It’s through a series of rather fortunate events that the popular children’s book series authored by Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) made a miraculous return to screen last week after a brilliant but ultimately unsuccessful film campaign over a decade ago.
The eight-part Netflix series follows the lives of the Baudelaire children as they go from guardian to guardian after the death of their parents in a horrendous fire. Each stay with their new guardian never lasts long thanks to the interference of the villainous Count Olaf who is determined to get his hands on the Baudelaire’s massive fortune at whatever cost.
The books, which were published between 1999 and 2006, were a hit thanks to the mysteries and dangers in the plot, as well as the darker tone of the narrative that is lightened in ways by Handler’s quirky writing style. It’s no surprise that a film was commissioned at the height of the series’ success, and if things had been different it’s likely that further adaptations would have been made for the big screen. The actors and story-telling were on top form, and the film was fairly reliable to the narrative of the books that it covered. Unfortunately, as Handler has recently discussed, issues beyond the production and reception of the film caused a great deal of delay into the creation of a sequel, and eventually too much time had passed.
That’s when Netflix swooped in to save the day.
Since the new series was first announced back in 2014, I’ve been extremely anxious about this whole project. As a major fan of the books, the chance to see the full series adapted onto screen sounded like a dream come true, but it had the potential to become a nightmare. The series could so easily ruin the magic of the books if it wasn’t made right, or lacked the right cast. There was a lot riding on this new show.
Thankfully, they pulled it off.
I just finished watching the final episode of this first series and I can say without a doubt that they were right to bring the Baudelaires back. It’s one of the strongest pieces of media (TV or film) to ever come from a book adaptation, with both a hardcore loyalty to the original text and the ability to stand on its own two feet.
Watching the first episode it was hard not to compare everything to the 2004 film, after all it’s the only visualisation I’ve had of the first few books of the series in over a decade. However, by the time those fifty minutes were up, I’d stopped thinking of Jim Carrey as Count Olaf and was completely in support of Neil Patrick Harris’ portrayal. While their performances as the series’ main villain shared similarities, the less-exaggerated and slightly darker interpretation by Harris proved to be a winning formula, particularly as the series progressed. There was a lot more to be feared about the character this time around.
The same can be said for many other characters. Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes who play Violet and Klaus Baudelaire fit into their roles nicely, and their slightly younger appearance made the characters feel more like children than in the film. Particular highlights for me were Joan Cusack as Justice Straus and Catherine O’Hara as Georgina Orwell (fun fact – she played Strauss in the film series). These characters were either minimal and not present in the first adaptation of the books, but the Netflix series allowed them to become relevant players in the storyline, and gave two prominent actresses the chance to show the younger cast how its done.
There were admittedly a couple of bumps in the road with this adaptation – namely the CGI – but that’s nothing unexpected for a new series. The positives far outweigh the negatives when it comes down to it, and there were so many positives in this show. For someone who hasn’t read the books in many years, it was a pleasant surprise to be reminded of some of the events that weren’t present in the film, eg. the Baudelaires forcing an allergic reaction by eating the peppermints in The Wide Window. It was even greater to see a story never before shown on screen done justice with the two-part episode for The Miserable Mill.
With reports indicating that A Series of Unfortunate Events has already been renewed for second season covering books five to nine, the future is looking bright for this beloved book series. Elements present in the first eight episodes have wonderfully built up the ensuing drama that follows the events of The Miserable Mill, so the fact that the show hasn’t been left on a neverending cliffhanger is certainly a relief.
Given the young nature of the principal cast of the series, it’s unlikely that there will be too long a wait before the next batch of episodes are released on Netflix. Until then, I can relax in the knowledge that despite getting off to a rocky start, A Series of Unfortunate Events is finally getting the success it deserves.
*header image taken by Cameron Evans at https://www.flickr.com/photos/heartfullofpoison