A Very Fortunate Season: A Review of Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

Jan 29, 2017 | 1 comment

A Series of Unfortunate Events, based on the children’s book series by Lemony Snicket, follows the story of the Baudelaire siblings after the loss of their parents in a disastrous fire. The Baudelaire children orphans – Violet, Klaus, and Sunny – meet their fate when they go to live with the conniving Count Olaf who uses tricks and disguises to cheat them out of their massive fortune. Over the eight episodes of the first season, which premiered on January 17th, the orphans as hop between four different “guardians,” running into bad luck every step of the way.

While the words “based on a children’s book,” may scare some – don’t worry! This is not a children’s show. Nothing about the show is simple, and there are very few smiles to be found. The show deals with heavy themes such as grief, family, ignorance, privacy, and even consent. At times, it will break your heart.  The Baudelaire’s situation will feel familiar to viewers of all ages as they constantly try to speak up for themselves, but are ignored by those in power. The narrator, Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton), leads us down a dark and twisting path with the Baudelaires. Peppering in references to his own lost/dead love, Beatrice, and allusions to authors such as Herman Melville, Snicket gives the audience some very adult brainfood to chew on.

This darkness, however, isn’t to say the show isn’t funny. By using black humor and breaking the fourth wall, A Series of Unfortunate Events is able to tell a sad story with moments of pure hilarity. It straddles a line which many TV shows have attempted but few have mastered.

Audiences may have a tough time getting used to the performative acting style which the show uses but, after a handful of episodes, they will feel right at home. The stand-out performance of the first season is Neil Patrick Harris as the dastardly Count Olaf. Not only does Harris play Count Olaf, but also all of Olaf’s alter-egos. This includes a reptile expert, a sea captain, and a female secretary. Harris’ ability to chameleon himself into each character-on-top-of-a-character, as well as his ability to switch back to Count Olaf at the drop of a hat, is to be applauded.

Other stunning performances come from Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes as the two eldest Baudelaires. These young actors are able to navigate the tumultuous emotional landscape of the show without coming across as melodramatic. Anyone who has ever been 12 or 14 years old will see themselves in these actors’ performances.

However, some of the older actors lack this emotional range. Aunt Josephine (Alfre Woodard), the orphans’ second guardian, should be a sympathetic character despite her neurotic phobias. However, the performance by Woodard leaves any sympathy for Josephine by the side of the road and, instead, turns her into a crazy person with too many “quirks” for sympathy. Similarly, the quirks of Mr. Poe, the incompetent banker in charge of the Baudelaires’ fate, will begin to grate on audiences as he coughs between every other disingenuous line.

Aesthetically, the show feels like a Tim Burton and Wes Anderson love-child. With no distinct time period, the costumes and sets are able to range from 20th century pastels to modern, dark, and angular. Every piece of the world is incredibly detailed. Pay close attention to the backgrounds of each episode or you might miss something.

Fans of the book series may also be afraid, but they needn’t fear. Daniel Handler, whose pen name is Lemony Snicket, wrote all eight of the episodes. Though the plot may stray from the books, it is easy to accommodate the additions. Handler very much uses the TV series as a way to explore and expand his original work. A Series of Unfortunate Events readers will find hidden messages and references all over the place. Fans will constantly be left hungering for Handler to place the next clue in front of them.

Fans of mysteries, dark comedy, and literary references, will enjoy Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. At only eight episodes – all of which are free and streaming online for Netflix users – viewers are likely to get sucked in. When a show is this good, and able to balance a combination of secret organizations, fires, libraries, reptiles, disguises, mind control, and childhood angst, it is hard to look away from the unfortunate life of the Baudelaires, despite the instruction of the show’s opening theme.

About the Author

Sky Wilson

Sky Wilson

Writer & Editor

Sky is a sophomore theatre and SCOM double major. Her major areas of interest include glitter, feminism, Seinfeld, and Twitter. She credits Amy Poehler as her biggest inspiration.In addition to writing for Reduced Pulp, Sky is the Media Manager of Stratford Players, the student-producing organization in the theatre department, works as the School of Theatre and Dance library assistant, and is a member of the JMU Honors College. You can find Sky’s feminist rants and atttempts at being funny on her Twitter: @hskywilson