Fortunate Future for “Unfortunate”

In the latest blast of television nostalgia, the TV show adaptation of “A Series of Unfortunate Events” hit Netflix last Friday, Jan. 13. Based on the books by Lemony Snicket, and starring Neil Patrick Harris as the ominous Count Olaf, the show makes for a uniquely magical watch. With two episodes for every book, the first season of the show covers books one through four.

The story begins with the Baudelaire children-Violet, 14; Klaus, 12; and Sunny, the baby. The children learn their parents have recently died in a house fire, making them orphans. Through a series of outlandish events, they are sent to live with their closest living relative, the creepy and conniving Count Olaf. They soon discover that Count Olaf is after the enormous fortune their parents left behind and will stop at nothing to take it from them.

As Count Olaf becomes more desperate, the children are eventually shipped away from relative to relative in order to escape him, with each family member meeting an unfortunate fate at the hands of Count Olaf. From the house of Count Olaf, to their reptile-loving uncle, to their phobia-obsessed aunt on the shore, the children become embroiled in a game of cat- and-mouse as they search for escape.

I read this book series a long time ago, so I do not remember all the details, but it seems that Netflix has done it some justice. Snicket himself wrote the script, and it shows, as specific lines from the books are plucked out and put in the show. Some people may find the narrative done by the character of Snicket (Patrick Warburton) a little distracting, as Warburton also voiced Kronk in “The Emperor’s New Groove,” a childhood movie many grew up watching. Regardless, the dialogue in the film maintains the dark humor of the books, and Warburton’s delivery of each line is delightfully dry and level.

Neil Patrick Harris serves as an interesting choice for Count Olaf. Though the Count is supposed to be evil and menacing, Harris lacks a certain level of goofiness that I also associate with the role, perhaps because of how often his interpretation is from Jim Carrey’s played the character in the 2004 film adaptation. Harris did a fine job, but I could not help feeling that he could have made the character a little more eccentric throughout.

Overall, the acting was done in a unique style, and I could not quite decide if it was intentional or not. The Baudelaires were played by relatively new child actors, and you could tell they did not have much experience. At times their delivery was a little cringe-worthy, so I hope that they continue to develop their talent as the series continues.

The overall aesthetic of the show was delightful to watch, as the colors and scenery composed a macabre, Wes Anderson type of vibe. The whole show felt fantastical with its imagery and costumes, often providing stark color contrasts that made the characters pop. The many costumes of Count Olaf became even more impressive with each episode, and I was impressed to see Harris adapt well to every assumed identity.

Overall, even people who have not read the books will likely enjoy this series. The plot is engaging, with twists at every turn, and the characters, though not always the most talented of actors, are dynamic and unique. You will be holding out hope for the poor Baudelaire orphans every step of the way.