by Ian Pemberton
The children Baudelaire are in for terrible circumstances with the reboot of the popular book franchise. Netflix’s ambition to create more specialized content is admirable, but how does its latest show fare?
Look away, look away
Each episode of the series begins with a warning from Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton) himself, urging the audience that if they are feeble-hearted or easily-upset they distract themselves with other, more pleasant pursuits. Even the theme song of the show explicitly states that, “[If you ask] any stable person ‘Should I watch?’ And they will say,/ Look away.”
Despite this, Netflix’s adaptation of the popular book series is charming, delightful, and at times, outright funny. The theme’s warning disregards the overall quality and presentation of the show as a whole, and honestly, if you somehow enjoy a story filled with woe, you could do far worse than A Series of Unfortunate Events.
The visual direction has the control of Wes Anderson… with the color scheme of Tim Burton.
The show follows three miserable children after their parents’ death in a fire as they’re beset by the horrible actor extraordinaire (who is either their third cousin four times removed, or their fourth cousin three times removed): Count Olaf. He schemes and plots to steal the Baudelaire fortune, using his acting experience and costumes, some help from his henchmen/women, and supposed good looks.
It should be noted that the target demographic is younger than one might expect. The performances demonstrated could be described at some points as ‘robotic’; the adult figures completely disregard logic as they spout exposition and dialogue unnaturally. As should be expected from a show in which a pitiful actor is able to fool otherwise sensible people, it veers heavily towards a much younger audience.
Even so, the visual presentation should be applauded for its style and tone. The visual direction has the control of Wes Anderson (of The Grand Budapest Hotel, and other films) with the color scheme of Tim Burton. Though the visual candy that is the dreary world of Lemony Snicket appetizes, the story’s tone wavers from entirely despondent to outright silly from scene to scene.
The effects are believable and the sets adequate; there was never anything so distracting as to break the atmosphere that the show creates. The remarkable dedication to keeping a consistent visual tone should be applauded, even if the story’s tone isn’t nearly as clear.
Neil Patrick Harris’ performance as Count Olaf is at first stilted, but comes into its own as the show progresses as Olaf’s disguises become stranger and more outlandish. Compared to Carrey’s performance in the film, Harris is admittedly lacking Carrey’s sense of humor and explosive personality. However, Olaf is still just as evil as he’s ever been as the narcissistic actor (with a trill on the ‘r’) struts from scene to scene.
In dealing with the contemptible foe, the three Baudelaire children find clever ways out of every scenario using their various talents to observe what’s around them. Klaus, Violet, and Sunny look almost ripped from the book covers, and they are immensely relatable in a very “woe is me” sort of way that all children face.
…whereas the series’ mysteries took a backseat in the book in favor of the three main characters, they are front and center in the show.
Of course, one can’t help but think of the other two versions of the story; the books and the 2004 movie adaptation. So in comparison to these iterations, how does the show hold up?
The way the series is set up, each episode covers one half of a book, meaning that each book is covered in two episodes. The structure is sound and matches favorably to the novels.
Compared to the books, some aspects have been lost in the translation, and many of the subtleties fall on the side of the road to compensate for the visual medium. A major detail to take note of is that whereas the series’ mysteries took a backseat in the book in favor of the three main characters, they are front and center in the show. Regardless, Unfortunate Events stays faithful to the plot of each novel, and many of the tropes of the series (such as defining relatively complicated words for the viewer, or translation of Sunny’s many gargles to English) remain.
Compared to the film, Events spends more time developing the scenarios that the Baudelaire orphans find themselves placed in. The show benefits from its televised format, giving due time to each character, and letting the stories have a decent pace.
Misery for the whole family
The show can still be recommended for a family viewing, as there were a few jokes that in a Pixar fashion would simply glaze right over younger viewers. Surprisingly, there’s even a few nods to the show’s position on Netflix, such as one instance when Olaf (in disguise) remarks when M. Montgomery offers to take them to a movie, “It’s so much more convenient to consume entertainment from the comfort of your own home,” as he looks directly into camera.
With these, however, are also patronizing aspects of the show that obviously are intended for younger audience members: the aforementioned word-defining and baby-translation tend to outlive their merit as jokes for anyone over the age of twelve very quickly, and the performances mentioned above do nothing to help a more mature viewer cope with them.
From a stable person, ‘should I watch?’
Even with the various problems that come from the show’s variable tones and performances, it’s still a fun spectacle of form and style that amuses with pleasure. Should they choose to continue from book five onward with the same style and care that they’ve displayed so far, the show could only improve.
If the various problems that plague the show and the dreary ‘look away’ message that the show imparts on its viewers prove too much, consider avoiding it; however, you would be missing out.
All Images From: A Series of Unfortunate Events
A Series of Unfortunate Events
A Series Unfortunate of Events is fun, innocent, and well-produced, but childlike in its execution. While the show has fun with its source material, the wavering tone, stilted performances, and youth-pandering make older audience members feel a little out of place. But if one can look past the show’s flaws, he/she might find a little gem of a show that is both childishly simple but full of wit.
Ryan is a Music Media Production major who wrote the first ever Byte music review and has been involved with nearly every other section at some point. He is also an event planner at Village Green Records and the primary booking coordinator for the store’s outdoor concerts.