The Netflix Original, A Series of Unfortunate Events, really doesn’t bury the lead. It’s right there in the title. Based on the popular book series by Daniel Handler and Brett Helquist the books did very well in print. In 2004 a movie adaptation starring Jim Carrey and Emily Browning was released. The movie itself really wasn’t bad but didn’t strike the same chord with fans. Mid January 2017 Netflix and Paramount released a series on Netflix that feels a lot closer to what the creators intended.
The full title is Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton) is a third party to the events and serves as the story narrator. The story follows the unfortunate lives of the Baudelaire children. Violet (Malina Weissman), Klaus (Louis Hynes), and baby Sunny (voiced by Tara Strong). The children are well mannered intellectuals who love experiments, learning, and inventing. When an accident (or was it?) kills their parents (or did it?) the children are left with their closest living relative, Count Olaf (a brilliant Neil Patrick Harris). Olaf cares nothing for the children and his only goal is to get his hands on their family fortune. The kids are young enough and too well behaved to rebel immediately but their plans evolve as their ever worsening circumstances pile up.
Count Olaf has an entourage of freaks and morons to help carry out his bidding. The characters are larger than life and after you get used to them, quite fun. The kids only have one real ally. Mr Poe (K. Todd Freeman), while well acted is too inept to really be considered an ally. Justice Strauss (Joan Cusack) is oblivious to the situation but as the story unfolds her character begins to get more involved.
Wading into this dark but silly world is a little jarring at first. Not in shock value but in circumstance and setting. Nothing about A Series of Unfortunate Events screams comedy or kids show on the surface. The writing is clever. The jokes work in something of a cyclical manner and the narrator is somewhat involved in the story. It rings as a young teen targeted version of Arrested Development in the execution. None of the jokes aim to be knee slappers but the tone is jaunty and the episodes bounce along in a structured format that serves the book series origins well.
The set designs are the best part of A Series of Unfortunate Events. The first thing that will come to mind is Edward Scissorhands. The dark dreary and run down contrast to picture perfect suburbia is nearly identical. There’s a good reason for this. Production designer Bo Welch worked on both projects, and also has Beetlejuice on his resume. The way the series is shot is so artful that a lot of it goes overlooked in the zaniness of the story.
So many layers to watch in the series adds a lot of rewatch value to the show for sure. In your initial run through it adds a depth and sense of worldly completion to the series as a whole. The children acting as the mature, intelligent, and level headed members of the cast and the adults being the buffoons offers a lot of fun for younger audiences while telling a great story to everyone else.
The repetitiveness of the scripted series with all the elements present in every episode is a little tiring but A Series of Unfortunate Events is a great effort that succeeds more than it fails. You won’t be binging the entire series in a sitting or two but it’s a fun show to add to your rotation.