Friday, January 13, 2017

Review: Fortunately for Us, Netflix’s ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ is Anything But

Neil Patrick Harris in "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events."
Louis Hynes, Malina Weissman and Neil Patrick Harris. (Netflix)

TV SHOW REVIEW

In 1999, children (and their parents) were exposed to Lemony Snicket’s The Bad Beginning, the first book in the A Series of Unfortunate Events books. It was unlike anything most have read before. It’s a tragic story where the author has no qualms telling his audience that the story will not get better. Still, the books became very popular and readers continued consuming each story regardless. One could say that Lemony Snicket (actually Daniel Handler) literally has a way with words. Each book in the series is a vocabulary lesson wrapped around fantastic characters and unbelievable tales told in a believable way.

In 2004, Nickelodeon attempted to create the first of three films based on the books that starred Jim Carrey as the book series’ villain. While the movie did reasonably well in theaters, it failed to resonate with fans and critics alike and the other two films were never made. Today, Netflix has released eight episodes of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, a new TV series that promises to be more faithful to the source material and so far, it has done just that. The eight episodes covers the adventures told in the first four books.



Patrick Warburton in "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events."
Louis Hynes, Malina Weissman, Presley Smith and
Patrick Warburton as Lemony Snicket. (Netflix)
Patrick Warburton plays Snicket and narrates each tale and has a surprising amount of screen time. His story is about Klaus, Violet and Sunny Baudelaire (Louis Hynes, Malina Weissman, Presley Smith), three rich and very smart children who had it all before a terrible fire burnt their home and supposedly their parents. They are sent to live with their closest living relative, Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris) who is stage actor by night and terrible guardian by day. The only hope that the Baudelaire’s have is their inheritance money that they shall receive when Violet becomes of age.

Judging from the show’s first episode, this is going to be a hit and is show that the whole family will enjoy. The choice of actors used are a great fit for the wit and wisdom shared in the scripts. It’s actually a very funny comedy with a somber tone. Hynes, Weissman and Smith are superb as the Baudelaire children who nail the pacing of their lines as well as their facial expressions. You genuinely feel for these kids. There is no surprise that Harris makes an excellent Count Olaf. The character is over-the-top but Harris plays him with true earnestness. The first episode also features the underappreciated actress Joan Cusack as Olaf’s neighbor Justice Strauss where her natural comedic timing shines through without overshadowing her character.

A scene from "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events."
The detail for this show is incredible. (Netflix)
Unfortunate Events is beautifully shot and one could almost enjoy watching the show with the sound off. The sets and surroundings are impeccable with much attention given to the littlest detail. (In one scene I spied that a goon had a straw sticking out of his wine glass. Nice touch.) The production values of the new Netflix show are very high. Each story in the series is shot like its own movie.

Some parents may be thrown off by the fact that most of the adults in the stories are evil or caring but are inept. This is on purpose. The children are the stars of the show. They are non-spoiled, very bright and polite children. Klaus is book smart, Violet creates incredible inventions and Sunny has exceptional biting skills. While the adults in the story may not serve as the best role models, the kids do. Throughout the many adventures and trials, the Baudelaire children learn how to cope with their given circumstances and cling to any hope possible in order to get through their current circumstances. The importance of family is emphasized here. Who can argue with that?

In the episodes that follow, more great actors are thrown into the mix including Alfre Woodard, Usman Ally, Don Johnson, Catherine O’Hara, K. Todd Freeman, Rhys Davies and Aasif Mandvi. While the hope is that Netflix will be able to air all the Unfortunate tales, it will all depend on how well the ratings go for season one. If they fail the network, that would be most unfortunate for all of us.