Bringing a book to film or television is a tough balancing act. Stray to far from the book and you risk not only alienating the fans of the source material but also losing track of what made the book really work in the first place. Stay too faithful and you risk alienating viewers who are unaware of the source material and will end up boring the non die-hard fans of the source material. And if you mess it up, the fans will want your head on a pike. Especially if this is your second time adapting it for the screen. As a fan of the books and the movie growing up, I was very cautious about this series. One of the many disappointments of my life was not being able to see the full story be told on screen and given the justice it deserves. Fortunately for readers, non-readers of the book series, and creators who do not want their head on a pike, A Series of Unfortunate Events is a series that treats its source material with the respect and sense of mischief and fun that it deserves.
Based on the first four books of the popular series by Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket), A Series of Unfortunate Events is the story of the Baudelaire children. After the tragic and mysterious death of their parents in a fire, Violet (MalinaWeissman), Klaus (Louis Hynes), and Sunny (Presley Smith) are placed in the custody of a murderous relative, Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris), who attempts to steal their inheritance and, later, orchestrates numerous disasters with the help of his accomplices as the children attempt to flee their clutches. As the story progresses, the children soon discover a deep background of secrets and conspiracies with connections to both Olaf and their parents.
Written by Daniel Handler himself, it is no wonder why A Series of Unfortunate Events is so faithful to its source material. What is amazing is how well the series made the transition from book to television. The stories and characters are cast and played pitch perfectly. Of all the elements that could go wrong, I was the most worried about the casting and acting, especially the children. These characters are the cores of the series and if cast wrong, could derail everything. Thankfully, the three actors do a wonderful job of bringing these characters to life. The Baudelaire children play well off of each other and each one gets their moment in the sun. For child actors, the three of them do an exceptional job and really give you the sense between the three of them that they all do care about each other, which is definitely the most important aspect of these characters.
The adults in the show are just as well cast as the children. Everyone cast in the series knows the tone and does a great job of pulling it off while still feeling true to the story at hand. The beats and character moments all register. The standouts of the adults are Patrick Warburton and Neil Patrick Harris. Warburton plays the fictional Lemony Snicket as a sardonic Rod Sterling-esque narrator tasked with investigating these unfortunate events. It is truly enjoyable to see Warburton play against his usual type. His presence in the story allows the series to retain what can only be described as the series fifth main character in a way that is special and unique without getting rid of one the stronger aspects of the books.
Neil Patrick Harris is brilliant as the nefarious Count Olaf. Unlike Jim Carrey, who played the role more humorously, Harris leans into the more theatrical and darker aspects of the character while also adding some shades of vulnerability. With Carrey, Olaf felt and looked like a broad rehash of what he did with The Mask and Grinch. He was playing more of an inconvenient and annoying pest that focused on the comedic aspects of the character. In this series, Olaf feels more like a character and not a caricature. Harrisbrings an underlying sense of genuine menace to the character. He is still funny but there is also a real dangerous desperation to Harris and his take on Olaf. The desperation is so core to the character and it is strongly felt throughout the series. He feels like a real threat to these children and serves as a great foil for them.
While Handler, the writers, and the cast should be commended for their part in all of it, Barry Sonnenfeld and the fantastic visual direction of the series is the glue that holds it all together and serves as its strongest aspect. Sonnenfeld’s involvement with the series started all the way back in 2004 with the original film adaptation and is probably the best choice of director for the series to follow. The world of the Baudelaire children is fully realized in a way that manages to capture that sense of mischief and dark humor that made the books so engaging to begin with. Every frame is bristling with a screwball energy that makes the show work. The screwball energy behind the camera helps the show move at the same brisk and madcap pace that the books do in a visual way. The visuals and tone of this show is reminiscent of Sonnenfeld’s past work on films like Raising Arizona or the Addams Family.
|It's a baby in a cage!|
Despite the show’s instance of the opposite, A Series of Unfortunate Events is a fun and engaging show that can be appreciated by the entire family. It manages to bring the spirit of the books to life in a way that makes it enjoyable for both the fans of the series and those who have not read the books. The biggest issue I had with it was that it was only 8 episodes long and that I didn’t get to spend more time in this delightfully insane world. The only unfortunate event that could result from watching this is not watching it.
Pass on this review.
-Liam S. O'Connor