Based on the quirky and delightfully dark 1999 book series, Lemony Snicket’s A series of Unfortunate Events is the latest addition to Netflix’s growing library of original content.
Consisting of eight episodes which cover the first four books, the show carefully balances tragedy and comedy as it follows Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire, who are orphaned after a fire consumes their home.
Many of the lead actors are relative unknowns, with the most recognizable names likely being those of Patrick Warburton and Neil Patrick Harris who play narrator Lemony Snicket and the dreaded Count Olaf, respectively. Both actors were met with skepticism when first announced, with fears that their comedic backgrounds would negatively impact the more severe aspects of the characters.
These fears have since been laid to rest as Warburton’s Snicket is able to summon a sadness in his eyes that suggests he has been truly affected by the tragic lives of the orphaned children, and Harris’ Olaf brings the right amount of theatricality to the sinister character, and the right amount of menace to the scenes that require it. They are joined by Malina Weissman as Violet, Louis Hynes as Klaus, and Presley Smith as Sunny.
This adaptation stays very faithful to the original material, with much of the dialogue taken directly from the books. Fans of the original will have their hands and commonplace books full from noticing all the little references and details that have made the transition from page to screen.
The visuals add to the feel of the show, with everything from the bright but muted colour palette, to the careful framing of the shots that give each scene a storybook-like quality. Many of the digital effects are also well done, except those relating to baby Sunny, who often looks rather unsettling when doing anything important or physical.
It is not a word-for-word adaptation, however. Some details of the plot have been changed, but most of these changes are for the better, a phrase which here means “streamlines the story and fixes parts that work better on paper rather than the audiovisual medium of streaming television.”
Something that is lost in the transition is the internal monologue and thought process of the Baudelaire children. As a result of no longer being within the minds of the siblings, some of the emotive moments don’t hit as strongly as they might otherwise, and their personality quirks are just that little bit harder to notice. However, the show is able to occasionally depart from the children and show events happening elsewhere in the story, expanding on events only mentioned in the books and helping the world feel larger and more alive.
This allows the other welcome change of having the mystery elements included earlier in the plot; something which did not originally appear until the second half of the thirteen book series. Establishing these elements early allows for these pieces of the puzzle to intertwine more deeply and believably, rather than their relatively sudden appearance in the books.
A second season of ten episodes, covering the fifth through ninth books, has already been announced. Daniel Handler (the author of the book series), who also serves on the writing team in addition to his role as executive producer, is already eager for a third season and hopes to “get the go-ahead” soon. Overall, Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is a dreadfully entertaining adaptation both for those unfamiliar with the books as well even the most visibly fervent devotee.
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