Here be spoilers. If you do not want spoilers, turn back…
Today Netflix released Season 1 of their reboot of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and, based off of watching the first episode, I will say that it’s a very clear start. The memory of the Jim Carrey focused movie adaptation still rings strong in my mind, but this version seems poised to pull back on Count Olaf and, instead, focus on the Baudelaire children like what should have happened in the movie. That being said, this episode very much serves as primarily as an introduction to the three children – Violet, Klaus, and Sunny.
This episode focuses on the first half of the book The Bad Beginning, which focuses on the start of the miserable and frequent catastrophic events that will come to heavily influence the day-to-day life of the Baudelaire orphans. With the first episode we get a glimpse of this misery, but it is not yet in full effect. A general summary of the episode can be explained as such:
The Baudelaire children, at the request of their parents, go have a day at the beach. Unfortunately, a Mr. Poe comes to them bearing bad news. Their parents perished in a huge fire and now the three children are orphans. Mr. Poe, who comes across as rather incompetent, ends up placing the Baudelaire Orphans in the care of a “distant relative” Count Olaf. The children soon realize that some things are not better than nothing.
My first impression so far is that this series appears to be similar, yet noticeably different than its predecessor. The production seems less overly theatrical to the point of exhaustion like it was in the film adaptation, which is refreshing. Count Olaf, played by Neil Patrick Harris, doesn’t come across as an overwhelming presence like Jim Carrey and is, in fact, scaled back in terms of screen time for now. There is a menacing undertone to Count Olaf and his dark humor is played off as more of an accidental slip of the tongue instead of feeling intentional. Although we don’t quite have a grasp on the actual character, we see how quickly he can slip into physical abuse with an unwarranted slap and we do see his single minded focus towards the inheritance that the Baudelaire orphans will gain once Violet reaches a certain age.
The perspective so far appears to be shot from the Baudelaire orphans perspective. This was something that was also missing from the film adaptation since, as I mentioned before, the film very much focused on Jim Carrey’s antics rather than the true focus – the children. Having the story be primarily shot with the children’s perspective makes me happy because that is a perspective that is heavily featured throughout the original novel series. I’m sure as the series progresses, the childlike perspective will be more prominent than it is in this first episode.
The one refreshingly brilliant decision that Barry Sonnenfeld went with was to have Lemony Snicket, played by Patrick Warburton, take on a more prominent role in the series than the film predecessor. He serves as the official breaker of the fourth-wall and serves us up his dark, dry humor as he recounts the tragic tale of the Baudelaire orphans. Considering how prominent Lemony Snicket was as a narrator throughout the course of the novels, the decision to include him in a much more prominent role in the series makes me giddy. It also serves to break up certain dark, depressing moments in the series.
All in all, I do believe the first episode serves as a great introduction for both fans and non-fans to the world of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Although the show does have an over-the-top quality to it, the source material has always been a bit over-the-top and exaggerated. The way Netflix has handled it is, at least based off of the first episode, has been well. The performances of Malina Weissman (Violet Baudelaire) and Louis Hynes (Klaus Baudelaire) help to keep things rooted in the face of the general absurdity that their characters are dealing with in the face of their parents’ untimely demise.
I definitely recommend checking out this new series. If you weren’t a fan of the books before, this series may want to make you pick up the first book.