I grew up on Lemony Snicket’s dreary, pessimistic book series, which arguably informed my writing style early on, and they were probably my favourite books throughout my childhood and early teens, with Harry Potter offering the only real competition, so you can imagine how excited I was when I heard that the books were being adapted by Netflix, a company with a great track record for original content, especially after the relatively mediocre movie, which, in any case, only dealt with the first 3 books, and there are so many good stories in the series that deserve to be brought to life on screen. So after powering through the first season, which consists of the first four books, I’m eager to share my impressions.
There’s so much to talk about, so I’ll start off with the format of the show. One of the big questions for me, after the casting was announced, was how much screen time would be given to each book, and I think they got it just right. Each episode averages about 50 minutes, and there are two episodes to each book, equating to around an hour, 40 minutes: more or less feature-length. It gives adequate time to explore some of the smaller events of the books, or, for a decent amount of the show, exercise some new ideas, which I think for the most part paid off well (more on that later.)
I think the casting was virtually spot on, too. Neil Patrick Harris was perfect for Count Olaf, as he really shows in the second and third books, I think. His character, and some of the main beats of the story borrowed a little from the movie, which I wasn’t too keen about, but that’s largely for the first episode. The children were really good, also. Especially, Violet. I think Klaus was a little inferior, although whether that was the writing, acting, or a combination of both, it’s difficult to say. Sunny wasn’t given too much attention, but her dialogue subtitles were consistently entertaining. I also liked her teeth-using scenes, which were so ridiculously and obviously fake, but that fit with the humour and style of the show.
And speaking of the children, I’ll say that I loved their costume design, as well. See, the children’s outfits are vibrant, pastille colours that I think purposefully and ironically offset the bleak events and feelings surrounding each of them. (I’m not much of a fashion fanatic, but I think that’s right.) And this same, vibrant style permeates the show’s aesthetics, which I love. There’s a colourful, victorian - almost steampunk, at times - effect created. Although, of course, there are as many dark, bleak backgrounds, but it adds a nice contrast, and is ultimately rather pleasing to look at.
This brings me nicely onto the tone of the show, which I think is as close to the books as it could get, once you factor in all the elements of adaptation.The narration works well, especially with Patrick Warbuton’s deadpan tone. The dark humour was exactly what I’d expect, and had me laughing aloud on a number of occasions.
I’m going to enter spoiler territory here, if you haven’t already watched, so be warned. I wasn’t sure what the show was doing with the Baudelaire’s parents, when it was (apparently) announced that they were not, in fact, dead. I was understandably dubious about this drastic change from the books, but when the plot twisted, and it showed that actually, these scenes were not linear, I was actually rather impressed. It’s the kind of false hope that Lemony Snicket would love dangling before you, before tearing it away like the carpet beneath you. So that was one of the many changes I liked from the books, and I’m not one of those people who wants an adaptation to stick exactly to the source material; Ive seen screenwriters try to do that too many times, and fail miserably.
I can see the influence of Chaplin-esque comedy in some scenes, especially the second episode of The Reptile Room, where the comedy is bordering on slapstick, and more generally, the comedy lies largely on the ignorance of its characters, for instance guardians not realising the disguise in each book is Count Olaf, and the situations this creates. It worked well for the first four books, and although I already cannot wait until the next season, I wonder if the show will be able to mix up the formula that could become repetitive.
I really liked the ending, although I wasn’t too sold on the musical ending - that seemed a little out of place, although punctuated with enough jokes that it wasn't too far removed from the show’s style. It was nice to see The Miserable Mill effectively brought to life on screen, as this was the first book that was not included in the movie, and I’m pleased to say it was equally good. There are some great stories in next season, including what’ll be the first two episode of season 2, The Austere Academy, so that can’t come quick enough.
Overall, I loved the show. It was the adaptation I’d been waiting all this time for, and although it wasn’t perfect, it was as good as I could imagine from a screen adaptation, with the added bonus of being able to watch it all in one go. (Yes, my weekend was very lazy, but I’m not even sorry.) If you’re not watching A Series of Unfortunate Events right now, I don’t know what the hell you’re doing with your life.
(Note on the top poster: apparently, this was fanmade, but in my opinion superior to the one Netflix went with in the end.)