Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is the latest Netflix original series you’ll want to binge-watch as soon as possible. Premiering on Friday, January 13, the series has a varied atmospheric landscape with a mix of different settings. Following the miserable lives of three orphan children on the run from an evil man, the kids work together to overcome the absurd situations they continue to find themselves immersed in. With a dark dreariness embedded in the roots of the story, the stellar performances and moments of humor make this a great show suitable for the entire family.
Note: This is a spoiler-free review of the entire first season.
Based on the 13-book series by Lemony Snicket (pen name of author Daniel Handler), this is not your typical children’s story. It focuses on the plight of the three Baudelaire children, who experience a seemingly endless string of disastrous events after their parents perish in a fire. Immediately taken to live with a distant relative, Count Olaf (played by Neil Patrick Harris), they discover their new guardian is willing to lie, steal, and kill in order to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune.
Harris takes over the role Jim Carrey portrayed in the theatrical version of the story. Centering on Count Olaf’s diabolical schemes, Harris is the glue of the series. Olaf may not be the most intelligent villain in fiction, but he manages to come up with several disguises and personas to get close to the children as they try to escape his evil clutches. Harris delivers a delightful performance with a great mix of creepiness and humor. The novels may be dark, but Olaf and his cronies brilliantly handle being cruel bad guys without terrifying the audience.
Along with Olaf, the casting of the Baudelaire children is spot-on. Malina Weissman plays Violet, the eldest daughter; Louis Hynes is Klaus; and Presley Smith is the infant Sunny. Each is a fantastic match for their novel counterpart. You’re immediately drawn into the ordeal they’re facing. The way the kids bravely face each dangers makes it so you care about them and the story. Violet is a brilliant inventor able to create devices to assist in their escape and survival. Klaus is also extremely intelligent due to his love of reading and a near photographic memory. Sunny is a baby with a set of teeth able to chew through almost everything. Sunny is also capable of making astute observations and suggestions in a form of baby talk her siblings are able to comprehend. Smart kids in fiction can become annoying. Thankfully, that isn’t the case here.
The other big role is Lemony Snicket, the narrator of the story. The movie version featured Jude Law as this character. Patrick Warburton seemed like an odd choice in this version. Because he often plays dopey characters, it felt like he might not be right as a more eloquent character when the casting was announced. With Warburton’s subdued speech delivery and dry humor, he quickly made the role his own. Throughout his narration, we discover Snicket has a mysterious connection and insight to the Baudelaires’ plight.
It’s worth mentioning there are others stellar performances by Alfre Woodward, Joan Cusack, Catherine O’Hara, Don Johnson, and two other actors that have been surprisingly kept secret.
The great performances have room to breathe thanks to the fact the format of the series allows the adaptation to go into more detail than the film was able to. The first eight episodes cover the first four novels. At two episodes per book, the pacing runs smoothly. This provides an ample array of locations for the series to visit as the story progresses. Seeing the Baudelaires travel around in an effort to escape Olaf’s clutches allows the story to feel bigger and more ambitious. Locations include Olaf’s rundown mansion, Uncle Monty’s “reptile room,” Aunt Josephine’s house overlooking Lake Lachrymose, and the Lucky Smells Saw Mill complete with its miserable working conditions.
Green screens are used on occasion to create some of the locations. This may deter some, but it also provides an almost Tim Burton-esque feeling. Meticulous care was used with the actual sets made for each location. Each environment looks like it’s been pulled out of the novels.
The episodes also expand on some areas of the story. New characters and situations enhance the storytelling without taking away screen time from the core elements of each book. There are some surprises even for those that have read all 13 books. With Handler as an executive producer and writer, the additions feel natural and welcome since he’s responsible for writing all the novels. From the very first episode, even die-hard fans will find themselves amazed over a new twist incorporated into the plot.
Just as readers may have devoured the books, you can do the same with the episodes; the Netflix format works perfectly. Each episode ends with a slight cliffhanger which will make you want to start up the next episode when the credits begin to roll. Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is not strictly a children’s show as it contains some darker themes. Whether you’ve read any of the books or not, the show is definitely worth checking out.