We need to talk about A Series of Unfortunate Events.
I finally watched season one of the new Netflix adaptation after finishing my epic rewatch binge-a-thon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I have many thoughts.
As a longtime fan of the 2004 film adaptation, the darker tone of the series was a bit jarring. I actually debated whether or not to keep watching after the first episode.
I decided to press on, but my feelings throughout were and remain mixed. Here’s a breakdown of what I liked, what I didn’t like, and what was just okay.
Season one covers the first four books in the series–The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, The Wide Window, and The Miserable Mill. Each book is spread out over the course of two one-hour episodes. This tidy format works nicely and allows for far more plot development than the 2004 film adaptation, which squeezed three books into less than two hours.
The condensed format of the 2004 film resulted in character and plot development taking a backseat to visuals and Jim Carrey’s hilariously flamboyant portrayal of Count Olaf. I didn’t mind this so much because Carrey is entertaining enough to carry (har har har) the whole film, but I also enjoy the mystery and dramatic buildup of the new series.
There are a few performances that are notably better in the Netflix series than the film.
- Patrick Warburton is compelling as narrator and fourth-wall-breaker Lemony Snicket.
- K. Todd Freeman is amazing as the consumptive Mr. Poe.
- Bill Connolly’s portrayal of Uncle Monty is a lot to live up to, but Aasif Mandvi does a magnificent job. He is by far the most lovable character in the series so far.
- Alfre Woodard is far more convincing as Aunt Josephine than Meryl Streep was in the film. Josephine’s fear and fragility are played in such a way that I really believe she was once a fierce and formidable woman.
- Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes are surprisingly great as Violet and Klaus.
I also appreciate the fact that the series has a significantly more diverse cast than the predominantly white film adaptation.Netflix's A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Good, the Okay, & the BadClick To Tweet
One of my favorite things about the film was the set design. The steampunk/gothic aesthetic perfectly suited the imagery evoked in the books. Most of the sets in the Netflix series are great, but a few strike me as oddly bright and out of place. Uncle Monty’s house, in particular, has a strange pastel pallor. Mr. Poe’s house and office also appear aggressively cheery. While I realize the set designers were trying to achieve a certain level of contrast, it comes off as a bit forced.
Neil Patrick Harris grew on me after a few episodes, but it was a slow burn. I’m not sure it’s fair to pit his performance against Jim Carrey’s because they’re so different. The series is clearly aiming for a darker, more serious tone than the film. Still, I have mixed feelings about his portrayal of Count Olaf even though I think it’s much closer to the books.
In The Bad Beginning, Count Olaf tricks Justice Strauss into marrying him and Violet legally under the guise of a theatrical performance so he can get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune. In the Netflix series, the scene where Olaf threatens to kill Sunny if Violet does not comply is imbued with an sexual undercurrent that is not in the film (or the book–that I can remember). Olaf says, “You’re such a lovely girl. After the wedding, I wouldn’t dispose of you like your brother and sister.” I know the whole point of A Series of Unfortunate Events is that it doesn’t shy away from the terrible things that can happen in life, but is it necessary to include that in a family show? I just think they could have left that line out without doing any damage to the plot or lessening Olaf’s general insidiousness.
My viewing experience started out a little rocky, but the series grew on me the more I watched. I can’t say I loved it, but I liked it and I look forward to season two.
What did you think of season one?