If you called yourself a bookworm in the 90s, odds are you probably remember the "A Series of Unfortunate Events" series by Daniel Handler, better known as Lemony Snicket.
I jumped for joy—figuratively, not literally—when I saw the announcement that Netflix was adapting the books into a television series.
I was a little skeptical, however. In my experience, book-to-screen adaptations are usually hit or miss, and with a series as convoluted as "A Series of Unfortunate Events," accuracy is everything.
Rest assured, if you were excited to hear that they were being made into a Netflix exclusive series, your feelings were well warranted, because the show is ridiculous—a word which here means that the Netflix series is so good, it’s almost absurd.
Cast and plot
Narrated somewhat unreliably by Snicket himself, played by Patrick Warburton, “A Series of Unfortunate Events” tells the dreary tale of the three Baudelaire siblings—mechanically minded Violet, played by Malina Weissman, reading fanatic Klaus, played by Louis Hynes and Sunny, a baby with a wicked bite, played by Presley Smith.
When a mysterious fire destroys their home and seemingly kills their parents, the siblings are sent to live with the villainous Count Olaf, played by Neil Patrick Harris.
After a brief and unpleasant stay with Olaf that includes hard labor, terribly vain musical numbers, pasta puttanesca and a generous helping of misery and woe, the Baudelaires are shuffled from home to home by an incredibly inept banker, Mr. Poe, played by K. Todd Freeman, and pursued by the Count, who has vowed to claim their fortune for himself.
A secret organization pulls the strings in the background, though whether they’re trying to help or harm the orphans isn’t clear.
Harris does an amazing job with his portrayal of Count Olaf by blending creepy and raunchy humor.
Harris, Hynes and Smith provide most of the comedic relief whenever Warburton isn’t inciting tears from the audience with his sad narration, or teasing us with information he has no intention of giving out.
A faithful rendition
The Netflix version of the series succeeds where some feel that the 2004 movie directed by Brad Silberling, in which Jim Carrey played Count Olaf, failed in terms of chronological events and fine details.
Unlike the movie, the show so closely mirrors the original books, the directors must have had a reading binge before producing the episodes.
The first season follows the first four books of the series and are near identical to them. The same dark, dry comedy and endlessly twisting plot that mystified readers were copied directly into each episode.
As he does in the books, Snicket urges the reader to turn away and stop viewing, interjects his "a word which here means" interludes that break the fourth wall in a masterful way and gives out a barrage of strange and seemingly meaningless information that maybe isn’t so meaningless after all.
The physical appearance of the characters matches the book’s descriptions exactly. The episodes have twists and turns that any mystery lover or Snicket fan will enjoy, including a massive red herring that is guaranteed to leave you puzzled.
The most heart-wrenching aspect of the show is the personality of the orphans, who strive to remain uncorrupted despite their horrible situation.
Episodes intend to put the audience through a range of emotions—laughter, sorrow, confusion—while enforcing the importance of family and having a good heart no matter your misfortune.
The only criticism I have is the CGI, particularly in the case of Sunny. In some scenes, her movement is just a little too awkward and in others it’s clear a baby doll was used as a stand-in.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed watching “A Series of Unfortunate Events” on Netflix, much more than I thought I would. Watching it brought back fond elementary school memories of reading the books late at night under my covers.
“A Series of Unfortunate Events” was the second book series Arianna Smith ever read—right after “Harry Potter.” She owns all 13 of the original books and used to read them in favor of playing outside during recess. She has seen the movie no less than six times.