I’ve been waiting for a proper Series of Unfortunate Events series ever since I read the books all those years ago as a kid. As the 2004 adaptation of the book series was relatively disappointing and generally poorly received, Lemony Snicket’s work was just waiting to be brought back to the screen, big or small. Netflix has delivered on this front with their new original series A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Starring Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf; Patrick Warburton as Lemony Snicket, the narrator of the show; and talented young actors Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes as Violet and Klaus Baudelaire respectively, Neflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events has stayed true to its source material, capturing much of what made the original books so unique and so wonderfully dismal. While Neil Patrick Harris’s Count Olaf often crosses the line from menacing to just plain silly, the creative world-building and general aesthetic atmosphere of the show almost flawlessly encapsulates the mood of the original books
The visual style of the series is unique with both bright colours and muted greys, each used to separate the transition from one part of the story to another. The first season of the show covers the first four books, with two episodes dedicated to each book. Each book is covered with very clear differences in feeling and presentation, making each location and new set of supporting characters very distinctive. The progression of one part of the story to the next is filled with momentum, the journeys between the Baudelaire’s guardians and living arrangements playing out linearly, like a timeline of sorts.
This interesting method of transporting the characters very purposefully from one setting to another as a means of story progression plays out as something of a theatrical production. The visual style of the show, a method in which the foreground and background are often clearly separated by a degree of realism– the interactive space of the characters versus the non-interactive background– calls to mind plays, musicals, operas, and other theatre productions. The various backgrounds feel like sets in a play, except instead of being built by hand with hammer, nails, and paint, are designed with a heavy reliance on CGI. Much in the same way that the story in a play takes place in several, very distinctive locations with built sets to match, A Series of Unfortunate Events brings the viewer through each book, each setting, and each story, with the main characters remaining the only constant.
This creative method of storytelling, at least in my opinion, works perfectly for the story of the Baudelaires, a story that was never meant to feel realistic in the first place. The type of storytelling used in the books lends itself to the imaginations of the children and young adults reading them, where settings and locations are relatively simple and easily distinguished from one another.
I think it’s the decision to make the series feel the way it does, more theatrical and more play-like, that makes certain elements more enjoyable. I was initially, for example, not totally convinced with Neil Patrick Harris’s Count Olaf. I found him to be rather over-the-top and, well, Neil Patrick Harris-y. After I came to realize the mood the series was trying to create, the theatre-like feel, Harris’s Count Olaf came to make perfect sense. Much as they do in plays, Harris’s Count Olaf is dramatic and very expressive with his whole body. This, along with the musical numbers and the fact that Count Olaf is, in the show, an actor, makes A Series of Unfortunate Events very consistent in its presentation and dedicated to the mood it’s trying to create.
It’s this ability to capture the essence of the books and their storytelling methods through film that makes the series so appealing. If you read the books as a child you’ll be drawn back into the same world you dreamed up in your mind as a kid. A big part of the reason the show is appealing to me is because, having read the books as kid but not really remembering the details all these years later, the show gives me those “oh ya, so that’s what happens!” or “Oh, I remember that!” moments. It’s nostalgia at its best.
Even if you’ve never read the books though, the show is a nice adventure to go on. The story of the Baudelaire orphans will keep you interested until the depressing end. There’s still plenty of books to cover though, so let’s hope we get a season two!