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“I can’t believe it. After years of providing top-quality entertainment on demand, Netflix is risking its reputation and its success by associating itself with my dismaying and upsetting books.” — Lemony Snicket.
This January saw the premiere of the Netflix series A Series of Unfortunate Events. Based on the children book series of the same name by Lemony Snicket, each installment follows the lives of the Baudelaire orphans. The all-star cast includes Neil Patrick Harris, Joan Cusack, Catherine O'Hara, Will Arnett, and Colbie Smulders. Patrick Warburton narrates as Lemony Snicket, and gently eases us into the dark world of the Baudelaire children.
Violet (Malina Weissman), Klaus (Louis Hynes) and Sunny (Presley Smith) are taken into a world of dismay when Mr. Poe (K. Todd Freeman) arrives to a beach to tell the children that their parents perished in a fire. The children are then brought to the house of the eccentric actor Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris). He is cruel and grimy in every way imaginable, and is obsessed with stealing the Baudelaire fortune. He is as evil as the children are smart, and the Baudelaires are absolutely brilliant.
Thus, misadventure ensues.
Daniel Handler pens the novel as Lemony Snicket, a name he gave to himself originally to keep himself from a right-wing religious organization's mailing list. Originally, Handler didn't want to write children's books, but the idea grew on him when he was challenged to write something he had to read when he was ten.
Handler makes a cameo in "The Wide Window" installment, which is very Hitchcockian of him. (Hitchcock was notorious for making quick appearances in all of his films). With the dark tones, it is extremely appropriate.
In the Netflix series, Patrick Warburton narrates the tales of the Baudelaires, and unlike the usual narrator one would have, he is attached to the situation. It is bittersweet and dark, a perfect combination for sympathy. It almost gives off a Twilight Zone vibe.
One thing I greatly admire is the lack of a specified time periods that the series is meant to take place. Only when Count Olaf mentions ordering something online are we taken into a world that at least has the internet. The production designer for the film Edward Scissorhands, Bo Welch, was brought onto this project to create a sense of a "familiar but completely imaginary" setting for viewers. Large-painted backdrops were used instead of constantly using computer generated backgrounds and green screens.
Little towns were built, and there was so much detail put into the sets in order for Series to become its own little world for those on set. There is a Wes Anderson aesthetic, which plays perfectly into the storybook feel. As someone who read the first few books in the series, I can defend their accuracy.
Many of the lines Warburton narrates are verbatim from the book series itself. “I think this is the best, most comprehensive format to display these books,” Warburton said. “So you’re not missing a lot. I feel like it’s probably the most thorough route to go.”
Ultimately, this series captures the storybook feeling viewers are looking to get out of their experience.
Neil Patrick Harris shines as Count Olaf. While many people felt that when Jim Carrey played the same character years ago as a caricature of himself, NPH is pure evil. At some points, we even feel him as Barney Stinson, another character he played on the series How I Met Your Mother. Handler knew he cast the right choice for Olaf this time around, as he "immediately saw someone who could pull off a million things at once," since Olaf is notorious for his many disguises in his mission to steal the Baudelaire fortune.
His portrayal was much darker and dynamic than Carrey's, and we genuinely feared Olaf this time around as opposed to the almost silly Olaf Jim Carrey offered.
NPH told Collider he admires the show's accuracy to the books. "I think at times it’s shockingly dark. From what I gathered, Netflix was concerned that adults weren’t going to be able to value it because it was skewing towards a younger demographic. And I think now that it’s done, they want to make sure the kids still value it and it’s not gone too Stranger Things. I really wanted Olaf to be bad. To be a bad person."
The darkness NPH gives Olaf that Jim Carrey couldn't is terrifying, yet comedic. Anyone who has seen him in How I Met Your Mother would greatly appreciate his coldness towards the orphans in a sick way.
The opening credits to the series tell a story themselves. Each are a collage of pieces that are attempting to put the Baudelaire puzzle back together. Sung by Neil Patrick Harris, each novel that is adapted presents different lyrics based on the trouble that Sunny, Klaus and Violet are wrapped up in.
Each book is adapted into two Netflix episodes of about 50 minutes each, which is the perfect amount of time to give each novel the attention it deserves. Anything shorter would have felt rushed, and we get every single detail that the book gives, especially since so much of it is drawn directly from the source material.
Netflix is expected to make two more seasons that adapt the rest of the book series. Though the first season will be a tough act to follow, there is something in the works which could mean more NPH as Olaf (he's essentially Barney Stinson with a unibrow. It's amazing).
I've had people who grew up with the book series rave about how the Netflix series really feels like you are reading the books. I've had people who never read the books say that the series was addicting, and they are excited for the next installments. Overall, A Series of Unfortunate Events is a great family-friendly series Netflix has brought. It's incredibly honest, and that's why it has been received so positively by many.