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Review: ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ on Netflix

In January, Netflix released the long-awaited TV version of Lemony Snicket’s popular A Series of Unfortunate Events novels. The show stars Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf and Patrick Warburton as Lemony Snicket, and introduces Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes and Presley Smith as Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire.

The last time anything like this was attempted was in 2004, with the A Series of Unfortunate Events movie. For the effort, the film was great. The problem lies in the fact that they tried to squeeze the first three books into one film, in a non-linear fashion. The timing caused problems, too. The film was released before all thirteen planned books were completed. The people reading the books were too immersed in the series to go back and forth. A sequel had not been promised within the next two years, and people lost interest. The young actors grew up and people forgot about it.

The Netflix series resolves every problem the film faced. Instead of attempting to condense the stories, the show extends them. Each book is split into two 40-minute (give or take) episodes. I figured they would release all 13 episodes at once and leave this as a mini-series, but the first season only has the first four books. Obviously, Netflix wants to get as much out of this as possible, which is understandable considering this is currently one of their most expensive shows.

Netflix’s most genius move came via the way of their release date. The last A Series of Unfortunate Events book came out in 2006, about ten years ago. Ten years ago, college-aged students finished up their favorite book series. Now, they watch Netflix like fiends. Put their favorite childhood books with their favorite streaming service? Nostalgia wins.

Technically, the set and acting are phenomenal. Everything looks pastoral, symmetrical and ideal, but the desaturation brings dread. On a sunny day, anybody would want to live in any of these locations, but it’s always a cloudy day in the Baudelaires’ lives. Neil Patrick Harris makes Count Olaf funny, yet terrifying in a way that Jim Carrey never could. The three kids convey maturity in the way they perform, and their dialogue is brilliant. You will watch it and think, “Who on Earth talks like this?” but if they spoke any other way, it would compromise their brilliant characterization. The cast is diverse, with a black Mr. Poe, an Indian Uncle Monty, and a black Aunt Josephine, and we can only hope that this trend continues in the next few seasons.

Netflix deviates slightly from the books to ensure that old and new fans have something to keep them hooked. Otherwise, it definitely appeals to people who have read those books, based on small references and one-liners made in conversation (when Count Olaf asked where he had misplaced his sugar bowl, my heart nearly stopped). This is a dedication to people who grew up reading these books, and I guarantee they won’t be disappointed.

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