Over the course of seven years, Daniel Handler has won over young adult readers with his infectious Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events books. At a time when dark subject matter like sorcery, vampires, and satanic worship was becoming increasingly popular in YA, Handler stood out by incorporating dark comedy to soften a forlorn premise. While being funny and ironic is always an easy prospect with books for young people, cleverly executed dark comedy is somewhat of a rarity.
Netflix had the bright idea to recreate the series for an original adaptation and it is a must-see. You may or may not remember the movie version that released in 2004 and starred incredible actors Jim Carrey, Meryl Streep, and Jude Law as Lemony Snicket. Of course, this isn’t to say the 2004 version wasn’t great but it just didn’t pick up enough traction to make any sequels.
Perhaps that’s because it neglected certain plot points such as the conspiracy referenced in the letters from mysterious Aunt Josephine. Another theory may be that, although Barry Sonnenfeld was on board to direct and Handler to write the script, Handler’s text was scrapped by the new director after Sonnenfeld was fired from the project. At any rate, it seems they have finally come full circle to create their vision this year.
If I can be honest, the latest rework of A Series of Unfortunate events is entertainment gold. That’s not to say we didn’t believe Netflix could produce quality original content (cue House of Cards or OITNB), but when the author is at the helm of your writing team it’s no wonder that the project will be a hit. Sonnenfeld knew that an accurate adaptation would be key to attracting the broadest audience, both old and new fans of the beloved series. In the show’s first season, the plot is composed of all the elements from the first three books. From the elaborate set designs to the casting has been fantastic and spot-on, to say the least.
As for the characters, I couldn’t be more impressed with the choices. Which is to be expected after an enduring audition process and having to perform their own stunts in the show. Newcomer Malina Weissman is cast as Violet Baudelaire, and her haunting beauty seems beyond her years as does her character’s maturity. Louis Hynes plays Kalus Baudelaire, who, in comparison to character portrayal, may not be as steadfastly strong as his sister, but he’s very intelligent and “oh-so logically” in the illogical world of lemony snicket. Believe it or not, aside from being adorably cute, Presley Smith as baby Sunny ends up having some of the funniest lines.
There’s even a wonderful list of guest stars on the show, too, including K. Todd Freeman who is delightful as Mr. Poe, Will Arnet (of The Lego Movie fame), Joan Cusack, Alfre Woodard (Captain America: Civil War), and even Mr. Miami Vice himself Don Johnson makes an appearance. It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Patrick Warburton narrating the show; his interpretation is regularly by the audience, interacting with the story, in contrast to Law’s original film representation. In fact, another fun fact about his involvement: Warburton didn’t even have to audition for the role. That’s how clear a vision they had for this project. Which brings us to Neil Patrick Harris. Who would have thought that Doogie Howser M.D. would grow to be the multitalented thespian he is today?
On the first watch, I didn’t even realize that was Harris. This wasn’t just a costume illusion, either; it actually slipped my mind who was involved in the project. Surprisingly, I was fixated on trying to figure out who was playing the menacing Count Olaf. Eventually, I realized it was him; and once I did I couldn’t unsee him. Though some fans of the show will argue that the show isn’t “dark enough,” I believe it’s just appropriate enough for a family setting. It gives viewers enough “suspended disbelief” that kids will rave over and adults are still able to enjoy without rolling their eyes.
All in all, the show definitely makes amends for the movie’s shortcomings. The books are written with such a sarcastic undertone in the narration that it plays perfectly with the comedic timing and earnest seriosity of the younger characters. Conjointly, the whimsical comedic aspect of the show makes the sudden woeful moments more effective and convincing.This tempers viewing while simultaneously keeping it from being boring or too scary for younger viewers.
If you haven’t already, get your Netflix subscription now and tune into A Series of Unfortunate Events. With there being only eight episodes in the season, you have plenty of time (and zero excuses) to catch up before Season 2.