Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events”, despite the title and the deliberately dreary looking covers on each book, were probably one of the most popular book series that teenagers and young adults enjoyed during the early 2000s, after “Harry Potter” debuted, and while fans, such as myself, were waiting for the next “Harry Potter” book to hit the shelves. Inside, buried between the snug hardbound covers of each book were wonderfully written tales of woe, with unforgettable characters, a self-aware narrator, and ingenious word play that still amuses us until today.
So, when a movie adaptation was announced and was released in 2004, you can bet that many were excited to see how it translated to the big screen. Unfortunately (and yes, I’m using this word correctly at the moment), they were not really able to get the right mix for it to be successful, and it turned out to be a little bit of a disappointment to fans of the book series.
Years later, it was announced that Netflix would be taking their chances on adapting it into a television series, with the amazing Neil Patrick Harris taking on the role of the main villain of the series- Count Olaf. This news definitely got the fans and myself excited and optimistic about a new adaptation, not just because of talent involved, but also because of the fact that Netflix’s original shows have hit out of the park over and over again.
Finally, on January 13, 2017,(which was coincidentally Friday the 13th), Netflix released all eight episodes of the first season, and I can say, as a full- fledged fan of the series, that it was remarkably done, and I honestly cannot wait to see how they will adapt the entire book series.
Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” follows the unfortunate events that happen to the Baudelaire siblings, Violet (Malina Weisssman), Klaus (Louis Hynes) and Sunny (Presley Smith/Tara Strong), after their parents perish in a fire. Together, the three siblings try their best to survive their incompetent guardians, try to figure out why their parents perished, and to escape the clutches of the nefarious Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris), who is determined to have them so he get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune. The entire series is narrated by Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton), whose sole duty in life is to report the actual events that happened to the Baudelaires. The first season covers the first four books (“The Bad Beginning”, “The Reptile Room”, “The Wide Window”, “The Miserable Mill”), with two episodes devoted to each book.
This adaptation is definitely the adaptation that fans of the series deserved from the very beginning, partly because not only does the Netflix model work for the source material, but because Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket,is overseeing the entire thing.
As it is an adaptation, one should expect that there are some changes, but it stays true to the core of what the series is, and it only enhances the experience and the mythology of the series.
Add to this spot-on casting, wonderfully made absurdist and gothic sets, and a beautiful score by James Newton Howard, and you get a series that satisfies both newcomers and old fans of the book series alike.
From this moment on, if you have not seen the first season of Netflix’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events”, I implore and beg you, just like Lemony Snicket does, to immediately “look away”, and to find a happier television show review on this blog. However, if you have decided to cast your luck with the unfortunate Baudelaires, continue reading on, to your own discretion.
One of the things that sets “A Series of Unfortunate Events” apart, and is something that is a little bit tricky to pull off, is the overall tone and feel of the various places that the Baudelaires end up at. Thankfully, the series manages to pull off the gothic Tim Burton-esque feel that it requires without it pandering towards campiness in the visual effects, the settings themselves, and the score. I think the entire “timelessness” of the setting of the books was also wonderfully conveyed, what with Violet’s steampunk inventions, and Olaf’s mentions of buyin an hourglass online.
Another thing that got me a little bit worried was how Harris’ Count Olaf would be portrayed, but as soon as I saw the trailers, I was confident that he would be able to pull it off perfectly, and I was right. He also managed to pull off his disguises really well, and in particular, the Captain Sham one was the most convincing, and his Shirley disguise was the most amusing. I also loved the fact that Harris sang the opening credits of each episode, and the lyrics changed per guardian, and he did change his voice depending on the disguise, if called for.
However, never in a million years did I expect to be amused by Olaf’s henchpeople, who, in the series, are given more character depth than in the books themselves. Here, they are no longer that menacing, but amusing subordinates that Olaf can boss around.
Weissman, Hynes and Smith were perfectly cast as Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire, and even though it may seem strange at times, I think the CGI parts and the voice over and subtitles for Sunny did the job it was supposed to do.
