My main beef with A Series Of Unfortunate Events, the movie, was that it didn't quite nail the tone of Lemony Snicket's superb, albeit gloomy and highly unrecommended, series of children books. "Beef" is a word which refers literally to the meat of a cow, but used figuratively, as it is here, means "problem" or "unhappy relationship."
- 'A Series Of Unfortunate Events': Everything You Need To Know, From Easter Eggs To Season 2 News, In One Handy Guide
#Netflix will be hoping to strike up a happier relationship between the Baudelaire orphans and those lucky viewers at home who will knew never know how it feels to be relentlessly pursued by a murderous actor with an ugly ankle tattoo, and there's plenty in #ASeriesOfUnfortunateEvents to suggest that this show can become something far greater while doing justice to Lemony Snicket's darkly humorous source material.
The entire first season features a vast smattering of Easter Eggs which reference the books in delightful ways — like how the title sequence (watch it above) references the obscure names "(O.) Lucafont" and "Flacutono," both characters who pop up later in the show and both anagrams of Count Olaf. That attention to detail probably isn't surprising considering Lemony Snicket wrote several of the scripts, but it's definitely welcome and gives Unfortunate Events the feel of a passion project.
There are moments when Season 1 feels like a straight-up replaying of the movie, which is kind of inevitable when three of its four stories were also adapted by that film. The similarities drag some episodes (like the opening pair) down, but others (Part One of 'The Reptile Room' being the best example) massively benefit from the two-hours-per-story format. Monty taking the kids to the cinema where he learns of the urgent need to go to Peru is new material which not only makes the show feel fresh, but also acts as a kind of response from Snicket to previous accusations of plot holes and logical inconsistencies.
At times Neil Patrick Harris's interpretation of Count Olaf feels too closely modelled on Jim Carrey's take on the character to actually breathe. Olaf is possibly the worst aspect of the show, even if some of his camper mannerisms go down well, but NPH has much more fun with Olaf's various disguises — he's especially good as the creepy Stefano, and embraces the comical chaos that comes whenever Olaf's awful acting troupe descend to try and ensnare the Beaudelaires in a trap.
For More 'A Series Of Unfortunate Events' Misery:
- Every Easter Egg You Missed In 'A Series Of Unfortunate Events'
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- 5 Things You May Have Missed In 'The Reptile Room'
The cast is pretty strong overall, but too often the orphans themselves feel like loose sketches of children who are too passive to really root for (a phrase which here refers to the popular-for-a-reason literary device of giving your characters some personality so that when a mad distant relative tries to kill them, you actually care). Violet rarely ties her hair up, and Klaus isn't seen reading very often, and neither actor can overcome that flaw in the writing. When Olaf snarls "I thought you children were supposed to be intelligent!", we shouldn't be in agreement.
On the flipside, the new additions are superb, my favorite character being Mr. Poe's secretary, the badass undercover V.F.D. agent Jacquelyn (Sara Canning). This entirely new creation makes up for the Beaudelaires' own lack of agency by frantically keeping tabs on Olaf and attempting to foil his schemes, even if she usually ends up wrapped in a tree inside a phonebox or disguised as a golden statue, like a less dead version of Bond's love interest in Goldfinger.
More evidence of that insane attention to detail — Jacquelyn's initials (JS) are shared by Justice Strauss, Jerome Squalor (the kids' well-meaning but weak-willed guardian from "The Ersatz Elevator") and Julio Sham, presumably reinforcing that she's one of the good guys.
If there are two kinds of surprises — the kind where you learn that your house burned down and your parents are dead, and the kind where you discover that somebody out there has your back (a phrase here which roughly means will do more to keep you safe from evil money-grabbing guardians than morons like Mr. Poe) — the "twist" at the end of Episode 1 is very much a pleasant one.
It seems that the mysterious Mother and Father are very much alive, and thankfully quite good at performing elaborate escape routines, and the way that this story weaves into the Baudelaires' tragic tale briefly in each episode feels like the biggest reason to binge through Unfortunate Events. The casting of Will Arnett and Cobie Smulders, both playing it straight, is like a big, juicy carrot dangling right in front of our noses.
Perhaps the series's ultimate joie de vivre, a French term meaning "joy of life" most often used when the author wishes to create the illusion that he speaks French, is the presence of Lemony Snicket. As played by Patrick Warburton, Snicket pops up just about anywhere, from a grey beach (in very fetching swimwear) to a room filled with lizards and snakes, to warn the viewer of impending doom in the Baudelaires' lives.
It's a brilliant device, not least because Warburton captures the entire vibe of the books in his character, gloomy but suave and irresistibly charming, like Jon Hamm in Mad Men with fewer cigarettes or sexcapades. It hardly feels fair to ask us to stop watching when he does such a grand job of keeping us invested in this world. During these moments the show feels thrillingly faithful to the source material.
If I have one concern, other than the ultimate fate of the wildly unfortunate Baudelaire orphans, it's that Season 2 may just feel like an extension of Season 1 (next time it'll be five books and ten episodes). With most series (Game Of Thrones is a great example), there's an expectation that the stakes will be raised from one season to the next — but Unfortunate Events can only achieve that if Olaf's various schemes, repetitive by nature, are countered by Snicket finding a way to weave the larger mystery/conspiracy into the main story.
What this series really needs is a heightened sense of unpredictability. In general, books five to nine are real page-turners (a phrase which is somewhat redundant since one cannot read a book without turning the pages, but here describes a story impossible to put down), so Season 2 has every shot at being great — just as long as it recognizes and plays to its strengths.
What did you love best about Season 1 of 'Unfortunate Events?'