I was a huge fan of “A Series of Unfortunate Events” when I was a kid – I stumbled across “Hostile Hospital” (and “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” but that’s a post for another time) at a bookstore and bought it before realizing it was part of a series. I was immediately hooked. Talk about reverse psychology! Every warning from Lemony Snicket only made me want to read it more.
A few years later the movie came out, and I…liked it a lot, actually. Jim Carrey was INSANE as Count Olaf, and by far the best part of the movie. Of course, there is no denying that the movie had very little resemblance to the actual books, but then again, few movies do. It also didn’t help that it tried to condense four books into two hours.
What I particularly appreciated was the way the movie captured the dark humor of the series. That’s something that the recently launched Netflix series trips over a little bit, particularly in the first few episodes. So let’s break it down, bullet point style:
Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf. I mean, need I say more?
Klaus Baudelaire. Even in the books, he’s the only one with a reasonable sense of outrage at the injustices they’re facing. Violet is great, but she really ought to be angrier.
The mystery! Readers of the original series will know that the whole VFD stuff and the eye and the big mystery behind the Baudelaire’s parents deaths (and the Beatrice thing) doesn’t even start to be revealed until, what, Ersatz Elevator? That’s book six. So yeah, it’s great that the series is already giving us these tidbits of the background in which “Unfortunate Events” is happening.
Mr. Poe. I should hate him. I really should. His utter incompetence is the source of the Baudelaire’s troubles (that and the VFD stuff). If only he would call the cops in a timely manner, the kids might have a better chance at a guardian who doesn’t die on them. But what can I say, I like the guy. He’s well-meaning, if inept.
Sunny Baudelaire. She knows what’s up.
Olaf’s henchmen. I’ve always kinda had a soft spot for these dudes. Even in the books, they’re mostly just along for the ride. This guy is especially enjoyable:
I didn’t like:
The narrator. I like the concept of a narrator, and it certainly makes it more true to the books. But he’s played too deadpan, and the explanations of what things mean is getting kinda boring. It was quirky and fun in the books. Here, it’s just an unnecessary interruption.
It’s not funny enough. Basically what I said in the beginning. In the first few episodes, the show really had trouble striking the balance between humor and horror. What’s happening to the Baudelaires is truly terrible, and it’s largely due to adult incompetence and passivity. Children should not have to live like this, and it’s infuriating that they do. Part of this is that I’m an adult now, and I feel more strongly about child welfare. When you’re a kid, it’s all part of the adventure, and it confirms a deep-held belief that adults are the worst. But even then, a large part of what makes the books more palatable is that they’re genuinely amusing. In terms of funny-to-sad balance, I would say the best part is the “Miserable Mill” episodes. “Wide Window” has its moments, but Aunt Josephine is just so annoying.
The Marvelous Marriage. I had totally forgotten about this part of the first book. I didn’t remember it until well into the first episode, and I immediately felt squicky. Again, this is one of those things that when I was kid didn’t strike me as any more evil than all the other plots Count Olaf was putting together, but now…just no.
Overall, I can’t wait for next season. I feel like the series really hit its stride in the last half of the season, and I can’t wait for the next season. Also, “Ersatz Elevator” was my favorite book of the series, and I can’t wait to meet Esme Squalor.