“This show will wreck your evening, your whole life and your day. Every single episode is nothing but dismay,” Neil Patrick Harris sings in the opening credits of “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” one of the latest original series from Netflix. This statement of warning could not be further from the truth — despite the many misfortunes facing the show’s characters, the show itself is a joy from start to finish.
Based on the popular children’s book series, “A Series of Unfortunate Events” tells the woeful tale of the Baudelaire children — Violet, Klaus and Sunny (Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes and Presley Smith, respectively) — after the untimely death of their parents. Shuffled from guardian to guardian and pursued relentlessly by the evil Count Olaf (Harris) who only wants their newly-inherited fortune. The Baudelaires are also faced with a mystery surrounding their parents’ demise.
Fans of the books will be satisfied by this series. The format — each book takes up two episodes of the series — allows for a very faithful adaptation, especially in comparison to the 2004 film version, which crammed three books into a nearly two-hour time span. This newer adaptation allows more time for character and plot development and a more satisfying viewing experience overall.
The performances — especially by the lead children — are also commendable. Both Weissman and Hynes carry a significant portion of the show on their shoulders. They do so impeccably — acting as a sane foil to the absurdity that surrounds them. The Baudelaire children are forced to become adults more quickly than most, and the actors portraying them show a range of acting most adults would envy. Child actors can often be grating, but Weissman and Hynes are easy to watch.
A defining trait of the novels is their unique narration by author Lemony Snicket, and the show cleverly incorporates this trait to emulate the specific tone of the books. Patrick Warburton is perhaps an unconventional choice for the role of Lemony Snicket, but his distinctive voice works surprisingly well with the show’s dry humor.
Harris makes a valiant effort as Count Olaf but falls just short of truly disappearing into his role. While his performance is entertaining, it always seems like Harris is playing dress-up rather than actually becoming the character. It’s also difficult to avoid comparing him to Jim Carrey’s superior performance in the 2004 movie — Carrey’s Olaf was much more menacing, and his brand of humor worked better for what the role requires.
The production design is visually intriguing and creates an immersive and dreamlike world. The novels themselves are somewhat of an oddity — darkly humorous, with absurd adventures and captivating mysteries. The setting of the show reflects this well, as seen in the juxtaposition between Count Olaf’s dark, decaying mansion and his neighbor’s colorful, cheerful cottage.
While the adaptation is largely faithful, there are a few deviations from the novels. Several new characters appear in the show who do not exist — or are only mentioned in passing — in the novels. It is also a bit lighter and more humorous in tone than the books. Staunch fans of the originals may disapprove of the shift, but it works well in the context of the show.
Both fans of the books and newcomers alike will enjoy “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” Snicket warns the audience to stay away, and “find something more pleasant instead,” but this advice is best ignored — “A Series of Unfortunate Events” is not to be missed.