“I would advise all our viewers to turn away immediately and watch something more pleasant instead,” says Lemony Snicket, the writer and, in this reincarnation, the narrator of A Series of Unfortunate Events.
It’s a whimsical and quaint homage to the style in which the original 13 books were written – the series of gothic novels many of us will have read in our younger years (and perhaps even now, if you’re so inclined – I’d highly recommend them). Of course, that the series feels so true to the books isn’t much of a surprise – the delightful consistency can mostly be attributed to the fact that author of the original story, Daniel Handler, worked on much of this first season; a fact that has clearly done the series a great credit.
For those unfamiliar with the story, this is a tale following the lives of the unfortunate Baudelaire orphans, after the loss of their parents in a house fire and the subsequent upheaval from one guardian to another. A Series of Unfortunate Events is as… well, tragic as the title suggests.
Therefore, it’s with some pleasure one can report after watching this initial season of the show (or indeed the cinematic version from a decade ago) that the book series make for a brilliant piece of visual entertainment. In fact, it seems that such a long story is better suited to long-form television rather than film; the chance to cover more of the intricacies and better represent the books, and the characters within them, is a wonderful opportunity. Each book’s content is spread over two episodes – meaning this initial season of eight episodes only covers the first four books, leaving plenty of scope for further seasons.
Visually, A Series of Unfortunate Events hits all the right notes. With its eclectic mix of vivid scenery, a more modern kind of steam punk feel and distinct dark humour, it is indeed quite difficult not to fall a bit in love with this show’s visual appeal. The scenery and illustrations of the books are brought to life quite wonderfully, colourful yet dark and oppressive when the story takes a darker turn, giving an almost Burton-esque feel to the whole affair.
While it obviously tackles dark themes, the show’s style and writing manage to almost make the viewer forget they underlying threat of Count Olaf, played by Neil Patrick Harris, lurks around every corner. While Olaf is clearly supposed to portray the epitome of evil – he’s clearly no stranger to using blackmail, coercion and murder to reach his own ends – he’s played with an almost pantomime villain persona, which makes him kind of difficult to take seriously as the bad guy. It’s unclear whether this is supposed to be intentional or not, and ultimately he just comes across as a bit wishy washy, and he doesn’t seem like a very serious threat most of the time.
The Baudelaire orphans themselves, however, are played absolutely brilliantly. Showing an immense amount of bravery, intelligence and courage in the face of increasing adversity, the children are, quite rightly, the absolute star of this show. It could be said, actually, that ultimately they show more gumption and motivation than the majority of the adult characters in the series, who come across for the most part as idiots; particularly the naive but somehow lovable Mr Poe.
Ultimately, this is another notch in Netflix’s already impressive history of producing some outstanding long-form series. It combines a dark story with a sort of slapstick comedy that sounds like it shouldn’t work, but does. This show is well worth a watch, and hopefully will return for many more series to come.