Lemony Snicket’s renowned A Series of Unfortunate Events, has been very close to my heart since I turned their delicious pages in high school. Gloom, doom, and intrigue, what more could a reader want? Snicket is very fittingly one of my favourite authors, who has shown that the crafting of a story, as unfortunate as this one is, to be something enjoyable from end to finish, like I intended my binge of this 2017 series to be. Ever since to 2004 film, when the first three books in the series were mashed together painfully, I felt heartbroken that the books had no way to progress on the screen further. Thus, I vested all my hopes in this new adaptation.
Firstly, from the perspective of a watching audience member, I enjoyed the pilot a lot. The opening is great, I love how it gives a synopsis of the episode, but also shadows the warnings of Lemony Snicket to ‘look away’ and stop reading this story. What this version didn’t lack was Snicket’s meta-fictional knack for entertaining. Constantly in the book series, the reader is aware that Snicket is documenting the melancholy events of the Baudelaires, and I loved how Snicket appeared in the background of the episode scenes, almost as a spectre to the story. Snicket’s involvement in the telling of the plot was essential in providing the story with a fresh ounce of ingenuity, of the narrator having as much character and being as the main characters themselves in the books, and I’m glad this unique element of the books was handled well in the episode.
On the flip side, and I suppose it happens with all novel-to-screen conversions, Snicket’s portrayal in the Netflix series didn’t quite meet my expectations, moreso, the 2004 Snicket fit the bill better. Personally, I think Snicket should remain present in the scenes where he appears, but his face should be obscured, or just generally trying to be elusive with his identity to the audience, matching the many hidden secrets in the narrative. But I can’t entirely dislike the 2017 version of Lemony Snicket played by Patrick Warburton – who could ever hate the man who voiced Kronk in The Emperor’s New Groove acting in anything?! Just that voice!
One of the biggest problems I had with this version is its straying away from the book. In my opinion, I see this book series holding as much presence and respect in book circles as the Harry Potter series merits. To stray so boldly from the books, is of course going to offend devoted fans. Most of the time, when straying away from the plot of the book, it was for humour, and I can understand that, as it’s clear the show is aimed at young audiences, but to have the Baudelaire parents alive and well was insulting! A lot of the gloom surrounding the Baudelaires stems from the grief they feel for their parents and the situations they have been thrown in. I didn’t like this alteration at all. The Baudelaire parents were fond and passive memories in the books, and it was wrong to change that.
On a lighter note, a strength of this new version is in its casting. Klaus was just how I imagined him to be, as if he’d taken a step right off the page!
Sunny was also very typical to her character. I loved K. Todd Freeman’s portrayal of Mr. Poe, I think he balanced just the right amount of blandness and gormlessness. Although for me, the casting of Count Olaf was 50/50. After seeing Neil Patrick Harris in How I Met Your Mother, it’s clear that his strength lies in comic characters. The humour created by Harris’ portrayal of Olaf was great and fitting to the character and was perfect comedy for children. Yet on the other hand, I feel Harris lacks the other menacing and deadly side of Olaf that Carrey managed to achieve. Without the occasional showing of Olaf as a cold-blooded, ruthless killer, I felt the stakes weren’t quite as high as they needed to be for the Baudelaires. I hope as the series progresses, I am proven wrong on this point. Also, the new Violet Baudelaire didn’t sit well with me for some reason, I just felt she was too over-enthusiastic.
Visually, I thought the pilot was brilliant. How the audience are shown pristine and dollhouse-like buildings and streets to contrast with the true misery and squalor of Count Olaf’s mansion, it was brilliant. The visuals have not failed to please.
Although problematic, I definitely will continue with the series, out of plain curiosity and in hopes it will improve with time. It’s not bad, but not brilliant either.