Books / Television

A Series of Unfortunate Events is Far From Unfortunate Viewing

Book adaptations are a tricky thing. Adapting a successful young adult series has proven (for the most part) even trickier. So, leave it to Netflix to throw caution to the wind and team up with Lemony Snicket himself, Daniel Handler, to adapt his highly successful A Series of Unfortunate Events.

And adapt it they did, with a gusto.

Most remember the 2004 feature film, starring Jim Carrey, Timothy Spall, and Meryl Streep among others and directed by Brad Sieberling (CasperMoonlight Mile). Though Handler did write the original script when the film was in the hands of Barry Sonnenfeld, he was replaced for the film that eventually made it to the screen.

So, to see him in what appeared to be complete creative control over his own work was a step in the right direction.

The first season of Netflix’s Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events premiered on the streaming network on January 13 and consists of eight episodes. The first four books are used as source material, spread out over two episodes each, and running for approximately 45 minutes.

What Works?

(Clockwise) Usman Ally, John DeSantis, Matty Cardarople, Jacqueline Robbins, and Joyce Robbins

(Clockwise) Usman Ally, John DeSantis, Matty Cardarople, Jacqueline Robbins, and Joyce Robbins

The casting, nearly top to bottom.

From Neil Patrick Harris’ delightful evil and silly Count Olaf all the way down to each and every one of his henchpeople (shown above), the show gets it right. While the movie utilized some superb performances from comedic veterans, they didn’t really measure up to their literary counterparts. Here, there is little question.

The writing is, by no surprise, exactly what you’d expect from the man who wrote the novels in the first place. Two forty-five minute episodes to encompass each book is just about right and the tone befittingly matches the novels, as well.

The overall look isn’t as cartoonish as the movie came across sometimes and each location stands out on its on, with special kudos to the Lucky Smells Lumber Factory. Since this is the first time we’ve seen The Miserable Mill adapted on screen, it gave us a wonderful glimpse of what is to come in seasons two and three.

What Doesn’t?

Will Arnett and Cobie Smulders

Will Arnett and Cobie Smulders

Mostly the subplots.

The identity of “Mom” and “Dad” aren’t revealed until episode 7 and by that time, while you’re wondering who they are in relation to the Baudelaire children, you don’t really find yourself caring all that much. Which is sad really, because Will Arnett and Cobie Smulders are both extremely likable actors.

K. Todd Freeman was a delight as Mr. Poe, but after a while, his coughing (though an allusion to his characterization in the books) got a bit on your nerves. Add to that the fact that his involvement becomes the plot device that signifies that most, if not all the adults in this story, are completely clueless.

Alfre Woodard (as Aunt Josephine in The Wide Window) as well as both Catherine O’Hara and Don Johnson (as Dr. Georgina Orwell and Sir, respectively, in The Miserable Mill) try their best, but for now, their best was barely good enough.

For various reasons, The Wide Window was the weakest of the four entries, and Woodard had the unenviable task of following Meryl Streep from the film version. Johnson was good, but his character seemed underdeveloped, to be honest.

Also, in all actuality, Sir was always shrouded in a veil of cigar smoke in the book. I, for one, was looking forward to how they’d achieve that onscreen. Instead, we got Don Johnson as Don Johnson.

Will We Stay Faithful Fans?

K. Todd Freeman, Louis Hynes, Joan Cusack, Malina Weismann, and Presley Smith

K. Todd Freeman, Louis Hynes, Joan Cusack, Malina Weismann, and Presley Smith

Without a doubt.

With very few hiccups to really account for, count us intrigued to find out what happens next to the three Baudelaire children.



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