s nightmarish aesthetic, “A Series of Unfortunate Events” would be its progeny.
From the first note of the opening theme to its closing musical number, the show delights in its own grim campiness while simultaneously urging viewers to “Look away, look away . . . there’s nothing but horror and inconvenience on the way.” Based on the children’s book series by Lemony Snicket (pseudonym of Daniel Handler), the series follows the three Baudelaire orphans after their parent’s tragic, fiery deaths. The first season covers books one through four of the series, one book more than the 2004 Jim Carrey film adaptation did.
As the orphans bounce around from guardian to guardian, they attempt to expose the sinister Count Olaf’s various schemes to take control of the Baudelaire fortune. It seems happiness is always just around the corner for the Baudelaire orphans, but by the time they turn the corner, Count Olaf is already there with a trap.
One of the more creative aspects of the show is the use of Lemony Snicket himself in freeze frame-esque narration that makes no one but the audience privy to his haunted musings, despite appearing right alongside the main action.
Mr. Snicket (Patrick Warburton) is an omniscient narrator offering explanations and asides as he does in the books. They use less of him as the story settles in, which is a shame because hints at the tragedies of his life make him one of the most interesting, complex characters in the whole show.
The role of the infamous mastermind, Count Olaf, is played by Neil Patrick Harris, who immediately attracted the attention of author and producer Daniel Handler after his 2013 Tony’s performance.
NPH balances the vileness of Count Olaf with a charm that keeps you enticed, even after he strikes Klaus across the face in one of the show’s more sobering moments.
However, fans of “How I Met Your Mother” may have a hard time seeing past the Barneyisms of his performance. There are times when viewers become too aware that they’re watching NPH perform, not Count Olaf.
Malina Weissman (Violet) and Louis Hynes (Klaus) deliver capable performances as the orphans and are satisfyingly, dreadfully brave. Even Presley Smith as baby Sunny is quite impressive on screen for how expressive and engaging her reactions are.
The plot, because it follows the same episodic pattern, can get a little tiresome by the end, but there’s enough variation and depth added along the way that it doesn’t become a major problem. The biggest flaw lies in its pacing, with each of the eight episodes varying widely between 40 minutes to an hour.
The genuinely clever and whimsical aspects of the show make up for the saggy parts. Even the caricatured characters (re: the adults) are softer, wholehearted versions of their book counterparts. They may be bumbling and patronizing to the point of harm, but they’re never boring to watch.
As book readers will already know, there’s a frustrating lack of answers delivered by the end of the series, but this Netflix adaptation may soon fix that. The main mystery of the show is introduced earlier on and there are several Easter eggs for those already in the know. It’ll be interesting to see if the show follows through with more answers.
For now, there’s a surprise subplot involving fellow HIMYM alum Cobie Smulders and “Arrested Development’s” Will Arnett that will throw fans for a loop. It’s a thrilling surprise that by the end of the season robs the audience of their hopes for the orphans. Like the overall show, it’s bittersweet till the end.
With season two already on its way and a projected third to wrap the series up, the show’s freshman effort successfully straddles the strange middle ground of being children’s entertainment that everyone else can enjoy too.
With Handler as writer and producer (plus a cameo as a fisherman), the show is a faithful adaptation of the books and retains its dark optimism. In this story, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning and very few happy things in the middle, but it’s nonetheless a pleasure to watch.
Contact Perla Luna at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.