Review: Netflix Original “Series of Unfortunate Events” Surpasses 2004 Film Adaptation


Joe Lederer/ Netflix

Rebecca Boyajian

Those who grew up devouring Lemony Snicket’s bizarre tales will be elated to find that the new Netflix Original “Series of Unfortunate Events” sticks faithfully to its material source. Back in 2004, director Brad Silberling attempted to translate the beloved stories from book to screen with his film starring Jim Carrey. The film nailed the book’s grim and peculiar aesthetic, but many fans thought it left something to be desired with its storytelling. With the original writer Daniel Handler or “Lemony Snicket” writing the new show, Handler did not compromise any details for cinematic value and effectively translated his stories to the screen.

For those unfamiliar with the children’s novels, Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton) narrates the melancholy story of the three Baudelaire children, Violet (Malina Weissman), Klaus (Louis Hynes) and Sunny (Presley Smith). Their father (Will Arnett) and mother (Cobie Smulders) tragically perish in a mysterious fire that leaves their mansion in ashes.  The three children are shipped away to live with their scheming distant relative Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris) who seeks to gain the inheritance left to the children.

The show’s producer, Neil Patrick Harris, shines in his creepy role as Count Olaf. At first, it’s difficult not to see the actor through the unusual facade; however, as the series progresses the character and actor blend into a cohesive whole.  His theatricality and Broadway singing skills perfected in shows like “Cabaret,” “Proof,” and “Assassins” not only aid him in his role but also shine in his singing of the show’s theme song. In the film adaptation, Jim Carrey was the one who attempted to bring Count Olaf to life, and while he masterfully delivered weird dark vibes, his performance dulls comparatively to that of Harris.

With children as his accompanying cast, there’s always a risk in a distracting contrast in acting abilities. Luckily, Malina Weissman brings over some experience from her previous role in Supergirl (TV Series) as Young Kara Zor-El and smaller roles in numerous television series and films like 2014 “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Though her acting companion Louis Hynes has less acting experience, having only one previous role, his perfect execution of Klaus Baudelaire would fool people to believe he’s just as experienced as his acting peers.

Those able to recognize characters like Uncle Monty (Aasif Mandvi), Arthur Poe (K. Todd Freeman) and The Hook Handed Man (Usman Ally), will be thrilled at how easily recognizable they are as the show casts and conveys them perfectly. Those who did not read the books should expect to be introduced to a colorful lengthy list of intriguing personalities and devilish bad guys.

The show manages to achieve what last year’s “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” tried so hard to do. It manages to be grim yet quirky all while converting the children’s novel it is based off of onto the screen with great pace and thrilling detail.

The mischievous trickery the books are known for not only flawlessly translate to the screen but the spirit is fully captured through the hidden “Easter Eggs” in the show.  There are plenty of nods to the actors and their work like how Harris’ character Barney on “How I Met Your Mother” faltered with using chopsticks the same way as his character Count Olaf. Along with subtle nods to both the actors, their previous works and the original  books, also be sure to look out for Count Olaf anagrams which play out in most of the episodes.

Netflix has developed quite the knack for rebooting older ideas as Netflix originals over the past year or two. Shows like “Gilmore Girls,” “Fuller House” and now “Unfortunate Events” gained overnight popularity by playing into our need for nostalgia and no-tolerance policy for commercial breaks. Undoubtedly, the show is going to satisfy binge watching addictions until Netflix either pumps out another season or reboots another old idea. Most importantly however, the show is going to be an epic experience for the fans of the novels and definitely spark an interest in those unfamiliar with them as a kid.

The Netflix original version of “Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events” outranks the 2004 film adaptation  by capturing the books’ grim mischievous nature while taking the time to translate the books with scrupulous detail. Fans are in for a delightfully peculiar and grim experience with the new eight episode first season, which is already renewed for a second.