It seems that the young adult book-to-movie adaptation era has ceased to exist and we have now entered the age where books are being adapted into television shows. Where some series such as Harry Potter or Hunger Games have benefitted from the movie adaptations, other series have struggled with condensing their rich material into just two hours. That’s why television shows are a great platform for these types of series, it allows the characters, environment, and story to be fully fleshed out over the course of episodes instead of rushing to cram in a bunch of details.
That is precisely why A Series of Unfortunate Events works so well. Based off the acclaimed book series by “Lemony Snicket”, the television adaptation is able to feel fully realized and alive bringing attention to small details and deliver an entertaining and satisfying story for newcomers and established fans alike. Through wit and charm, Neil Patrick Harris’ performance, clever writing, and unique set pieces, this proves to be a very fortunate TV show for us all to experience.
Adapting the first four books, the show follows Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire, three kids whose parents die in a tragic fire burning down their mansion. Left with an enormous fortune, the kids are whisked away to live with Count Olaf, a mischievous actor with a flair for theatrics, who treats the kids cruelly and is insistent on obtaining their fortune. Trying desperately to make the best of their situation and convince other adults that Count Olaf is evil, the Baudelaires collaborate together to endure their series of unfortunate events.
The Baudelaire children are simple yet complex characters. Violet, the eldest, enjoys inventing and putting ideas together but also deals with the responsibility of being the oldest in her family. Klaus, the middle child, enjoys books and reading but also looks for solutions to problems whether big and small. Finally, Sunny, the youngest, likes to bite and has her own unique method of communication which is often hilarious.
The children all work well together as a family unit. They are supportive, loving, and kind towards one another and you easily grow attached to them from their sheer charm. Each of them needs the skills of the other and when one of them is unavailable at a certain moment, it is interesting to see them problem solve allowing us to feel the dependency they have on one another.
The adults in the series all fare well but mainly serve as a message that the series is trying to tell: adults are not always the brightest. So often the Baudelaires are scrutinized or treated like children when they are so clearly beyond their normal intelligence and scope. Each time the kids try to alert the adults to one of Count Olaf’s obvious disguises, the adults in the show are completely oblivious to the danger and obviousness of the situations that makes the children’s journey more urgent. It is a good establishment to have as it allows the children to truly depend on themselves and add to the show’s ingenuity in how they solve their problems.
In addition, we are able to root for this group of children so earnestly because they’re constantly in conflict with one of the most evil humans of all time: Count Olaf. Neil Patrick Harris’ as the character was the best part of this show to me. He is equally parts hilarious and sadistic and to balance two polar opposite personalities is why I liked him so much. When he is interacting with his theater troupe or other adults doing his devious disguises and hijinx, it is insanely entertaining and extremely humorous to watch. On the other hand, when he is being mean to the children or plotting to snatch them into his clutches, I felt fearful at a man of no redemption or kindness in his heart. Harris was a perfect casting for this role and he plays each scene perfectly.
Having read the books, I can say that the series does follow them faithfully with some fun twists and turns added in for good measure. The children start out with Count Olaf, but are then transported to another guardian only to be met by Count Olaf again. There is a repetitive nature in the basic conflict that presides the children in this first season, but each situation and environment feels unique. The Baudelaires never solve any two situations the same way and each conflict expands upon itself to be more than what is initially presented.
We spend at least two episodes in each environment and this greatly helps the show as we are allowed to simmer in the moments that occur and notice distinctions when the story shifts settings. Whether it’s the gleam, dark, and dreariness of Count Olaf’s house, the bright and optimistic Reptile Room, or the foggy centers of a lumber mill each setting is different and provides a good contrast throughout the series. The environment helps each “book” to feel alive and it its translated well in this TV adaptation.
The dialogue dispersed within the story is sharp, witty, humorous, and vastly intriguing. The show has a very self-aware nature to itself as comments and jokes are constantly made about the Baudelaires terrible situation. This helps the show because even though there is some darker material, it is balanced out with the humor and shows that that it isn’t taking itself too seriously.
But it does deliver on the right amount of seriousness as the dialogue also presents itself to some interesting questions. Characters reference events that have happened earlier to the story and locations that sound intriguing showing that there is more than what is presented on the surface. It kept me hooked to learn more about what was going on as there is definitely more to the supporting characters than what is being initially shown.
As I said earlier, the show does begin to feel repetitive as it nears its conclusion as some of the supporting characters repeat past mistakes. It becomes frustrating but in a way that allows us to empathize with the Baudelaires. Nonetheless it is an annoyance during the last two episodes. Another issue is that there is some obvious use of CGI dispersed within the show creating a sense of disbelief. This is extremely evident when it comes to baby Sunny who bites things at an astonishingly fast rate that allows her to shape things the way she sees fit. It’s way too on the nose and takes you out of the show’s subtlety and cleverness at times.
Even though the theme song urges you to “Look Away” from this show of horrors and tragedy, it is definitely one worth investing in. The Baudelaires are fascinating characters and it is interesting to see them solve the situations that the equally charismatic and evil Count Olaf presents to them. Despite dark moments, the show is surprisingly fun providing humor, intrigue, and suspense through its eight episode season. Its extremely clever to adapt A Series of Unfortunate Events to a TV show and the Netflix venue was a perfect platform to do so. Now I am just eagerly awaiting season 2 to see what more trouble awaits the Baudelaires.