Last week, the highly anticipated TV adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events came to Netflix. This season focuses on the first four books, such as The Bad Beginning and The Wide Window, conveying the miserable tale of the Baudelaire orphans and their continued attempts to escape the clutches of the murderous Count Olaf.
We delve into the surreal world of the Baudelaire siblings, suddenly made orphans by a fire which kills their parents and destroys their home. Violet, the inventor, Klaus, the bookworm, and the precocious baby Sunny, are plunged into danger when they are put into the care of Count Olaf, who will do anything to get his hands on their fortune. The children’s rosy suburban lifestyle is soon replaced with the dismal, grey reality of Count Olaf’s abode, this contrast effectively conveyed by the innovative set design. The world of the Baudelaire orphans is devoid of responsible adults. Their only protector is the incapable Mr Poe, executor of their parents’ will, who is more concerned with gaining a promotion than with their welfare.
Neil Patrick Harris is unrecognisable as he marvellously transforms into the eccentric Count Olaf, a criminally-minded actor. Supported by his band of misfit henchmen from his atrocious acting troupe, he employs a variety of ridiculous disguises as part of his schemes to capture the orphans. Patrick Warburton’s performance as on-screen narrator, Lemony Snicket, is a key divergences from the 2004 film. His deadpan commentary provides a darker, more serious edge to the narrative. The early introduction of frequent references to a secret organisation marks a key change from the books, adding depth to the storyline from the beginning.
Director Barry Sonnenfeld’s adaptation is certainly funny, packed with dark humour that couples with Snicket’s wordplay and literary references. More subtle comic elements such as baby Sunny’s subtitled, witty asides only add to the clever nature of the show, meaning that it appeals to a wide audience. However, the humour can sometimes feel overpowering, obscuring the real sense of ominous threat upon which the storyline is based. The Baudelaire siblings’ instability and persistent sense of danger should perhaps always lurk in the background, but is often overshadowed by the constant witticisms and quirky overtone.
Remaining largely faithful to the books, Barry Sonnenfeld’s A Series of Unfortunate Events adaptation will appeal to both existing Lemony Snicket fans and those new to his wonderfully weird world. And although the theme song advises to “look away”, with only the first four books being the focus of this series we can actually hope for further seasons to come.
Image: Vagueonthehow @ Flickr