If you’re reading this, you probably didn’t heed the warning given to viewers in the theme song to Netflix’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” (ASOUE) which told viewers to look away. The series, an adaptation of author Lemony Snicket’s book series of the same name, sought to bring the gloomy story of the three Baudelaire orphans to life. The series was previously adapted in a 2004 film starring Jim Carrey as the orphans’ cruel guardian Count Olaf which received mixed reviews from critics but was generally disliked by the ASOUE fandom. Could Netflix’s take on the series impress fans of the books and binge-watchers alike? But be warned, there are spoilers ahead!
The Netflix version stars Neil Patrick Harris in the role of Count Olaf, a decision which the Hollywood Reporter initially reported had fans scratching their heads when they news first broke almost two years ago. It was a decision that Daniel Handler, who went by the pen name of Lemony Snicket when he wrote the books and is an executive producer on the series, defended as the right one, telling EW that Harris has the ability to transform into a character. After watching the first eight episodes of the series, which cover the first four books in the series with two episodes devoted to each book, I have to say I think it was the right decision. Harris’ Olaf is the right mix of darkly humorous, utterly absurd and downright wicked. When Harris first appears on-screen in episode 7 (“The Miserable Mill, Part 2”) as Olaf dressed as Shirley, the female receptionist to the Mill’s equally dastardly optometrist, Dr. Orville, was when one of the many moments I forgot I was watching a TV show with actors and not the books simply come to life.
While Harris does steal the show in many scenes, the episodes are bolstered by a strong supporting cast and dense plot that doesn’t shy away from the details. One thing that the 2004 movie lacked, and that fans feared would fall by the wayside for the Netflix series as well, was the plot concerning the secret organization of “V.F.D.” While the details given to the audience are scarce, in the both the books and the Netflix series, it was clear that the approach here was to give the audience a little more to keep them guessing. For me, an avid reader of the books, the expansion on the subplot concerning Olaf’s eye tattoo and the mysterious spyglasses seen so often in the first eight episodes, was a welcome addition to the story.
As for the supporting characters, Aasif Mandvi and Alfre Woodard are perfectly cast as the orphans second and third guardians: Uncle Monty and Aunt Josephine, respectively. From Mandvi’s mastery of Monty’s devil-may-care attitude to Woodard’s acutely accurate take on Josephine’s heightened sense of paranoia, the pair brought the story to new heights. Furthermore, K. Todd Freeman, who plays Mr. Poe, the banker in charge of the Baudelaire estate and, therefore, the orphans themselves, has viewers cringing every time he’s on-screen, taking Poe’s incompetence to absurdly believable places. The trio, along with the other cast members from Justice Strauss (played by Joan Cusack) to Olaf’s hench-people, do an incredible job of underscoring one of Snicket’s themes which is that you should never grow out of thinking critically.
I also found myself rooting for Violet (played by Maline Weissman), Klaus (played by Louis Hynes) and Sunny (played by Presley Smith and voiced by Tara Strong), the three Baudelaire children who use their individual talents to find their way out of the stickiest situations. When Violet ties back her hair, you know the cogs are working to invent something and when Klaus grabs a book, he is sure the find the answer they need, while Sunny resorts to the sheer force of his sharp little teeth to get them out of Olaf clutches now and then. The trio make a good team and their chemistry is sure to help carry the series through episodes covering all 13 books.
The question is, where do the Baudelaire orphans go from here? Fortunately, the series has been extremely true to the books so far so for those dying to know what happens next, they can turn to the books. That being said, I know how things turn out for the Baudelaire orphans and I’m still dying for the next installment of episodes.
Did you like the Netflix series better than the movie? Did you think it was true to the books? Or have you never read them by still enjoyed it? Let me know in the comments below!