A Series of Unfortunate Events

A Series of Unfortunate Events, the newest Netflix show, begins with the Baudelaire Children learning that their parents have died in a terrible fire. And then the unfortunate events begin to happen to them. Many people will tell you not to watch this show, the commercials, the narrator, Netflix, several characters, and likely at least a few disgruntled fans of the book series that it was based on. I did not heed these warnings and neither should you. I found the show, though undoubtedly about awful events, incredibly charming. The writing, partially done by the original author Daniel Handler, creates a fast paced and interesting narrative.  and the acting was generally very good.

The show is not perfect, and before I saw it, I had many doubts as to whether it would live up to my expectations. The former attempt to create mass entertainment out of the sad tale of the Baudelaire Children was not good, mostly due to it’s laziness. It is a terrible movie, with terrible pacing and little to no understanding of the original piece. However, though I do enjoy a good adaption, I am not the sort to be fussy and stuck up about a movie or tv show’s  deviations from the source material. The Netflix series, in fact, takes many liberties with various aspects of the books, from exactly how prominent the secret society is to the various character motivations. While the world where the story is set might seem over complicated and intimidating to those who haven’t read the books, the Netflix show is very good on it’s own, even with no knowledge from the books that inspired it. It includes the spirit of the books, which, in my mind, is what is truly important, and uses a lot of excellent pieces of dialogue.

The spirit of these books that the show inhabits is pedantry and watching horrible things happen to characters you like. The increasingly silly costumes, all of which are worn by Neil Patrick Harris, who plays the main villain, Count Olaf, while not as important to the theme of the books, are also wonderful. The sinister Count is after the Baudelaire’s fortune, and manages to gain custody of the children  in the first episode. Each book is split into two episodes, which allows the show to give each the complexity they deserve. Once they are liberated of his guardianship  in the third episode, they realize that they are never really going to be free of him, as he systematically kills everyone in his way to their fortune. For a book that is marketed to children rather than young adults, it is shocking that there is more death than all the later Harry Potter books combined, and a more cynical view of the world than the Hunger Games. The show has a commitment to the worst possible thing happening to the Baudelaire Children, something it shares with the book. Every time that you like a character or think perhaps things are looking up because so much has already happened and something must surely go right for these children, It happens, that character is dead, and Count Olaf’s stupid disguises have worked again.

There is very little that is uplifting about this show, but the charm of the Baudelaire children is a constant. Whether it is Klaus, the only boy, looking at an adult with utter contempt, Violet, the eldest girl, finding the only way out of their predicament, or Sunny, the baby, somehow chewing through a rock. It is a show that makes you hope desperately that maybe in the next episode the Baudelaire’s will finally be happy. The show never makes any promises, but it doesn’t lie to you either. You were warned, after all.

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