The number of Netflix Originals has been increasing over the past years and with the success of many of them I was overjoyed to learn that “A Series of Unfortunate Events” would soon be adapted into an actual series by Netflix. The story, which is quite aptly described by the title, tells the tale of the Baudelaire children who are moved from guardian to guardian after their parents die in a fire while a man named Count Olaf tries desperately to get the enormous fortune their parents left them, often coming up with ridiculous plans and costumes to reach that goal. It was originally a series of 13 books, written by Daniel Handler. The pen name he uses for the books – Lemony Snicket – is an actual character in the Netflix original taking on the role of narrator. Beginning with the words “look away” in the theme song, this new series is charmingly dark, hilariously frustrating and a joy to experience.
The first thing I noticed when watching was the set design. It is very well done and a mixture of charming, beautiful and depressing. Each set is completely its own, from the gross-looking depression of Briny Beach and absolute shambles of Count Olaf’s house to the bright, pristine look of the bank and cohesive messiness of Montgomery Montgomery’s lizard room. It really sets up the tone of the show.
The first season covers the first four books of the series, with two episodes per book. The plot is a bit monotonous, with the children ending up in a new place with a new guardian, Count Olaf coming in some silly disguise that somehow seems to fool all the other adults but not the children and with a new plan to steal the fortune. Olaf then is foiled by the children when none of the adults believe them but Olaf always seems to get away, mostly because of the stupidity of the other adults. The fact that the adults taking care of the children are clueless and the repetitiveness of the plot does get frustrating, but that is more than balanced out by the laughs the show produces as well as the characters themselves.
The acting is brilliant. Neil Patrick Harris plays Count Olaf, the Baudelaires’ first guardian and the man who wants their fortune and he does so with great gusto and extravagance. This makes him amusing enough for children to watch, but he’s evil enough that adults will not get bored. The children, Violet and Klaus, played by Melina Weissman and Luis Hynes, are also very well portrayed, with Klaus’ defiant bookishness and Violet’s inventive genius being apparent on screen.
Adding Lemony Snicket in as the narrator was a decision that helps keep the content and themes of the show close to that of the books. Played by Patrick Warburton, Snicket will narrate by popping into scenes – unbeknownst to the other characters of course – and giving long explanations of how unfruitful his research went about one particular part of the story or how exactly the Baudelaires were feeling. Often, he speaks directly to the viewers, trying to get them to stop watching because of how depressing he thinks the story is. Snicket’s commentary is also a creative type of transition that works really well in this context. He also gives long, but somehow not annoying explanations of certain words that describe how the children were feeling, exactly as he did in the books.
One thing that was disappointing was the baby, Sunny. While she is a valid character and the subtitled translations of her baby speak are quite amusing, she is almost entirely computer generated. Of course, it is very hard to use an actual baby on a show like this especially when in scenes with the other characters, but it was still a bit of an annoyance, taking away from the stunning visuals of the rest of the show.
Despite a couple annoyances and Snicket’s warnings, “A Series of Unfortunate Events” is entertaining to watch. Seemingly set in an older time, jokes about the internet and Uber keep the audience guessing and give the show a timeless feel. Anyone who decides to experience it is, ironically, very fortunate.