There is no way to properly describe the disappointment and resentment I have at this particular moment. Studios’ attempts to take advantage of the popularity of literature, young adult literature specifically, usually winds up with a negative outcome. The most recent example of this is Netflix’s venture to bring the “A Series of Unfortunate Events” series by Lemony Snicket to life in an eight-episode season.
Netflix is no stranger to book adaptations, as exemplified by the success of Piper Kerman’s “Orange is the New Black” and their Marvel Comics character adaptions such as “Luke Cage.” However, “A Series of Unfortunate Events” is tricky to grasp. The story is told through fictional author Lemony Snicket’s investigations of the far-from-lucky Baudelaire orphans, Violet, Klaus and Sunny, and their constant skirmishes with their evil guardian, Count Olaf. Thanks to the 2004 Jim Carrey film adaptation of the first three books, many teenagers and adults are familiar with not only the books but the movie, making the new show familiar to many. Netflix plans to cover the entire thirteen-book series with a fine-toothed comb, covering the first four novels in season one, while taking on the rest of the books in the second and third seasons. While there is much to admire and enjoy in the final product, it honestly left me underwhelmed.
Netflix’s book-to-screen format serves the story well. However, my discontent comes from the tone and writing of the show. The book series is one which (if closely examined) does not lend itself entirely well to screen performing or screenplay writing. There is a certain tone and aura present in the book series and in Snicket’s “retelling” that neither a film or a show will be able to match. Netflix’s “Events” is more or less a radicalized take on the tone of the books. While I admit my memory of the book series isn’t as vivid as it once was, I do not remember the humor being on such a borderline farcical level, which is what the Netflix show relies heavily on.
Neil Patrick Harris’ Count Olaf, though enjoyable to watch, never feels like the truly scary evil villain he is depicted to be in the books. Harris plays Olaf as theatrically as the character should be played, but without the nefariousness that needs to be present. The writing often fails Harris and Olaf’s character. It would be interesting to see Harris’ ability to play a truly despicable and vile human being in the later seasons. Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes play Violet and Klaus Baudelaire with generally acceptable performances but nothing beyond that. The best performance of the series is that of Patrick Warburton as the luminous Lemony Snicket, an outsider in the narrative who explains the events to the audience while hinting at his own mysterious backstory.
The shtick of “A Series of Unfortunate Events” has always been the overemphasized misery and depression of the Baudelaire’s story presented with a touch of dry humor. However, the show feels dry in the sense that there is simply not much about the production to induce excitement, no matter how comically gloomy it may be. It feels average in its presentation with some truly horrific CGI effects and cringe-worthy moments, but, admittedly, is sprinkled with moments of humor and wit. While admirable, I would be lying if I did not make my disappointment clear. It may work for some, as it seems to have (gaining general praise across the board), but it has the strong potential to not work for others. Unfortunately so, the new take on a modern classic did not work for me.