The latest adaptation of the thirteen books comprising ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ makes its way onto Netflix, the last being the 2004 film starring Jim Carrey. I haven’t read any of the books, or seen the movie. However my daughter has, and she loves them (the books, not so much the movie). So, we sat down together to watch season 1, which covers the first four books in the series, with two episodes devoted to each book.
The unfortunate events all involve three children – Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire, whose parents are killed in a fire at the beginning of the story. They inherit a vast fortune, which will not come into their possession until Violet comes of age, and are placed in the care of Count Olaf, supposedly their only living relative. Olaf is only concerned with getting his hands on the Baudelaire fortune though and the story covers his hilarious attempts to do so, quite often involving ridiculous disguises and usually involving further unfortunate unpleasantness for the children. The children initially escape Olaf, moving between a succession of guardians and locations for each book, only for him to catch up with them once more.
Quite simply, the show is excellent. I have to admit that the first episode took me a little while to settle into but from the opening credits, urging you to ‘look away’, through to the big budget Burtonesque sets and vibrant colours, the attention to detail is simply incredible. Partick Warburton is Lemony Snickett, our narrator, wryly and brilliantly interjecting at various points to explain details and guide us through the story. Neil Patrick Harris is Count Olaf, in full on pantomime villain mode, and I absolutely loved the humour he brought to every single scene he’s in, whether he’s as himself or disguised as a scientist/sailor/woman! My only gripe is that he’s never quite villainous or evil enough, more along the lines of a harmless Dick Dastardly as each desperately elaborate scheme is so easily foiled. He’s aided along the way by a group of oddball goons, who are all part of his theatre group – more creepy than scary – but it doesn’t detract from the shows overall enjoyment, and I guess this is a family show after all! There are also a few good cameos along the way – Don Johnson as owner of the Miserable Mill, and Rhys Darby as his downtrodden partner, for example. All of the supporting cast are all brilliant, however the main stars of the show are the children. Superb young actors, right down to little baby Sunny who cutely talks in baby speak (subtitled for us to understand!), gnawing her way through anything she can get her hands on and surviving all manner of unfortunate events the children find themselves in.
Things get a little formulaic after a while – the children settle in with a new guardian, Count Olaf appears in a new guise and with a new plot, the children foil his plan and move on again. However, things change slightly for the final few episodes and throughout the season we gradually discover a deep background of secrets and conspiracies, which I’m sure will help keep the story moving for the remainder of the seasons to come. And there are a few twists and turns along the way too. Overall I was hugely impressed with the show, as was my daughter. It appears to be a very faithful adaptation of what is a hugely popular series of books, and I’m very much looking forward to what’s to come next.