“A Series of Unfortunate Events” revitalized in delightfully dark Netflix series
Comedic, strange, and endearing, the latest adaptation of the famous novels offers a unique experience for viewers
February 8, 2017
Netflix’s latest original series offers a peculiar adaptation of a quite peculiar book series, and gets it all right. The series follows the three orphaned Baudelaire children: the eldest sibling Violet (Malina Weissman), middle child Klaus (Louis Hynes), and their infant sister, Sunny. Violet is technologically savvy and constantly problem solving through her jerry-rigged inventions, Klaus is the epitome of bookworm, seeing patterns and clues through various notes and texts, while Sunny speaks through baby gibberish which only Violet and Klaus understand, and has four front teeth that allow her to bite through anything in seconds. These children are faced with heartbreak and devastation as they try to survive a world that keeps pulling them from guardian to guardian as they are hunted down by the malicious Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris).
Weissman and Hynes are expressive and believable as two of the three Baudelaire children, they give their characters a certain look of intelligence and perception that was a steady idea readers would have in their mind when reading about the two problem solving. Sunny is given subtitles for her infant murmurs and sounds, which comically adds a strange depth to the child, such as her expertise in poker, and her love for works by composer Tito Puente.
Harris’ performance as the infamous villain Count Olaf is a treat that never gets old. Both intimidating, clumsy, and sarcastic, the sinister character is put in the right hands of the hilarious Harris. It is impressive when an actor is able to portray an evil character who’s also a bad actor. Harris will be consistently cruel and unknowingly goofy, and be able to switch into the poorly acted caricatures that Olaf disguises himself as.
The show has the novels’ signature narration and wordplay reimagined through the investigative observations of Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton), himself. His dialogue is weaved to be philosophical, remorseful, and always full of intrigue. Even if Snicket spoils the fate of a character, he only spoils it because the vast majority of the audience can sense such inevitabilities. Meanwhile there seems to be a sort of meta narrative, but less fourth-wall breaking to the real life audience, and more so that Snicket is on his own adventure, which seems to relate to the Baudelaire’s woeful adventures.
One main complaint that can be made isn’t the shows fault at all, just that there are so many dense or incompetent characters who are completely oblivious to the obvious truths the children see. But the story of both the books and the Netflix series uses these annoyingly unhelpful characters to push the children to want to problem solve on their own.
Their family banker Arthur Poe (K. Todd Freeman), shrugs off any revelations or facts the children present to him as simple child imagination, completely unaware of the clear threats in front of him that face the children. This leaves viewers frustrated to the point where fast forwarding seems like a viable option, when sitting through scenes that devote 15 or so minutes that can be summed up as the children saying something true, and the adult characters smiling and saying “Oh you kids and your wild imaginations!”
There’s a balance between writing characters to be purposely incompetent and the scenes remaining engaging, and characters being unbearably incompetent for the audience. But the show handles the characters in such a way that it fully acknowledges how oblivious some characters are, it pokes fun at them, and both Snicket and the Baudelaire children quickly catch on and point out how ridiculous some people are.
Some people argue that making fun of tropes or flaws in a narrative, but still going through with those tropes or flaws can feel contradictory and lazy of the narrative, but in this “Series of Unfortunate Events,” these flaws are used to encourage characters that would be otherwise helpless to make their own decisions and forge their own path as much as they can. With witty narration, effective comedy, and fascinating main characters, Netflix’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” is worth the time for this strange story.