REVIEW – Netflix’s “A Series Of Unfortunate Events: Season One”
Look away, Look away.
A Series Of Unfortunate Events is television series from Netflix, developed by Mark Hudis and Barry Sonnenfeld and stars Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, K. Todd Freeman, and Presley Smith. It is based off the book series of the same name written by Lemony Snicket and tells the story of Violet, Klause, and Sunny Baudelaire, who’s parents die in a mysterious fire. They are sent to go live with their cruel and mysterious distant relative Count Olaf. Their arrival at Count Olaf’s home is a new beginning for the children, but not the kind they expected. Once they meet Count Olaf, what ensues can only be described as A Series of Unfortunate Events. As a huge fan of the books and being disappointed with the 2004 film adaptation, I was very anxious to see how Netflix handled the material and it is my solemn duty to tell you, A Series Of Unfortunate Events is a darkly funny, wickedly clever, gothic comedy that finally does justice to the great source material. I have never wanted to see the second season of a show more.
Mark Hudis and Barry Sonnenfeld are the creators of A Series Of Unfortunate Events and they have done a great job capturing the spirit of the books. Barry Sonnenfeld also developed the show Pushing Daisies and while that show, at times, felt tonally inconsistent that is not the case here. This is a melancholy, gothic, and mature show that respects the audience. We are given a lot of very meta jokes and both men clearly wanted to give the fans what they deserved and handled the material with care. With two episodes being dedicated to each book, the show is able to respectfully adapt each book, while also having no room for filler. Mark Hudis has developed many TV shows so he is clearly not new to this and it shows. Everything just works here. I think fans of the book will be pleased and even if you haven’t read the books there is a lot to love here. The world is just so damn intriguing, I could see many people become hardcore fans of the book now. The casting, the music, the sets, the script, they all just work. While Barry Sonnenfeld may not be forgiven for Nine Lives just yet, he is getting there.
Now, while I obviously can’t pinpoint one screenwriter for the show, the writing is sublime. Daniel Handler, the author of the books, wrote many of the episodes and worked on all of them and it shows. The plot is almost a beat for beat adaptation of the books and it was a delight. There are of course obvious changes made to the source material but none of them really bothered me and some of the changes worked out great. Now if you haven’t read the books don’t be deterred, you’ll be instantly hooked. The world of A Series Of Unfortunate Events is so charming and mysterious you can’t help but fall in love. Each episode is cleverly written and well paced. The two-part structure allows them to give more time to character development and we really do care about the orphans and all who they encounter, even if present for one episode. Right before the show’s narrative would start to become repetitive the season ends and flips everything on its head. Season Two could not come sooner and I can’t wait to see how The Baudelaire Orphans are doing at The Austere Academy.
Now one of the biggest problems the film adaptation had was some strange casting choices and I can confidently say, for the most part, the casting here is excellent. Everyone superbly plays their parts and rips their respective characters straight from the page. I would go down the list, but it would be redundant because they’re all so great. I can say Louis Hynes is a notable improvement from the film and he is the superb Klaus. Malina Weissman is a spot on Violet and I loved whenever Sunny was on screen, she was hilarious. The only person who was a bit odd to me was K. Todd Freeman as Mr. Poe. Not to say he was bad, quite the contrary, I just didn’t read Poe the way he is portrayed. Freeman goes for a more comedic and charismatic approach to the character and in the world of the show it works. Neil Patrick Harris is clearly having a blast playing Olaf and he kills it. He captures the menace, humor, and arrogance of the character excellently. My only complaint is I wish he was a scarier but, once again it works for the show. But that being said, my favorite character was the one I was most nervous for. Patrick Warburton plays our narrator Lemony Snicket and he is simply put, phenomenal. I was skeptical of his casting but oh, how wrong I was. He steals every scene he is in and at times, I just wanted the show to be about him. He flawlessly captures the regret and depression of the character, while managing to be upbeat and funny at the same time. I could watch him play Lemony Snicket forever. He is perfect.
On a technical level, this is spot on. This is a gothic masterpiece. The costumes slowly grow darker as the story progresses and the sets are marvelous, I point to Olaf’s “house” and Aunt Josephine’s lake/sea view home. The visual effects aren’t necessarily realistic, but they’re not trying to make something that would exist in real life, they’re trying to make something that would exist in the Baudelaire’s life. Everything fits into the world Hudis and Sonnenfeld have made. The cinematography is also surprisingly impressive. There are many gorgeous long takes and wide shots. The music is delightful and just makes the experience that much better. It feels like the environments were pulled directly from the page. The world will look weird and dirty and then you’ll turn a corner and be shiny and clean. It is reminiscent of earlier Tim Burton movies and it’s just so great to see. The art direction was the best part of the film adaptation and it’s just as good, if not better, in the show.
After bingeing all eight episodes, I was elated with A Series Of Unfortunate Events. I thought it would be good, I just never imagined it would be this good. I don’t know when season two will be released but I need more. This is one of my new favorite TV shows and it’s one to binge. With perfect casting, great direction, and lush gothic environments, A Series Of Unfortunate Events surpassed all expectations I had and perfectly adapts the first 4 books in the series. It is one of Netflix’s best original series and against Lemony Snickets better judgment, I can’t wait to see these unfortunate events unfold further. 5/5