- Like any good Millennial who remembers reading Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events as a child, I was thrilled when I found out that Netflix were going to make the novels into a TV series. I mean, who wouldn’t be super excited if they found out that one of their favourite childhood book series was going to be made into a multi-season TV show? The 2004 film was good, but it was just one 2-hour film and it only covered the first three books. A long-form TV series (it looks like it’s going to be about three seasons, given the current rate of 4 books per season) covering the whole book series is much better.
- I have to say, though, while I like and appreciate that a TV adaption has given the writers room to develop each of the stories, I feel slightly underwhelmed by the result. I’m not sure precisely what it is, but one thing I can identify that I didn’t like was that the mood was all wrong. It was all a bit too flippant and whimsical for a series about tragedy and misfortune. Disconcertingly, all the characters apart from the Baudelaire children themselves were written like they were in a comedy—the Baudelaires were the only characters played straight, and it produced the jarring impression that everyone was in on a mean joke on the Baudelaires.
- I mean, I get that this kind of dark humour was part of the novels, but I feel that the tone was still taken too far in the direction of comedy, which I felt trivialised the dangers and tragedies that befell the Baudelaires. I watched the 2004 film after I watched the Netflix series, too, and I thought the film got the tone much better. It still had comedy, but it felt darker and more somber, as it should. The constant cameos of the Baudelaires’ parents, frequent reminders that the Baudelaire orphans aren’t actually orphans and that their parents are coming for them, also detracted from what was supposed to be a tone of bleakness and misery.
- I also thought—and I’m surprised to find myself saying this—that it was almost too faithful to the novels. Usually I’m one of the bothersome people who criticise screen adaptions of books for not being faithful enough to the text, but here I think it stifled the making of artistic decisions that might have allowed the stories to translate better onto screen, ultimately at the expense of the show’s pacing and writing. Again, I feel like the film, which took more creative liberties, succeeded better in this respect, despite cramming three books into two hours.
- All that said, I don’t want to make it sound like I didn’t like the show. I did like it, on balance. I watched it all the way to the end and I’m looking forward to the next season. I guess it’s just easier to talk about the things that annoyed you than to give praise. But one thing I will definitely praise is the acting of the three Baudelaire children (well, two, since one was a baby and wasn’t really acting). Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes were as good as Violet and Klaus Baudelaire as you could have asked for, and definitely two more young stars to watch out for brought into the limelight by Netflix, along with the Stranger Things kids. Neil Patrick Harris was also very entertaining as Count Olaf, but I do think he could have been much better if the writers allowed him to pull back on the self-conscious comedy.
I’ve been watching: A Series of Unfortunate Events (Netflix)