Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events started out as a series of books for children and young adults. About ten years ago they made a movie based on the first three books of the series with Jim Carrey. Unfortunately, the movie was a flop. Now Netflix is throwing its cap in the ring. It has made a miniseries based on the first four books. You can stream the series on Netflix as of last Friday the thirteenth.
From the very beginning, we were told that this story had no happy endings. Count Olaf, played by Neil Patrick Harris sang the opening song “Look Away,” which warned us of all the dangers that the Baudelaire Orphans would be dealing with that episode. Then the narrator, Lemony Snicket, played by Patrick Warburton, gives you plenty of time to change your mind about watching this series before introducing us to our intrepid heroes.
Violet, played by Malina Weissman, is 14 years old. She is the oldest child, with long dark hair, and a penchant for inventing things. Klaus, played by Louis Hynes, is 12 years old and the only son. He wears glasses and reads everything he can get his hands on. Sunny, played by Presley Smith and voiced by Tara Strong, is two years old. She doesn’t speak English very well, but she plays a mean game of cards and has four strong sharp teeth. They were happy and polite children until their parents died in a mysterious fire.
The children are taken to their closest relative, Count Olaf, a thoroughly despicable man and failed actor. He promptly makes their life very difficult by making them do endless chores, speaking ill of them to the neighbors, and doing his best to get their family’s fortune, which can not be accessed until Violet becomes of age.
Count Olaf makes a play for the money. It fails and he is revealed as a villain, so the children are moved to a new guardian. Now we get into the formula of the show. The Baudelaires meet their new guardian, Count Olaf shows up in disguise, children tell an adult, tragedy ensues, children escape Count Olaf’s clutches, a new guardian is assigned. Cut to scenes of Mother and Father trying to escape from mysterious jailors and return to the kids.
I really enjoyed this show. It has awkward humor, musical numbers, and impeccable acting.
Each character was cast brilliantly. Neil Patrick Harris manages to make Count Olaf funny yet horrible. He balances the comic relief of the character while making Count Olaf menacing and a viable threat to the safety of the children. Patrick Warburton plays the deadpan narrator. He can be in mortal danger, deeply grieving the love of his life, or explaining the difference between literally and figuratively, and he uses the same cadence and tone of voice. Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, and Presley Smith really do look like siblings and they have just the right amount of chemistry to pull it off.
This can be a frustrating show, because while the children are great for advocating for themselves, many of the adults in their life, while being well meaning, are not good advocates. Mr. Poe (played by K. Todd Freeman) is the perfect example of this. He will listen to the children when they say that Count Olaf is in disguise, but then he will also listen to Count Olaf in disguise. He almost always takes the adults side over that of the children. He also uses the facts given to him, but warps them to meet the narrative that is most convenient to him. It’s not that the adults in this show are stupid. It’s that the adults have preconceived notions about how the world works that don’t match what the Baudelaire children are telling them.
If you like smart, dark comedies with a retro vibe then this is the show for you. If you like musical introductions that explain what to expect, this is the show for you. If you think children advocating for themselves are important, this is your show. If you like children shows that respect the intelligence of their target audience, this is your show. If you like Neil Patrick Harris in any way shape or form, this is your show. If none of these things are true for you, this is not the show for you.
4.5 out of 5 stars