For those that don't know, A Series of Unfortunate Events is a novel series that tells the sad tale of the Baudelaire orphans through a mysterious narrator acting as a framing device named Lemony Snicket. The tone of the series and its narrator is dreary, a word which here means bleak or depressing, with subtle humor coming largely from the clever writing style of the series author Daniel Handler and his impressive use of characterization and wordplay. Netflix, the greatest company in the world, recently released their version of the series, a live action telling of the unfortunate events plaguing the Baudelaires and the evil villains that seek to harm them. It is interesting to say the least, to compare the vivid descriptions we get not only in the novels but also the adaptation we get on the silver screen, and we'll dive into all of it. Dive in being a figurative phrase meaning to examine the various aspects of the adaptation rather than to physically plunge deeply downward through a body of air or water.
If you have read the books, even if you haven't completed the series, the first thing you're going to notice about the show is that it follows incredibly closely to how the literature went and this is a fantastic thing. The characterization is spot on, down to the slightest mannerisms, and the show never seems to divulge from the novels even in any area really. Now many people might think that this could be a downside, that if they have recently read the series it is all spoiled, or there is no point to watching the show if it follows that closely to the books. But like people who think that it's possible to spoil the plot points in the Hobbit movies even though the book is 80 years old, or don't understand where in the star wars timeline Rogue One fits, and even such vile persons who think that it is acceptable to eat chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven without milk, they are wrong. The show is very solid with its main highlight being the impressive acting skills of every single cast member, which in all honesty saves the show from being too campy to be taken seriously. The theatrics in the show for me personally make great use of both practical as well as special effects, with realistic sets and trick cinematography mixed with CGI sparingly and only when necessary. This combination plays surprisingly well with the makeshift inventions the Baudelaire children are known for throughout the series and in many cases I feel that it would be too over the top, however the tone of the situation or (as I've said already) the character manages to make it believable for the situation. There are a few minor differences from the novels that are noticeable even to a reader like myself who hasn't touched the series in years which I bring up here because there are some sequences involving certain spoilers, which I won't ruin, that involve the deviations where the realm of believablity is completely shattered within the parameters the show sets,but this only happens once, maybe twice.
The characters and cast are the highlight of the show and its one of the very rare instances where everybody is on party with each other. There is no real show stealer save for maybe Neil Patrick Harris, who plays Count Olaf in the show, and I even find many instances where other supporting cast members keep up with his experienced acting prowess, however the argument is definitely there for him to be the strongest actor in the series. Count Olaf, as fans of the series know, is a terrible villain after the main characters enormous inheritance and the only thing worse than his heart is his talent as an actor. This show lead me to a conclusion that I find more and more true as time goes on; it takes an extremely good actor in real life to play a terrible actor on screen. Due to the Baudelaire orphans consistently moving from relative to relative it forces Count Olaf to don ridiculous disguises with terribly fake personas in ill conceived attempts to befriend the people close to the orphans in order to kidnap, blackmail or kill his way to their fortune. Harris manages to pull of each of these personas to hilarious effect and what's more impressive the mannerisms are correct to the source material down to the slightest tick. Often I found myself laughing at the subtle things he would do to fool the witless characters around the Baudelaires and all the while I never had a real boring moment with him in screen even if the reason was to move the plot along. On top of this, he had quite large shoes to fill given the Movie adaptation cast Jim Carrey as the terrible Count, a man who's career was built off his ability to have a plethora of hilarious personas he could execute so well many became very memorable and quotable. Harris was up to the task though and while both actors approach the character the same in essence, the execution gives us two distinct Olaf's each we'll received. The Baudelaire orphans themselves, Violet, Klaus and Sunny are played by Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, and Presley Smith respectively. Weissman and Hynes have a great on screen chemistry and are very believable as brother and sister, and their motivations are telegraphed clearly, however I can't say there's been an episode this season that truly tested them in terms of acting ability. That's not to say their bad by any means, in fact they're quite pleasant to watch, but their characters are written very statically (very determined, brave, etc) so there's really no big all is lost moment to show what they can do, and they are the most "normal" characters as well, so there's no quirks or anything like the other characters get to judge their range. On that note, the rest of the supporting cast is great, with each character nailing their role and delivering outstanding performances with such guest roles this season such as Joan Cusack, Will Arnett, Catherine O'Hara, and even Tara Strong to do the voices of Sunny Baudelaire's baby words. And that's really just a short list of the first season, the whole show is a who's who of surprisingly string actors and actresses on board. The final actor I will mention is the man who plays Lemony Snicket: Patrick Warburton. Known for his unique voice his casting as Snicket and thus the narrating framing device was a perfect choice to me and as the show goes on the wacky situations he gets into while keeping a perfect melancholy become increasingly hilarious. He does a great job and is truly the icing on top of the amazing casting this show succeeded in doing.
A Series of Unfortunate Events is able to keep the viewer interested in a unique way and quite honestly is one of the better mystery shows available. It's not a mystery procedural where there are clues the characters must put together to catch a bad guy at the end but instead the overarching story arch is so shrouded in secrecy with tiny calls to it riddled throughout the show that the audience is easily interested to find d out the same answers the Baudelaires are. This relatabilty the audience shares with the characters is not put to waste either, as the series is known for its meta jokes and self awareness that is not lost in the translation to the show. Often the reoccurring theme of being denied answers to the main archs mysteries are addressed directly by one of the orphans. More than this, the themes in the show are cleverly joked about by Snicket during his monologues, and the very act of streaming and modern television viewing (among other modern habits) its often poked at by Count Olaf and occasionally the supporting cast. Something that I have found both fascinating and bold however is the theme that the series as a novel has had since day one and has continued almost at all possible times during the show; that the viewer should stop inquiring about this particular story and find something better. From the opening of each novel to the entrance music of the show, A Series of Unfortunate Events has always upheld that the tale of the Baudelaire orphans is so sad and depressing that the audience should stop attempting to follow their tales and do something better with their time as anything will be more cheerful than learning about the fates of the orphans. This in the show was exceptionally bold to me, because of how closely the show decided to keep to the books themselves. The novel was so confident in itself that it could blatantly tell the reader to stop reading before it went into its tale, and what's more put it to humorous intrigue, and the show achieves a double entendre of sorts using the same method through its credits and narrator revealing itself to not only be confident in its story, but also confident that it can tell the exact same story and remain entertaining. For this reason, A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix comes highly recommended as long time fans of the books will be extremely pleased by its scope and detail to the source material and new viewers have the enjoyable satisfaction of watching a solid series rooted in theatrically while remaining grounded enough to abstain from becoming absurd in its presentation.