The opening sequence of Netflix’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” implores the viewer to “look away, look away,” describing how the Netflix show will “wreck your evening, your whole life and your day.” At first glance, the story of the Baudelaire children and the unfortunate events that plague them seems to be a miserable plot for a book, let alone a Netflix series. However, under the direction of Neil Patrick Harris, this adaptation of the classic children’s book series is equally enjoyable and true to the books.
The first book, “The Bad Beginning,” was published in 1999, and 12 other books followed. They detailed the trials and tribulations of the Baudelaire siblings, Violet, Klaus and Sunny, as they navigate life following the death of their parents in a mysterious fire. The extension of the books into a multi-episode series is honestly wonderful for those who have previously read the books. Many details that I loved within the books are able to be showcased as each book is split into two parts.
The Netflix series begins with the siblings meeting their new “guardian” Count Olaf, played by a fantastic Neil Patrick Harris. Harris gives his theatrical talent to a character who is a self-proclaimed actor and who is behind a villainous plot to steal the children’s inheritance. Harris recreates the Count Olaf from the book series with remarkable attention to the character’s presence. Olaf is moderately charming in a displeasing way, while also being criminally heinous. Harris is able to capture the nuances of the character that I remember imagining when I read the books in grade school. As each episode progresses, you realize that Olaf is not someone to be trifled with.
Both the books and series are narrated by the mysterious author Lemony Snicket, a pseudonym for author Daniel Handler. Snicket offers much needed background information to the viewers and stresses that the Baudelaire story is not a happy one, which is said with half comedic effect and half complete honesty. Patrick Warburton, the voice of Kronk in “The Emperor’s New Groove,” ultimately my favorite voice actor, contributes his talent and recognizable voice to the largely unknown Snicket. Warburton was and is able to add that touch of humor in his narration of this unfortunate tale. I greatly enjoy how he blends into the scenes featuring the Baudelaires as he narrates the unfolding events.
What drew me into the book series was the level of darkness and intrigue in a series presumably written for older children. The text was written in a way that was both literarily challenging and inarguably macabre. This is where the Nickelodeon adaptation of the books went wrong. The 2004 movie was rife with great actors, such as Jim Carrey and Meryl Streep, but fell flat in portraying the overall mood of the books. The Netflix series makes up for what the movie missed. One aspect that I found troubling with both adaptations is that the Baudelaire orphans almost seem like a subplot rather than the central characters in the book. The portrayal of Snicket and Count Olaf overpower the complex personalities of the three siblings. Violet, Klaus and Sunny are meant to be the focal points of the series, but take a backseat to the sorted tales of Snicket and Olaf. While the casting is excellent, the theatricality behind Olaf specifically causes the Baudelaire’s to consistently remain the sub-plot of the series.
The eight episode adaptation of “A Series of Unfortunate Events” is definitely worth more of your time than the movie adaptation, though I do implore you to read the books. Each episode is captivating because of the talent of the actors, the fantastic script and the enthralling set design. Unlike the opening theme, this show will only enhance your evening, your home life and your day.
Cover Photo courtesy of National Public Radio (NPR).