In 1999 a man with the pen name Lemony Snicket, otherwise known as Daniel Handler, released his first book in a rather unfortunate series. In 2004 that series was turned into a film with a $125 million budget. Despite being backed by a fortune, and a rather talented cast of actors including Meryl Streep and Jude Law, the film fell flat and left a bitter taste in the mouth of many of its viewers (which would have undoubtedly had them reaching for a sugar bowl). Twelve years later, Netflix A Series of Unfortunate Events has done what the film couldn’t. Netflix’s new adaptation not only stays true to the many dismal events within the series but also gives each novel time to breathe. While the Netflix original does have its setbacks it is a worthwhile adaptation of the award-winning 13-book series.
The show follows Violet, Clause, and Sunny Baudelaire, three bright and brilliant children who are subject to a series of unfortunate events after their parents and their home perish in a horrific fire. When the three grieving orphans, who have incredible talents in inventing, reading, and biting, are put into the care of a terrible man named Count Olaf, they are forced to protect each other and the fortune their parents left behind.
In the 2014 film, Jim Carrey’s Count Olaf was a comedic villain whose dimwittedness left no room to be feared. Thankfully, Netflix’s series learnt from the film’s mistakes, and while the show does include an abundance of humour it is also viciously dark and avoids coddling its viewers. Neil Patrick Harris plays a villain who is, of course, humorous and dim-witted while also being alarmingly cruel, revolting, murderous, and abusive. Much like the book series, it is Netflix’s intention to leave you feeling disturbed which is evident in the reminder from Neil Patrick Harris that urges you to “Look away, look away,” as he gloomily sings “This show will wreck your evening, your whole life, and your day.”
If you have read Lemony Snickets series perhaps you would have envisioned the lives of the Baudelaire children taking place in victorian-era-meets-steam-punk setting. Instead, the Netflix series opted to use an abundance of strange almost cartoon-like vibrant colours. In what can be described as Willy Wonka meets Dr.Suess, mixed with a drizzle of Disney’s The Haunted Mansion, The Baudelaire children are dressed in unrealistically bright clothing, set amongst a clashing mix of both bright and dreary scenery. While this can seem unusual at first, it isn’t difficult to become accustomed to the deliberately conflicting tones.
While the series is a huge step-up from the film that came before it, it has one major pit-fall. Its deliberate, but rather irritatingly bad special effects, can pull you out of the story and remind you that you are in fact watching a children’s television series. While this may be a non-issue for some of the series younger viewers, it will undoubtedly be a bit off-putting for its older audience. The cringe-worthy special effects are most noticeable when baby Sunny is biting on objects or dealing out poker cards – scenes which were perhaps better left to the imagination.
It is no secret that book to screen adaptions have the habit of brushing over important plot points in order to tell a story in a limited time, which of course leads to irritated readers. This was especially true for the 2014 film which attempted to squeeze the first three books in the Unfortunate Events series into a measly 1h 40min time slot. Fans of the books have no reason to worry with Netflix who are giving the 13 book series time to breathe with two episodes, roughly 45 minutes in length, reserved for each book. The first season will have eight episodes and cover four of the novels in the series, including, The Bad Beginning (1999), The Reptile Room (1999), The Wide Window(2000), and The Miserable Mill (2000).
All in all, Netflix’s Series of Unfortunate Events is a welcome book-to-television adaptation that gets a whole lot right. While it definitely has a children’s television show aura, it certainly can be enjoyed by the series’ older readers who enjoyed the series back in their youth.
Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is created by Mark Hudis, the producer behind True Blood and That ‘70s Show. The show stars Neil Patrick Harris (How I met your Mother), Usman Alley (Veep, Star Trek into Darkness), Sarah Canning (The Vampire Diaries), as well as youngsters Louis Hynes (Barbarians Rising) as Klaus Baudelaire and Malina Weissman (Supergirl, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) as Violet Baudelaire.
A Series of Unfortunate Events Premieres on 13 of January on Netflix.