“I would advise all our viewers to turn away immediately and watch something more pleasant instead,” says the writer and narrator Lemony Snicket (played by Patrick Warburton) at the start of (and throughout) A Series of Unfortunate Events (Netflix, 2017-). This is an attempt to scare you away from the stories of the poor Baudelaire orphans.
Lemony Snicket’s 13 novels by Daniel Handler are some of the most intense literary children’s books in existence. The first four, The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, The Wide Window and The Miserable Mill – are the ones being adapted here.
For any who aren’t sure what it’s about, the series focuses on the lives of Baudelaire children who recently just became orphans and are taken to their new guardian. The sinister Count Olaf, who only has one thing in mind, wants the children’s fortune that was left to them.
The fact that this is an adaptation should not cloud your judgment. Adaptations have a reputation of being judged unfairly. When an adaptation is made people would love for it to be a direct translation of the original source but the written language of storytelling and the turning of that into visual storytelling is so vastly different. Changes will be made so it fits with the format being created. But the importance is that the adaptation should still capture the same mood and theme of the original material.
The Netflix series manages to keep with the works of the book, the black comedy, the jokes, the vocabulary explanations, the themes of sadness, grief, abandonment, can all be found here. It’s what helps make the series feel like a wonderful adaptation. This is helped by the fact that Daniel Handler has helped with this adaptation of his own work. He penned the scripts and co-produced the TV series. One of it’s best traits, the use of the fourth wall. It constantly likes to play with the idea of the audience, reminding them that scenes are frightening and they should look away. A personal favourite of mine is the debate about Film or TV and Olaf states, “He prefers long-form television, it is so much more convenient to consume entertainment from the comfort of your own home”. I couldn’t agree more seeming I am binge watching from the comfort of my own bed.
A Series of Unfortunate Events always had this idea that even though it was being read mainly by children, it would treat them with a directness and respect that was hardly seen in children’s work. It never patronised them but instead fed their curiosity – the characters alone show us this. Klaus the enthusiastic bookworm and Violet the inventor, played very well by Louis Hynes (Klaus) and Malina Weissman (Violet)
Patrick Warburton plays a wonderful version of Snicket. Snicket will come to play in the most delightfully clever ways; cutting away to his cluttered home to reflect on the nature of things, using a theatrical stage to explain the difference between “literally” and “figuratively”, or even introducing a new chapter in the story through a fake weather report. Another who deserves a mention is Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf. His performance tackles Olaf’s sinister and cruel nature. He is also so great at being so in love with himself and constantly popping up in ridiculous ways. He will be a reptile specialist, then by the next episode, a sea captain. But you can’t help but love the charm that he brings to the character.
So as far as adaptations go, this is one that is worth a watch if you are a fan of the series, even if you aren’t in the mood to solve a mystery. The humour and charm that this series brings, once again proves that Netflix knows how to create golden age TV. I look forward to the next season.
A Series of Unfortunate Events is available now on Netflix.