With recently aired or streamed shows that are adaptations of novels, a common issue seems to be that screenplays just can’t get the essence of the story right.
The adaptations tend to leave out important plot points, certain characters and their defining traits, or even flat out butchering the basic plot like in the disaster that was Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Yet here we are with Netflix’s latest release A Series of Unfortunate Events. The Lemony Snicket adaptation is a step up from the 2004 big screen attempt that starred Emily Browning, Liam Aiken, Jim Carrey, and Jude Law.
This go-around is like a breath of fresh air in terms of book-to-screen adaptations. With many failed attempts to become the Next Big Thing in cinema like Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, Pittacus Lore’s I Am Number Four, and Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments, it is no shocker that fans were excited but skeptical about the second chance this particular book series got. To book worms, it has felt as if books were forever cursed to be a train wreck when trying to become a movie or show, or worse, overrated and mainstream like Hunger Games, a film that took itself too seriously in the final two installments.
All in all, this time it was a successful attempt at capturing the ridiculousness yet totally ground-hitting themes Unfortunate Events covers.
It’s the right amount of comedy, dreariness, and adventure, something we might have to thank Daniel Handler—the original writer of the source material—for being in the writer’s room this time.
Is the story of the Baudelaire’s bad luck a complete bummer? Absolutely. The trio never catches a break throughout the eight episode run that covers the first four books of the series.
Furthermore, the viewer is left both hating and—dare I say—loving Count Olaf’s lousy attempts at snatching the Baudelaire fortune. Neil Patrick Harris is good at many things, and he’s shown he can persuade the viewer into hating and liking his dreadful character all at once. Did I internally cringe a little when I first saw Harris’ Count Olaf look? Yes. But it’s a ridiculous factor the viewer soon gets over as the show’s pacing and writing quickly drops you into an unfortunate adventure filled with mayhem and heartstring-pulling moments.
With its strange yet delightful pacing, gray overtone and clever characters, one might get an Addams Family-esque vibe.
Patrick Warburton, who portrays Lemony Snicket and is the narrator of the series, is captivating with his crisp, sometimes blunt, insightful dialogue. Newcomers Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes—whom portray Violet and Klaus Baudelaire respectively—are talented and delightful, and carry the story well. There are also appearances by Joan Cusack, Aasif Mandvi, and Catherine O’Hara (whom portrayed Justice Strauss in the 2004 film), which ended up rounding out the cast dynamic.
Harris also provided the vocals for the intros that are updated to match what’s been happening in the story. A heads up: if watching three orphans continuously get the short end of the dreadful stick makes bums you out, you might want to look away (hint hint). But if you believe you can handle it, keep watching. You won’t regret it.
A season two consisting of ten episodes has already been commissioned by Netflix.