If you’re seeking a lighthearted series to add to your Netflix queue, now is the time to turn away. The series itself warns viewers to “look away, look away, look away” as the opening titles for Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” play across the screen. And they’re not wrong in advertising the revival as such — the series is, after all, modeled after the very unfortunate events of the Baudelaire children following the tragic demise of their parents in a horrible fire.
“A Series of Unfortunate Events” lives entirely in its own little world, free from the constraints that a period piece can often put on a work of fiction. At any given moment, a trolley car could pass by on the street or a character could abruptly make the switch between cell phone and typewriter. This decision to keep the series out of a set time period is a deliberate and risky move, but in keeping with the gothic, absurdist fiction of the novels on which the series is based — it works. Without worrying too much about the setting and relative era, it makes it easy to focus more heavily on the characters as they progress from one tragic event to the next.
One of the many themes that is drawn from “A Series of Unfortunate Events” is its comparison to the novels in regards to the close-mindedness of the adults, who continuously ignore the children’s keen observations. As they are handed off from one guardian to the next, each of whom is very noticeably Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris, “How I Met Your Mother”) in disguise, the adults are completely oblivious to the devious plot of their sinister guardian. Because the children are looked at as wealthy and somewhat spoiled to the public eye, their complaints regarding the labors and hardships they’ve endured at the hands of the Count and his band of goons often fall on deaf ears. This ongoing theme is what makes “A Series of Unfortunate Events” unique, as it brings to attention the oversight that children often face at the hands of the “all-knowing” adults. It’s a role reversal that is revisited time and time again throughout the canon and Netflix adaptation. The fact that “A Series of Unfortunate Events” dismisses this long held-belief and places an importance on the knowledge of children in a way that is often dismissed in mainstream media is not only unique, but keeps the series interesting as well.
On that same note, Neil Patrick Harris is spectacularly spooky as the sinister Count Olaf, a distant relative-turned-actor intent on stealing the Baudelaire’s inherited fortune through trickery and devious plots. At first, it’s difficult to dismiss Jim Carrey’s (“The Mask”) performance in the 2004 film adaptation of the same name in place of Harris’ Count Olaf, whose performance is slightly softer than Carrey’s. However, one soon falls into a rhythm with the devious Count, who balances out his personality with a eccentricity that completes the dark humor of the series.
As the episodes progress, Patrick Warburton (“Rules of Engagement”) appears on screen as the omnipresent narrator Lemony Snicket, whose sole purpose, it would seem, is to remind viewers of the dark and dreary situation in which the children find themselves. Anecdotes are often provided by the dreary narrator as he recounts the case of the Baudelaire children’s misfortunes and points out just how unfortunate their situation has truly become. The jokes are purposefully missing the punchline, as Lemony Snicket exists solely to remind us of the bad — there isn’t much good to begin with in this never-ending cloud of terrible, awful events. Then again, if you’re looking for a happier tale, you’ll probably be better off watching “Fuller House.”
All eight episodes of “A Series of Unfortunate Events” are currently streaming on Netflix.