By Troi Watts
Movie lovers and fans of the series were all horrified when A Series of Unfortunate Events was released as a movie in 2004. It wasn’t that Jim Carrey was a poor choice in casting, but that the movie was completely unfair to the beloved book series and was just not well written… The memory of this disaster left many of us hesitant to try the new Netflix depiction of A Series of Unfortunate Events, but I took a chance and was so entertained that I finished the first season in a day!
A Series of Unfortunate Events is just as gloomy of a tale as the title suggests. The story follows the Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, as they struggle through life after the tragic death of their parents in a house fire. Their parents’ will leaves the children in the care of a supposed relative, Count Olaf. Unfortunately, the children come to learn that Count Olaf is just a despicable villain who is after their vast inheritance and will do anything to get it. The Baudelaire orphans must escape Count Olaf and discover the many secrets that cloud the lives of their parents. Was their death an accident? What is the connection between a spyglass the Baudelaire parents owned and the mysterious eye tattoo on Count Olaf’s ankle? None of the answers will be happy, I’m sorry to say.
Netflix did a phenomenal job in this latest rendition of A Series of Unfortunate Events. The first sign of its success is Patrick Warburton’s (The Emperor’s New Groove, Family Guy) portrayal of Lemony Snicket, the author of the book series. One of the trademarks of the books was Snicket’s constant narration, portrayed in the series as Patrick Warburton breaking the fourth wall. Patrick Warburton’s voice and overall acting skills hook the audience from the first scene. This use of narration allows for some interesting insight into Snicket’s mind and valuable foresight into the show itself.
Warburton isn’t the only major star to give this series some flair. Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother, Smurfs) stars as Count Olaf himself. While Jim Carrey was mainly creepy in the 2004 movie, Neil Patrick Harris is creepy and funny! Harris’s versatile acting is evident as he portrays the various disguises that Count Olaf employs to get to the Baudelaire children, even portraying Count Olaf as a woman at one point. Harris is also the executive producer for the series, so his own personal style can be spotted everywhere in the series, from jokes to costumes to acting. Harris has absolutely given this show the inspiration it needed to be a success.
The way the show is shot adds to the necessary feeling of despair and, at times, false hope. The color palettes of the show are very toned down with very little sunlight or blue skies to make things seem happy. All of the masterfully done sets are also built in a dreary fashion. Count Olaf’s mansion, for example, is gray, colorless, and very gothic. The set designers really knew what they were doing.
The biggest problem for fans of the book series was the fact that the 2004 movie was released prior to the completion of the book series. This left the writers having to make up an ending for the Baudelaire children and fill in any gaps leading up to the end. That didn’t go well… But writers of the Netflix series had the full book series to work with, allowing them to stick closer to Snicket’s story. The writers obviously used this information because the Netflix series is so satisfyingly detailed and actually has depth that only a completed story could have. Overall, fans of the book series should find the Netflix series an acceptable adaptation.
If I had to point out a flaw in the Netflix series, it would be that the show can, at some points, be very dry and frustrating. The fact that the children can’t seem to catch a break can be frustrating, but that’s the point of the show (it is called A Series of Unfortunate Events, after all). The repetitiveness of the children bouncing from guardian to guardian can seem too formulaic and predictable, making it hard to want to watch the show at times. Also, the dialogue is very simple at times, another problem that leads to predictability.
Despite a few flaws, the Netflix version of A Series of Unfortunate Events is a success. Stars Neil Patrick Harris and Patrick Warburton add to the interesting, despairing, and, at times, comedic telling of the rough lives of the Baudelaire children. Season 1 is currently on Netflix and recounts the stories from the first four books in the series. This is a welcome reboot for victims of the 2004 movie.