“Look away, this show will wreck your evening, your whole life and your day so look away.” If you take the advice of the theme song, then you’ll miss out on a wonderfully dark and morbidly hilarious show that’s perfect for kids and adults alike.
‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ is a 13-long book series written by Lemony Snicket (a nom de plume used by Daniel Handler) with a morose bent, detailing the lives of the three Baudelaires as they are handed from guardian to guardian in the wake of the death of their parents and the destruction of their home in a terrible fire. The plot is spotty and really picks up at the backend of the series while the narration feels more like a plethora of puns and literary references: all reasons that made the series immensely popular.
While a movie starring Jim Carrey didn’t do so well, Netflix picked up the series and released an eight-episode long season in January – Friday the 13th to be exact.
While the movie crammed three books into one and a half hours, the series takes its time with its jokes and action, giving the first four books double episodes each. Each pair of episodes is based on the premise of the Baudelaires with a new guardian as they try to escape the clutches of Count Olaf, a villainous actor who is trying to get a hold of their fortune.
The children have to depend on themselves as time and time again the adults prove to be unsupportive in the face of Count Olaf’s dastardly plans. Striking a balance between dark and funny (Mr. Poe says ‘Your parents have perished in a terrible fire’ and when the children don’t respond he explains the word perished with perfect comedic timing) the series is quite unlike any other children’s programming on air right now. It is also full of sometimes obscure literary references, making it a delight for adults to watch as well. For example, an optometrist in one of the episodes is called Dr.Georgina Orwell and the entire episode has parallels with ‘1984’.
The series stars Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf, the flamboyant villain with bad personal hygiene, alongside Patrick Warburton as the deadpan Lemony Snicket, K. Todd Freeman as the unhelpful Mr.Poe and Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes and Presley Smith as the mechanically minded Violet, the bookworm Klaus and the biting aficionado Sunny Baudelaire respectively.
The streaming series updates the story wonderfully. The books have met a references to their being books, narrated by Lemony Snicket and the TV series is likewise peppered with such references, with Olaf at one point looking into the camera to say he prefers watching television from the comfort of his own home.
Visually the series moves away from the Victorian gothic feel to something more akin to the 21st century but with an achronistic and stylistic differences that feel fun. The narration by Patrick Warburton is especially fantastic. Dipping into the story at important times to deliver hilarious asides with a poker face, this rendition of Lemony Snicket is probably the best way in which the series has adapted the tone of the books.
Secret organisations, intrigue and spies may have come up later in the books, but they neatly pad the episodes with some new material. Jacqueline, Mr.Poe’s secretary, is an enigmatic new character. Cobie Smulders and Will Arnett also feature as ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’, roles that give us insight into what VFD actually does. Fans of the book will appreciate a glimpse of the Quagmires at the end, who will play a role in the upcoming seasons.
Of course no adaptation is perfect and the series does sometimes tend to treat the character of Count Olaf as a somewhat lovable villain (mostly because of Neil Patrick Harris’ charm) instead of a murderous scoundrel and the children hardly ever feel truly in danger. The CGI is sometimes hard on the eyes and the plot meanders in the middle in some places. But overall the series is a hit with fans and new watchers alike.