“I would advise all of you watching to turn away immediately, and watch something more pleasant.”
That is what Netflix’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” narrator Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton), the pseudonym of the book’s author, Daniel Handler, tells the audience as he begins depicting the story of the Baudelaire siblings and their tragic lives. However, the oddly-told saga of the children is anything but unfortunate for viewers, as the new Netflix premiere tells a dark tale in a lighthearted way, making it appropriate and enjoyable for all ages.
Based on the 13-book series, the saga follows the Baudelaire orphans, whose parents were killed in a fire. The children are forced to repetitively escape the grasp of Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris), who aims to steal the Baudelaire fortune and terrorize the children as they venture to their new homes.
Handler’s dark humor and emphasis on the children’s intelligence is even more apparent than in the books, as the visual aids and characters’ personality traits create better characters and a clearly mocking dark tone.
One of the most impressive aspects of the show is its loyalty to the original plotline. Every two episodes in the eight-episode season are devoted to a specific book; the first four books aired in season one. Die-hard fans of the tale will appreciate the show’s faithfulness to Handler’s original story, as the popular childhood books are recapped to the most precise detail on screen.
The general story being told strays little from Handler’s series, which was a pleasant surprise. As a diehard fan myself, the show rekindled my interest in my favorite childhood series. Netflix’s devotion to the books may have been influenced by Handler’s involvement in the script writing.
Neil Patrick Harris takes on the star role of Count Olaf, implementing the comedic tools he’s used in other performances into his new character. The sheer tragedy of the children’s story mixed with the blunt banter and modern references of Harris, along with the malice of his role, creates an satisfyingly cynical display of dark humor.
Dark humor poses as relief to the horrible situation that the Baudelaire orphans are subjected to throughout the show. For example, in the first episode, Count Olaf invites the children into his home, stating, “Please come in, and don’t forget your enormous fortune.” Ignoring the fact that the children had just lost their parents, Count Olaf bluntly depicts his malicious character through his obvious focus on the children’s money.
While Harris becomes the central figure of humor, others adults carry out the theme through their unrealistic stupidity. Mr. Poe (K. Todd Freeman), an oblivious banker in charge of the Baudelaire fortune, as well as placing the orphans into their new homes, takes on a larger role in the Netflix series than he had in the books. His obnoxious and repetitive coughing, as well as complete ignorance to the seriousness of the children’s situation as orphans, was incredibly irritating, but created a well-developed character. These traits carried on throughout the majority of the other adult characters, from Count Olaf’s band of henchmen to the hypnotized employees of the Lucky Smells Lumbermill.
However, the adults’ foolish characteristics highlight the children’s intelligence. Violet (Malina Weissman), Klaus (Louis Hynes), and Sunny Baudelaire (Presley Smith) each have unique talents that characterize them throughout the show. However the adults that they come to meet and live with are oblivious to their talents, and treat them as too young and naive to understand their current situation.
However the Baudelaire children’s admirable traits were easily overridden by their lack of character development. They lack the emotion seen in the movie and books, making their story less immersive.
What “A Series of Unfortunate Events” lacks in character development, it makes up for in set designs. As the Baudelaire orphans travel from one home to the next, their new guardians are accurately represented by the home or environment they surround themselves with. Justice Strauss (Joan Cusack), Count Olaf’s neighbor who provides the children with temporary compassion and generosity, lives in a brightly lit home surrounded by cherry blossoms and flowers.
Meanwhile, Count Olaf’s rundown towers were displayed in a dark and dirty manner to represent the pure malice of Harris’ character. As Lemony Snicket himself says in the series, “The phrase ‘in the dark,’ as I’m sure you know, can refer not only to one’s shadowy surroundings, but also to the shadowy secrets of which one might be unaware.”
So the series theme song may tell us to “Look away,” but maybe we should do just the opposite. All of the unfortunate events that occur in Netflix’s new series make for an odd yet captivating experience, so maybe it’s not so unfortunate after all.