With the guardians, my favorite in those first four books will always be Uncle Montgomery “Monty” Montgomery (Asif Mandiv), whose Reptile Room was exactly as I thought it would be. The weakest guardian, for me, would be Aunt Josephine Anwhistle (Alfre Woodard), and I thought that her performance was a little bit too over the top, as I couldn’t totally believe that she was truly terrified of everything. I was a little bit disappointed that we actually saw Sir’s (Don Johnson) face, but after a while, I got used to the fact that it would be difficult to envelope his head all the time in smoke like it did in the books.
I am not sure if I am being biased because “The Wide Window” was the least favorite of the books, but among the episodes, “The Wide Window” episodes were also the weaker ones for me.
Warburton’s performance as Snicket was well-done, and I like the fact that they kept him as a narrator on screen, as it also allowed us to see and hear some interesting Easter Eggs that fans of the book series will not have a hard time catching. It was also interesting how they showed that Snicket was narrating to us from the Baudelaire’s future, and that he had visited key places in the Baudelaire’s story during his investigations.
One of the biggest changes to the series was the prominence of Snicket, not just as a narrator, but as a member of the secret organization known as the V.F.D., and that he has direct connections with the Baudelaires, the guardians that they are sent to live with, and with Count Olaf himself.
That, plus the introduction of other V.F.D. members, secret messages decoded by a spyglass (one half of which Klaus has), put the organization front and center as a relevant plot point. I really liked that they did that because it draws the audience in, and at the same time, it gives a much clearer reason as to why these things are happening to the Baudelaires. It made the V.F.D. more real and tangible, as compared to the books, in which its importance came forward in the latter books.
Jacquelyn, one of the new characters that was introduced in the series, while it’s clear that she is a member of the V.F.D., we don’t know exactly who she is. There is a theory out there, and I would like to think that this is the case, that she is the gender bent version of Lemony’s oldest sibling, Jacques Snicket.
However, I think the best thing that they ever added to the series were the Mother (Cobie Smulders) and Father (Will Arnett) that were introduced at the beginning of the season, and the interesting switch and bait they did in the end when it was revealed that this couple are not the Baudelaire parents, but the parents of the Quagmire triplets. And even better than that, they began to transition into the “Austere Academy” (Book 5), with the Baudelaires and the Quagmires unknowingly sitting back to back to each other at Purfrock Preparatory School.
And as if that wasn’t enough, they decided to wrap the first season with a song sung by the entire cast, that reminds us that this story will not or probably ever, have a happy ending.
In the end, “A Series of Unfortunate Events” is back in the zeitgeist again, and was wonderfully done in a way that both old fans and new fans alike will come back craving to learn what unfortunate events happen next to the poor Baudelaire siblings.
**Note: For an optimal viewing experience, watch it per book. Episodes 1 & 2 covered Book 1: “The Bad Beginning”; Episodes 3 & 4 covered Book 2: “The Reptile Room”; Episodes 5 & 6 covered Book 3: “The Wide Window”; and Episodes 7 & 8 covered Book 4: “The Miserable Mill”, with the ending of Episode 8 transitioning into Book 5: “The Austere Academy”.
Favorite Miserable Moments:
- The opening credits of each episode with changed lyrics to summarize the books it was derived from & the closing song.
- The moment I realized that the mom in “Home Alone” is Dr. Georgina Orwell.
- Aunt Josephine’s (Alfre Woodard) house breaking in half.
- Klaus getting hypnotized and the accident at the Lucy Smells Lumber Mill.
- The moment when you discover that Cobie Smulders and Will Arnett are the Quagmire parents, and the moment you see the triplets.
- The Quagmire fire. I do have a feeling that was Esme Squalor who set it off.
- Encrypted messages in strange black and white films, and that spyglass.
- V.F.D. references everywhere from the logo to V.F.D. words, to the spyglass, to “The World Is Quiet Here”, to the sugar bowl.
- That moment when you discover that the Baudelaires and the Quagmires are back to back to each other at the boarding school, and then Klaus and Isadora hold up, at the same time, their halves of the spyglass.
- The entire thing being meta when they talk about streaming television and binge watching.
Favorite Depressing Episodes:
- Episode 1 & 2- “The Bad Beginning-Parts I & II”
- Episode 3- “The Reptile Room- Part I”
- Episodes 7 & 8- “The Miserable Mill-Parts I & II”