When Netflix announced that it would be producing a full series based on Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events, fans of the sinister but fun children’s books rejoiced as the film adaptation from 2004 felt somewhat like a missed opportunity.
There are 13 novels altogether; all written between 1999 and 2006, so cramming three of them into one movie was never going to work. Having said that, the result was an entertaining, stylish-looking film with the right visuals, the right tone, and the right cast. Jim Carrey’s take on the villainous Count Olaf, however, proved much too cartoonish. And important aspects of the A Series of Unfortunate Events books were rushed through without mercy leaving those hoping for a faithful adaptation relatively satisfied but not impressed.
A series seemed like the best approach seeing as the episodes could take their time telling the story of the Baudelaire children who are orphaned when their parents perish in a fire and who are then sent to live with various distant relatives. The first trailers we got looked good even if Patrick Warburton as Lemony Snicket just looked like he was doing another National Car Rental ad and Neil Patrick Harris, unrecognizable in his Count Olaf make-up, appeared to be having a little too much fun in the role, not unlike Carrey.
The first season, which consists of 8 episodes, was finally released this month to positive reviews.
Each book spans two episodes, a good idea since it gives the writing time to breathe and the story the opportunity to finally be told at a reasonable pace. In “The Bad Beginning”, the Baudelaires meet Count Olaf and the latter forces them to do all sorts of unpleasant chores before attempting to legally marry young Violet in order to get to the kids’ inherited fortune. This part was split in half in the movie, which didn’t make much sense, and Olaf wasn’t so much scary as he was goofy. Justice Strauss, an important character in that first novel, is given a lot more screen-time here and Joan Cusack does a good job portraying the Baudelaires’ first real hope for a normal life.
Neil Patrick Harris’ Olaf is still much more lively than he is in the books and he’s not scary at all but at least he’s more devious and cruel in this series, definitely a step up from Jim Carrey’s amusing yet too rubber-faced portrayal. One of the best parts of the show is K. Todd Freeman’s Mr. Poe, a role played by Timothy Spall in the 2004 film, who is hilarious as the clueless banker tasked with taking the Baudelaire children to safe new homes. Other cast members do a decent job but don’t quite live up to their cinematic counterparts. Aasif Mandvi and Alfre Woodard, for example, are very good but Billy Connolly and Meryl Streep are tough to outdo as Uncle Monty and Aunt Josephine.
As for the Baudelaires, Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes are the best Violet and Klaus we could have hoped for and Sunny (Presley Smith) is adorable despite the odd CGI enhancements used to make the baby do all sorts of wacky stuff. The show itself certainly has the right tone and manages to be both very funny and genuinely dramatic while still having its share of dark and twisted moments. The final two episodes, based on “The Miserable Mill”, are particularly good as we see the Baudelaires having to deal with not only being forced to work in a dangerous mill for gum but being hypnotised by a dodgy optometrist and, of course, the return of Count Olaf. The opening and end title music are fitting, to say the least, as is the final sing-along which ends things on a miserably upbeat note.
For those who remember the film, most of this first season will feel very familiar, maybe too familiar. Yes, this is an updated take on Lemony Snicket’s novels and it is an improvement but it’s also very much in the same vein as the movie. The first 6 episodes deal with everything that happened in that film, albeit in greater detail, so the final two will come as a breath of fresh air. Those hoping for a darker approach to this story should be happy enough with this series even if Count Olaf is, once again, nowhere near as creepy as he could and should be.
As a fan of the books, I welcome more of this series and cannot wait for Season 2.
Another beautifully done Netflix show and another hit, no doubt.