Lemony Snicket’s neo-gothic tales of torment, A Series of Unfortunate Events, hold a special place in the hearts of readers across the globe. The tragic story of the Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus and Sunny, who, in the wake of their parents’ mysterious deaths, are bundled from one unlikely new guardian to another, all the while deftly dodging the villainous Count Olaf, who is determined to get his hands on the Baudelaire family fortune.
It’s fantastic fare for screen adaptation, and whilst 2004’s Jim Carrey venture fell somewhat flat, it was clear that this was the perfect tale to be told through the televisual medium. As such, when Netflix announced their lavish new retelling, featuring everyone’s favourite luvvie, Neil Patrick Harris, in the role of Count Olaf, a wave of excitement swept across the interweb.
And rightly so.
In their take on Snicket’s books (only books one to four for now; we’ll have to wait until later in the year for the next helping), Netflix have once again proved their ability to produce television programming far superior to that of the traditional medium. The writing here is top notch, drip feeding our mysterious storyline, whilst at the same time keeping all the beautiful nuances that kept Snicket’s books so readable and instantly enchanting. It probably helps that Daniel Handler, Snicket’s “literary representative” has handled the scripting. The Bryan Fuller-esque cinematography captures Snicket’s image perfectly, painting the pseudo-Victorian world with intricate and exact strokes. Bringing Snicket himself to the screen, in the form of the ever present narrator Patrick Warburton, is a great little touch too, adding something of a Twilight Zone ominousness through Warbuton’s luxurious intoning.
But, of course, it’s the performances that bring this world so vibrantly to life.
NPH, unsurprisingly, plays Count Olaf with aplomb, stepping effortlessly between his various characters; the hopeless herpetologist Stephano, the almost Sean Connery-like Captain Sham and the buxom Shirley, whilst at the same time keeping just the right level of menace. But, more importantly, he does not fall into the trap that Carrey fell into; this is not Count Olaf’s story; it is the story of the Baudelaire children, and our young child stars have certainly brought a lot to the table.
Presley Smith as baby Sunny is simply adorable, her squeaks and burbles provided by seasoned voice actress Tara Strong, whilst Louis Hynes brings an intelligent elegance to young Klaus. The real star, however, is Malina Weissman as eldest child Violet. Weissman controls the screen like few actors her age can, and is certainly one to watch in the near future.
Only eight episodes have been uploaded for now, and it’s going to be a long wait to discover what happens to the children after their arrival at The Austere Academy, but, just two weeks into the new year, Netflix are already miles ahead of the competition in 2017. Intoxicating, hilarious and purposefully unpleasant, A Series of Unfortunate Events is the adaptation fans have been waiting over a decade for, and a great introduction to the world of Snicket to those previously uninitiated.
Dir: Barry Sonnenfeld, Mark Palansky, Bo Welch
Scr: Emily Fox, Daniel Handler, Jack Kenny
Starring: Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, K. Todd Freeman, Presley Smith, Will Arnett, Cobie Smulders
Music: James Newton Howard
DOP: Bernard Couture
Number of Episodes: 8
Episode Runtime: 50mins
A Series of Unfortunate Events is available to stream now only on Netflix.