2004 saw the film adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events starring Jim Carrey. While the movie took a few creative liberties with the franchise’s first three books, it was still a fairly entertaining interpretation that had a lot of potential for a separate film franchise. Despite this success, no further film installments were made and the series went into a decade-long limbo. That is until earlier this year, when the book series was reimagined as a Netflix Original series co-produced by Barry Sonnenfeld. Rather than fusing several books into one installment, which is what happened with the movie, the new show will tackle each book as its own two-part episode. The inaugural eight-episode season features the first four books: The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, The Wide Window and The Miserable Mill. The remaining books in the series will each be adapted in the show’s second and third seasons respectively. The series focuses on the Baudelaire children—Klaus, Sunny and Violet—three wealthy orphans who lost their family in a fire. Afterward, the children were placed under the care of Count Olaf, played by Neil Patrick Harris, an eccentric criminal and terrible actor who hopes to gain the Baudelaire fortune. After quickly losing custody of the orphans, Olaf goes on a relentless chase after the Baudelaires as they go from caretaker to caretaker.
The show opens with narrator Snicket, played by Patrick Warburton, warning viewers, “If you are interested in stories with happy endings, then you’d be better off somewhere else.” This point is drawn out even further with the aptly titled theme song, “Look Away.” Despite said warnings, the overall story of the first season makes it impossible to turn the show off, happy ending or not. The Baudelaire orphans are played by Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes and Presley Smith, respectively. All three actors are comfortable in their roles, evoking bravery, curiosity and resilience in the face of their bleak situation.
As heightened and strange as the world around them is at times, their performances are always real. As a result, the outlandish characters, the steampunk-esque environments and the conflicts often are as well. The Baudelaires also benefit from the producers’ decision to split each book as a two-part episode. Each episode allows more time for the Baudelaire children to gradually develop, as well as for the audience to enjoy more moments with supporting characters and for the world of the books to expand. The visual style of the show is dark and gloomy, yet mesmerizing and accessible for both fans and newcomers. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the sporadic use of CGI imagery.
At times, the effects borderline on the uncanny valley, especially with the CGI shots of baby Sunny. Without a doubt, the most important element of A Series of Unfortunate Events is Count Olaf. For a main villain, he is every bit a main character as the Baudelaire orphans themselves. Carrey’s spastic and devious portrayal of Olaf left massive shoes for any actor to fill and Harris took the task to heart. The various personas Olaf uses to get through to the elusive orphans stood out as an interesting trait. Carrey, given his well-renowned prowess as a character actor, sunk into both Olaf and his alternate identities like he would in any of his other roles.
While Harris brings something unique with each of the personas, all of which were distinct from those in the film, the viewer cannot help but feel that Harris’s overall performance of Olaf takes a lot of cues from Carrey. This may have been his way of trying to appeal to those who were used to the movie adaptation. Regardless, Harris still brings about the same evil yet somewhat likeable qualities that make Olaf a delight to see on the screen. The supporting cast shines through as well. Warburton’s Snicket starts off as a simple narrator, providing quick-witted and expository soliloquies between major scenes. As the season goes on, however, it becomes more clear that he actually plays a major part in the overall story. The Baudelaires’ caretakers, played by Aasif Mandvi and Alfre Woodard, are eccentric and bizarre, yet still manage to provide some lightheartedness that juxtaposes the melancholy nature of the story.
A Series of Unfortunate Events has proven to be yet another homerun in the Netflix Original line of shows. Hopefully, the remaining two seasons of the show will continue the portrayal of Baudelaires’ story with the same finesse as the show’s first season.