Netflix's A Series of Unfortunate Events Is Spellbinding

“I would advise all our viewers to turn away immediately and watch something more pleasant instead,” says the eponymous author and narrator (Patrick Warburton) in his delightful deadpan at the start of Netflix’s newest, shiniest binge-worthy offering, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. If you’re a typical kid, or a kid at heart, that bit reverse-psychology will work like a charm and before you know it, hours will have passed.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

2017 – , PG

The story starts as it should: at the beginning. Faced with unthinkable tragedy, The Baudelaire children – Violet (Malina Weissman), Klaus (Louis Hynes), and baby Sunny (Presley Smith) – never give up hope for a better future. The seemingly orphaned, definitely homeless kids persevere using reason, logic, truth, and compassion as weapons against those who, at every turn, seek to keep them down… and steal their inheritance. Violet and Klaus are perfect role models for young viewers – without a hint of saccharine, they stay sweet while still managing to overcome obstacles of major proportions. Although Sunny is only a tot, she’s very much in on the action. She speaks in an idiosyncratic form of baby talk, she has amazingly advanced problem solving skills, motor dexterity, comprehension, moral reasoning, and intelligence (not unlike Maggie Simpson).

The series hits the ground running. Before they can be sent to their proper guardian, the diabolical Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris) takes on the role by tricking a gullible gus called Poe (K. Todd Freeman) into believing he is the rightful custodian of the kids. In search of the hidden family fortune, the evil yet oddly whimsical Olaf tries everything under the bright-yellow sun to steal the children’s trust, all while making Violet, Klaus, and Sunny absolutely miserable with his bizarre tactics. What’s more, his home is a pit that’s stacked from floor to ceiling with junk, trash, dirty dishes, and icky odds and ends.

Neil Patrick Harris is, as expected, stellar is his role. Aided by prosthetics and using all physicality at his considerable disposal (Harris is a seasoned stage actor), he really is a storybook fairytale felon come to life. The books don’t shy away from having the antagonist do some quite shocking crimes – even murder – and neither does the series. It’s dark, dark, dark! But never hopeless.

While Olaf is operatically villainous in the books, Harris makes sure he keeps his character grounded enough to be believable and keep you guessing. Instead of a relentless personification of wickedness, Olaf is more like a cat toying with mice – and if there’s a payday at the end of the game for him, so much the better.

My favorite episode of the series is episode three, part one, “The Reptile Room,” in which Sunny, Klaus, and Violet are sent to live with their new guardian, Uncle Monty (Aasif Mandvi), an affable herpetologist whose home houses his beloved collection of reptiles. Sunny becomes good friends with Monty’s snake, also known as the “Incredibly Deadly Viper.” In an effort to protect the children from Olaf, Uncle Monty intends to take the children to Peru. But that is not to be. When Count Olaf shows up, disguised as Monty’s assistant Stephano, horrible – and yes, unfortunate – events ensue.

A long-form show allows for a more accurate and detailed delve into the original story than the 2004 big-screen adaptation with Jim Carrey, Billy Connolly and Meryl Streep. This telling zips through the books at a rate of half per episode, so the initial batch of eight covers the first four volumes of 13. Plenty more to enjoy, in seasons to come. If you liked the novels, you’ll love this. Author Daniel Handler adapted his own work, writes the scripts and co-produces the series, which ensures a lot of love, care, and attention to the fanbase.

Barry Sonnenfeld, a longtime yarn-spinner, is partnered with Handler in unspooling these suspenseful stories… To give you context, Sonnenfeld directed all three Men in Black movies, as well as The Addams Family film. For his part, the director insisted on a certain mismatched ephemera – a disconcerting and displaced sense of time and place – to keep the mystique of the fanciful narrative alive. Horse-drawn carriages and motorcycles share the same cobblestone streets, while the characters use vintage Walkie-Talkies instead of cellphones to communicate.

The overall look at feel of this live-action spectacle is cartoonish-baroque, with its post-modern steampunk gloom and grit that’s buoyed by curly-Q’s and flourishes of beauty. What sets Lemony Snicket’s apart from your typical Tim Burton knockoff, however, is its impeccable, deliciously rich and florid attention to words. The dialogue is delectable, as are the asides which explain the vocabulary that’s unique to the Snicket universe. As Handler himself has noted, his books – and the subsequent series – owe a great deal of inspiration to Roald Dahl and Edward Gorey. It shows.

While the series is definitely geared to a young viewership, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events will be a fortunate change of pace for parents, too.

Will you watch Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events with the kids? What are some of your favorite shows to stream on Netflix with the family? Share with us!

Visit Common Sense Media for more info on this movie’s appropriateness for your child.

Tags : TV   Netflix   

Nicki Kanwal
I enjoyed the movie. Can't wait to check out the series
Deborah Essner
Our daughter loved the series!