“A Series Of Unfortunate Events: one of the most miserable and dour collections of children’s books ever written. So please someone tell me why this is so incredibly entertaining”?
Hey guys, and I’m back with another review. This time, I’m doing a review of a TV show. I always like moving to TV every now and then as it allows me to branch out my content beyond films, and so I thought that today, I would look at a TV show that hooked me from the first few minutes of episode one. Today I shall look at the first season of Netflix’s adaptation of the most unfortunate young-adult book series to grace Earth, A Series of Unfortunate Events by the author Daniel Handler under the pen name Lemony Snicket. I’m also planning to review the second season, as well as the film adaptation starring Jim Carey. But enough waffle, let’s get on with it, and into Season 1.
Season 1 is eight episodes long and adapts the first four books, spending roughly 90 minutes on each. It stars Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf, Patrick Warburton as Lemony Snicket, and Malina Weismann, Louis Hines, and Presley Smith as Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. It also stars K. Todd Freeman as the oblivious bank manager Mr Poe, and features an impressive guest cast, including Joan Cusack, Alfre Woodard, Catherine O’ Hara, Will Arnett, Cobie Smulders, Aasif Mandavi, and Rhys Darby (who plays Psycho Sam the Bush Man in Hunt For The Wilderpeople. I’m already in love.)
This first season is a funny, smart, stylish and exciting adaptation of the source material, with only a couple of things that could be pinpointed as weaknesses. It probably helps that Daniel Handler actually wrote 5 out of the 8 episodes for this show, which makes it the most faithful adaptation of the books we’re going to get. The series perfectly captures the comically grim tone of the books, with Patrick Warburton’s perfect deadpan narrator of Lemony Snicket further reinforcing that.
While I like the ominous voiceover of Jude Law in the film, Patrick Warburton will knock him out of the water any day of the week. He has some great visual gags and set pieces, and really sets the mood well for the rest of the episodes. Like I said, this series gives each book two forty-five minute episodes to spread its wings. This has caused many complaints about the programme, as I’ve heard many complain that the pacing is too slow. Personally, I think that yes, the books may feel a little shallow in places, but this is backed up by the extra things this series adds to make the plot more engaging.
Now, in the books, there was a story arc that built about the mystery of the initials V.F.D. I haven’t read the books all the way through, but I did some research and discovered this. The actual storyline of V.F.D doesn’t start until Book 5, however, this series brings it forward, and it’s a mystery right from the beginning. We meet many agents like Jacqueline, Gustav, and Larry Your Waiter (no, that’s actually his name, Larry Your Waiter), that further add to the mystery, and you’ll also notice many objects have the initials V.F.D as attempts to mislead the audience (for example, in The Miserable Mill, Klaus uses a Verified Functional Dictionary).
The season also throws in one of the biggest twists I’ve seen in a TV show. At the end of episode 1, we see a captured mother and father played by Will Arnett and Cobie Smoulders (and about Cobie Smoulders, with Neil Patrick Harris as the lead character, prepare to see many familiar faces from How I Met Your Mother and Doogie Howser M.D, just a heads up) who we are led to believe are the Baudelaire parents. We follow their journey throughout the series, trying to find their children and re-communicate with V.F.D, and then at the end of Episode 7 (or Miserable Mill: Part One), we think they are about to be happily reunited. This scene is directed masterfully: the Baudelaire approach a yellow door, and so do the parents. The door opens on the parents’ side – and they are actually outside their house, and they go in and reunite with their children, the Quagmires. The Baudelaires are stuck with a hypnotist and Count Olaf masquerading as a female receptionist. It’s the perfect example of what this series does best, trick us into thinking our characters are succeeding, and then they plop them right back down into the misery and despair. This plotline was fantastic and is one of my favourite aspects of this series.
However, let’s go onto what’s actually in the books. I must confess the books are very well-adapted indeed, and because they have much more time than the film had, it allows for all of the book’s funny quirks to be showcased e.g stopping to explain what words mean, ignorant adults, and lots of in-jokes and pop culture references. I can’t really decide on what is my favourite episode, as all of them are similar in story, tone and above all quality. Many claim that the earlier books are repetitive, and admittedly, they all are: the Baudelaires get sent to a new guardian, Count Olaf shows up in a disguise, the guardian is either killed or something bad happens to them, Mr. Poe finally realises it’s Count Olaf but too late, uh oh, Count Olaf has escaped with his henchman (who, by the way, are hilarious.)
The characters are spot-on in this, and that’s purely down to the acting. Neil Patrick Harris manages to do something I never thought was possible: he chews the scenery and hams it up to the extreme, and yet manages to be so horrible and villainous at the same time. I’ve already mentioned how I adore Patrick Warburton as Lemony Snicket, and the guest cast is all uniformly brilliant in their one-off roles, especially Joan Cusack as the kind-hearted Justice Strauss (who I think actually comes back later on in the books, so maybe she’s not a one-off guest star). Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes are fine as Violet and Klaus, but their acting will definitely improve in season 2.
The tone in the film was mostly comedy-drama: here, it feels like a black comedy. The stereotypes of the characters are very exaggerated, the quirks are pushed to the nth degree. It’s a much better tone for the series, as it allows for excellent comedy as well as bleakness and emotion.
However, there are a couple of flaws. Now I mentioned earlier that I love all of the characters, and I think they were realised brilliantly. All except for one: Mr. Poe. Mr. Poe is the banker who is in charge of the Baudelaires’ wellbeing. He has a persistent cough and is extremely naive towards the children’s situations, and he is constantly fooled by Count Olaf’s disguises. Nevertheless, he is considered as a friend to the Baudelaires and it shows that he’s meant to care about them, despite having no idea what the heck he’s doing. In the show, Mr. Poe is played by K. Todd Freeman, and he’s an absolute idiot. His character stereotypes are exaggerated far too much, making him seem like a careless old crybaby, and he does absolutely nothing that is remotely helpful. Sometimes, the show seems unsure on why he’s there in the first place (especially in Season 2). I really do not like this version of Mr. Poe at all. As well as this, sometimes the way they develop V.F.D into the overall narrative is slightly clumsy. For example, at the end of The Reptile Room: Part Two, the story actually ends at the half-hour mark and we then get the rest of the episode forwarding the V.F.D storyline. It’s fun, but I really wish it had been seeded throughout the episode rather than have a ten-minute blast at the end.
They are really my only complaints. I had a fantastic time watching the first A Series Of Unfortunate Events, as this positively fuelled me as I eagerly anticipated Season 2, which was released a few months ago. And in typical me fashion, I finished the ten-episode season within 2 weeks. Yippee. A Series Of Unfortunate Events delivers on the promises it made to fans of the books, and it delivered a witty gothic comedy that expanded the world of Daniel Handler’s series while staying true to the source material with fantastic characters, performances and a simply stunning visual design. I loved the first season and it receives a 9/10. Could have been a 10 had it not been for one of the most stupid bankers in fiction.
Well, that’s it, my review of the first season of A Series Of Unfortunate Events on Netflix. I will be reviewing Season 2 as well as the 2004 film starring Jim Carey. I’m also reviewing all ten episodes of Netflix’s revival of Irwin Allen’s Lost In Space, along with plenty of classic film reviews. Stay tuned for more content from me, as it is going to be an eventful couple of months.
That’s all for me, guys. This is the Classic Film Kid, signing off!