TV Review: A Series of Unfortunate Events (Season 1, 2017)

Based on the series of ghastly novels by the morbid Lemony Snicket (pen name of Daniel Handler), Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events was released in full in early 2017. The series tells the tale of the Baudelaire children — Violet (Malina Weissman, Supergirl), Klaus (Louis Hynes) and Sunny (Presley Smith) — orphaned after their parents perish in a mysterious fire (and in case it isn’t clear, “perish” means they die). It’s horribly depressing, but only gets more bleak when the orphans are sent to live with the villainous Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris), a scoundrel who wants nothing to do with the trio, except for the humongous fortune left behind by their parents. Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton), an in universe character tasked with chronicling the Baudelaire’s lives, pops in now and then to add some exposition, a word which here means “describe things from another perspective”. Each book is adapted into two episodes, for a total of eight episodes for the first four books (three of which previously covered in the 2004 movie adaption).

I am a big fan of the novels, and read them all as they were released, and several times since. I was not particularly happy with the movie adaptions, so I had some very high hopes for this series.

+ Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris) and Lemony Snicket (Warburton), in particular, made from some very fine dramatisations. NPH hamming it up as Count Olaf (and his various characters’ disguises) makes for the majority of the series’ comedy, especially when it comes to dropping little digs at the movie adaption, or breaking the fourth wall. Warburton has such a fantastic voice as a narrator, and his deadpan delivery of sometimes horrendous events is such dark comedy you can’t help but smile
+ all three of the Baudelaire orphans are fantastic, and exactly as I imagined them; Violet (Weissman), is tough and capable, and Klaus (Hynes) is ready to learn whatever is required. And Sunny (Presley Smith) is just absolutely adorable
+ the episodes all start with a dedication from Lemony Snicket to his dear, departed Beatrice, and the opening credits for each episode pair have Olaf, in character, giving a brief singing summary of the episodes’ contents. It’s great fun, every time
+ the whole series is shot as if somewhere between a pop-up book and obvious (intentional) green-screen work. The sets all look overly fake, which I thought helped add to the notion that things are not quite right for the Baudelaires, as well as making the whole thing feel somewhat anachronistic — much like the books, no specific time period or worldly location is ever given

The Baudelaire about-to-be-Orphans: Klaus (Louis Hynes), Violet (Malina Weissman) and Sunny (Presley Smith)

– some of the changes, mostly in terms of character, were somewhat disappointing. Aunt Josephine (aside from the obvious race switch, because as if that matters) didn’t feel as erratic as she did ‘random’. For once, I think I preferred the movie version. Otherwise, Sir, from the fourth book, was supposed to be constantly smoking and have his face covered by smoke, but in this series he is just a smoker. I wish at least some effort was taken to conceal his face
– as happy as I am that the Baudelaires didn’t go through three guardians in 50 minutes, as with the movie, I can’t help but think that 100 minutes per book is that little bit too long. The third episode in particular had one or two five-ish minute stretches where I felt it was a little bit unnecessary. Maybe a single 75ish minute episode per book could have made a bit more sense
– I was really not a fan of some of the reveals the series made, well before they were even acknowledged in the books. I understand needing some back story, rather than an exposition dump in episode ten, but in some ways it takes a bit away from the series knowing there even is a behind the scenes plot at all. Having said that, a viewing partner did not understand many of the very fine details, or flinch at certain phrases used, so maybe I am just acknowledging them because I know of them

> Malina Weissman is the spitting image of 2004 Emily Browning, from the film version, it’s almost scary how similar they look at times
> I was always scared of the headmaster of the Austere Academy. The silhouette shown in the final moments of this season gave me that same uneasy feeling, which I suppose is a good thing?

Should you watch this show: This series, an adaption of the first four of thirteen books, is faithful to the source material and thoroughly depressing. “Depressing” is a word which here means “well worth your time in watching from Bad Beginnings to The End.”


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