Misery and despair comes knocking for the Baudelaires once again. Oh boy. Hi, wonderful people of the Internet! Today I will be continuing my reviews of the adaptations of A Series Of Unfortunate Events. I’ve already discussed the first season of Netflix’s version, so now what do you discuss? Well, the second season, it’s kind of obvious. As soon as I found out the release date for the season on Netflix, I started counting down the days until March 30th. And yes, within minutes of it being available to watch on Netflix, I stayed in bed and watched the first episode. So with all that hype, did the season pay off? Definitely. A Series Of Unfortunate Events Season 2 is a brilliant continuation from the first, delivering some lovely characters, gothic humour, and amazing production values yet again.
The series starts with The Austere Academy, that continues exactly where the Season 1 cliffhanger left off. The Baudelaires are waiting outside the office of Vice Principal Nero and we meet the illiterate, horrible brat that is Carmelita Spats. She’s another example of what makes this show work: no matter how despicable her character is, how much of a bully she is, she just won’t go away and will continue giving the Baudelaires misery.
We also plunge the siblings back into despair as we learn the barbaric methods of the Academy e.g if you are late for lunch, you cannot use silverware to eat your food. This episode was reassuring to me as it showed that despite being a new season, the great dark comedy tone that I loved so much wasn’t going anywhere. This two-parter also truly kicks the VFD story arc off. In the first series, we met the agents and saw what they did, but only we knew about it and our characters didn’t. Here, by meeting the Quagmire twins who have gone through exactly the same events, it brings the mystery back to the table and seeing our characters attempt to solve it is riveting.
This season also brings two new characters to the front – Lemony Snicket’s brother, Jacques, played by Nathan Fillion of Firefly fame, and Olivia Caliban played by Sara Rue. These new additions add a lot to the series, and they do inject some optimism and hope into the Baudelaires’ dour situation. But alas, with the show being called ‘A Series Of Unfortunate Events,’ this light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t stay for long. Jacques’s death in ‘The Vile Village – Part One’ is heartbreaking, and especially Olivia’s in the finale. I am happy that these characters, in their limited appearances, were given their time to shine, but I understand why they were killed off, as the creators wanted to absolutely break me – I mean, take away any sort of hope for the Baudelaires.
Speaking of the finale, this is definitely my favourite story of the season. This two-parter is where we finally get to learn about what VFD do and who’s involved, and we feel as if we have been rewarded as an audience. And then, of course, everything comes crashing down in a flurry of despair and horror. Just flipping typical. All joking aside, The Carnivorous Carnival – Part Two is quite possibly my favourite episode of the whole show. It encapsulates everything we love about the series – its gothic and splendid production design, dry humour, fantastic performances, gut-wrenching emotion and ONE HELL OF A CLIFFHANGER. The final minute of the episode where we see Violet and Klaus in a circus carriage that is tumbling down a cliff while Sunny is in Olaf’s car is heartbreaking and terrifying. Even now, I’m still wracking my brain trying to figure out how the hell things can possibly get better for them. You know it’s a good TV show when I’m still thinking about it two months after I’ve finished it.
The performances of Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes have also improved since the first season. Not to say they were bad in the first season, but when you’re trying to act against a cross-dressing Neil Patrick Harris bent on getting orphaned children’s fortunes, I think you know who’s going to come out on top. Here, they show much more emotion as they are giving a bit more to act against. In the final episode, when they have to burn down everything they’ve uncovered and let their baby sister get captured by Olaf’s cronies, their acting is fantastic and makes that last episode all the more engaging to watch.
What this season does differently works really well. Esme Squalor is another wonderful addition to the cast and her chemistry with Neil Patrick Harris is hilarious. The development of the story arc is welcoming and gives the show a faster pace. The season improves on a lot of points. However, what the show attempts to do the same is where it starts to crumble a little. The Ersatz Elevator is a good story, but it is very padded. The last five minutes of Part One is basically Olaf singing a musical number which, don’t get me wrong, is hilarious and Neil Patrick Harris gives it his all as always, but what’s that got to do with the story? The pacing then really grinds when we get to The Vile Village. In Part One of this story, there is admittedly some good stuff in there. When they frame Jacques Snicket as being Count Olaf by giving him a tattoo, you automatically sympathise with him even though you know full well due to the sheer stupidity of the adult characters he’s not going to make it to the end.
What happens in Part Two? The Baudelaires are framed for a murder, there’s a bit of a chase, the Quagmires are rescued. That is literally it. The padding mainly consists of prolonged humour, a few false endings, and conversations that are then repeated two minutes later. The show’s overall quality is still fantastic, but The Vile Village – Part Two is the first sub-par episode of A Series Of Unfortunate Events, and I’m hoping it’s the only one. Also, one of the flaws I brought up about the first season was the exaggerated characterisation of Mr. Poe, and how his naivety and moronic traits were emphasised far too much. Here, they have not learned their lesson: in fact, Mr. Poe is even worse here than he was before.
He constantly forgets Count Olaf’s name, he never believes the children, and he even believes the Baudelaires are murderers when they are accused in The Vile Village. Then in the last four episodes, he has no reason to be there but is unnecessarily shoehorned in because he’s Mr. Poe. He coincidentally decides to visit an event at the hospital, where Olaf and Esme and the Baudelaires just so happen to be, and same with the circus show in The Carnivorous Carnival. In Season 3, they need to realise that Mr Poe is not important anymore, and if they are going to give him stuff to do, they need to write his character properly, as right now, he sticks out like a sore thumb amid the plethora of fantastic characters and performances.
Regardless, this season of A Series Of Unfortunate Events was still great fun to watch. The show’s funny yet chilling tone is retained with hilariously dark and emotional results, the performances and in particular of Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes have improved, the VFD story arc is wonderfully engaging and the show’s production values are still breathtaking. I would personally say it isn’t quite as good as season 1, but that’s not going to stop me from giving this season an 8 out of 10. Season 3 can not come soon enough.
I will have a review of the 2004 film coming soon, along with reviews of Lost In Space, plenty of other classic film reviews, but in terms of TV…, I’m doing it. I’m reviewing both seasons of the show that has took the world by storm. Stranger Things. However, until then, this is the Classic Film Kid, signing off!