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A Series of Unfortunate Events: A Book Nerd’s Review

The Baudelaire children have been enduring unfortunate events since the first book in the series by Lemony Snicket debuted in 1999. During the early 2000’s, A Series of Unfortunate Events gained a steady following of middle- and high-school readers. I was one of them.

But, much like other fans of the series, years past and I lost touch with the story. In fact, until Netflix released their take on the series last month, I had completely forgotten this much-loved story. Since the initial release of an 8-episode season in mid-January, I have watched and rewatched each episode with fascination – and I was able to convince my 17-year-old brother to watch it with me.

After taking it all in, my “Book Nerd” self had a lot to say about it, but here’s the short version of both our opinions:

First things first, what was our experience with ASOUE before the Netflix show?

Victoria:  I first encountered the book series late in elementary school. I remember reading several of the books between 8th and 9th grade. I knew that there had been a movie made, and I might have seen some of it on a school bus once, but I never actually watched the film. (In preparation for this article, I did watch the movie for comparison.) I never finished the book series.

Christopher: I have a vague recollection of seeing some type of movie in the same genre and with the same main events, although my sister may have just mentioned it a lot when I was younger (she’s truly a book nerd).

The General Stuff: Casting, Production, Storyline and Interests for the Non-Readers

V: I think the production value and casting choices in the Netflix series were superb. I’ve heard a lot of people complain that it was too “cheery” or “comedic” for the series, but I think it works. It’s more interesting and more engaging that the film was. I love how they cast a large variety of actors to play the various parts (the film stands out as having a nearly an all- white cast compared to the more colorful Netflix series). The storyline is predictable, but that’s how it is in in the book, so I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

Here is one “unfortunate” thing about the series (hey, puns come along with being a nerd): I found the story’s repetition and predictability to be annoying and even distracting to many of my classmates. Some couldn’t even make it past the first episode without being bored. That being said, I suspect that future seasons would be far less predictable and well-known, as the first season finishes essentially where the film (and most people’s knowledge) leaves off.

C: The series was professionally done, in terms of filming and visual effects, but they took it to the next level. The characters were relatable, even the crazier characters, and they helped keep me interested all while fully understanding the emotional plight the Baudelaire’s experienced. The storyline was just as good, organized and diverse, while always having some predictable events and some that were out of this world, just to keep me at the edge of my seat.

I feel that even if you’re not an everyday reader, like myself, the story would keep you coming back for more.

Closeness to the written series

V: I find that the Netflix series gets as close to what I pictured in my mind when I was reading the series. I loved the comedic side of the story much more than it’s darkness, so seeing a light-hearted approach simply made me happy.

The series also keeps true to Lemony Snicket’s wit and has all of the same unwelcome interjections from the author himself. I love that this time, he has a face for us to picture (as opposed to the film, where we never see it). It adds a human touch to the character.

One thing I missed a little was the subtle things Snicket would include in the written text (any fan would remember the page full of “ever” or pages with big black rectangles.) In some senses, those things are still there in the series. For example, the narrator repeats an entire passage to give us a feeling of deja vu. For some reason, it just seemed more effective in the book to me.

C: Well, I never read the books, but I knew a little bit about Lemony Snicket and his *ahem* unique writing expertise, and I though it kept pretty true to my expectations.

(Hint: it was amazing because he doesn’t care about writing standards)

Stuff that we liked

V: I found the series to be funny, entertaining, and well-developed. We spend time getting to know each of the characters before they are (SPOILERS) tragically killed by Count Olaf and his troupe. We get a real sense of their emotions and are left with just as many questions as the children are. Overall, I’d give the series 4 out of 5 stars.

C: How much time do you have?

Simply put the story had some outrageous things, some things I couldn’t believe actually happened, and a phenomenal actor that I love, Neil Patrick Harris, playing a very poor performer named Count Olaf (how ironic). Every character represented some type of cliche we all know and love, but in a refreshing, new way. I particularly like the Baudelaire children. The baby is the smart one who always saved the day, Clause, the boy, is the book nerd and Violet, the girl, is the crazy, out the box thinker/inventor. They turned stereotypes on their heads.

Also the book reached out into the unusual by having some of the evil characters show some good moral character and common sense once and awhile, what a turn of EVENTS HAHA (I can make puns too!)

Stuff that we were disappointed in

V: To be honest, sometimes it takes the characters a LONG time to get the point. The audience already knows what’s going to happen (going back to the predictability issue), we just don’t know how. So, when the characters spend 10+ minutes talking about what could happen before it does, it can start to drag. Plus, it can be a little infuriating when no one wants to listen to the children. I mean, honestly, does nobody in this world have half a working brain cell? But, that is sort of part of the fun!

C: Triggered, oh my god! A million light switches just turned on for me while watching the series. There were times where the children spoke perfectly reasonable, logical, and correct accusations, intending to save themselves from Count Olaf. And yet, who listens? Apparently, nobody because that’s who decided to turn on their thinking caps and just think. I have several times had to pause because I needed a drink of iced tea to calm down. It was a good frustration, though. It kept me laughing and wanting to know what’s coming next.

Would we recommend this series for your newest Netflix Binge?

V: A million times yes. BUT just be aware of what you’re getting yourself into. Some of my friends were bored because they expected a new version of the story instead of a remake. As long as you know what to expect, I say grab some popcorn and wine (if you’re 21+) and enjoy!

C: Totally. I can’t complain, the series combined the work of an amazing, intriguing, unique author of books of the same quality, actors and actresses of fantastic skill, and a production quality that creates a notch above the top one. Grab your fuzzy blankets, hot cocoa, and snuggle up to the story which will, in the words from the theme song “wreck your evening, your whole life and your day,” but keep you begging for more.

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Victoria Testa (or, as she likes to be called, Tori) is a Senior English major and Journalism minor at Montclair State University. She is currently in the process of applying to graduate school at MSU to pursue a higher degree in Education/The Art of Teaching. She is an outdoorsy, outgoing, friendly face on campus who is most often found with a cup of coffee and Netflix on.
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