Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Review: A Series of Unfortunate Events – Netflix

The original book series by Daniel Handler (under the elusive pen name Lemony Snicket) was a big part of my childhood. So much so that the series made it into a post I wrote about books I would read again and again. I couldn’t say how many times I read the series over the years, but second perhaps only to Harry Potter, it was one of my most esteemed sets of books.

As the 2004 film adaption, which spanned the first three books, was generally successful, it always seemed criminal that no further films were made. When Netflix announced that they were to create an adaptation as a television series, with the first season tackling the first four books, the internet went wild. Well, at least, my Twitter timeline did...

Netflix’s adaptation has a much more distinct stylistic approach than the film, punctuated by the sarcastic remarks of Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton), who you learn to expect to saunter onto the screen at any moment, both in and outside of the action. Whereas the film adaptation very much focused on the bleary aspects of the Baudelaire orphans’ life with a straightforward approach, this new series instead emphasises the dark humour of the source material, presenting ludicrous events in an even more absurd manner. It is disconcertingly vivid. It is cunningly awkward, satirical and self-mocking, and this is perhaps down to the fact that Handler himself wrote much of the screenplay – and who could possibly have a better understanding of how to bottle and repurpose his own idiosyncratic style.

Patrick Warburton’s take on Lemony Snicket isn’t anything like the figure I had pictured, and the monotonous deadpan delivery feels a little jarring at first, but this may be because the level of sarcasm and satire is way beyond the stretches of a childhood imagination. And after a couple of episodes, Warburton’s perpetual interjections become as conventional as the bizarre world he constantly interrupts.

Neil Patrick Harris’s Count Olaf is brilliantly ridiculous, and even more wacky than Jim Carey’s film offering. While Harris was seemingly born to flit in and out of Olaf’s preposterous disguises, what’s missing is the real sinister, menacing edge to authenticate his mission to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune.

A strong cast fill the array of supporting roles, from K. Todd Freeman as the erratic Mr. Poe and Catherine O’Hara as Dr. Georgina Orwell in the Miserable Mill. Though Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes as the older Baudelaire children certainly look the part, their performance falls pale in comparison to the hysteria surrounding them. This may have been a directional decision, but it allows no real sense of Klaus’s extraordinary knowledge or the brilliance of Violet’s mechanical mind.

This first series introduces hints of the mystery behind the unfortunate events much more quickly and evidently than in the novels, but answers are given no more clearly or predictably, and this has the potential to draw in audiences lacking the pull of nostalgia.

As anticipated with such a stylised adaptation, there are moments, scenes and lines where the ridicule and melodrama are taken a touch too far, but all in all it’s a sharp, engaging watch, which is true to its original form while also continually surprising the viewer. Now we can only hope that it doesn’t suffer the same misfortune as the film, and that the next two planned series become a reality.


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