Netflix debuted A Series of Unfortunate Events on Friday – and it’s sublime.
I’m not much of one for binge-watching, but with the whole family being sick, we all curled up on the couch this weekend and watched the entirety of Netflix’s new original show A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Based on the beloved books of Lemony Snicket (in reality, American novelist Daniel Handler) A Series of Unfortunate Events will always hold a precious place in my heart because the original series of novels was unleashed on the world during a very interesting period in my life – when my wife and I first got married.
I remember avidly buying each new installment for her when they were published, going to see the 2004 film, and even playing the video game on the Playstation 2 (it was pretty good, by the way.)
13 years later – 13 being the magic number in the world of Lemony Snicket – Netflix reinvigorated the franchise by launching a brand-new, eight-episode series based on the first four books. And it’s remarkable for a number of reasons.
The first and most obvious being how this brand new series wholeheartedly embraces the aesthetic of the popular 2004 film. In a lot of movie versus television adaptations – from HBO’s Westworld NBC’s Hannibal – the movie and the television series are very, very different. Not so A Series of Unfortunate Events. The anachronistic 1950s settings, costumes and styling remains the same; and you could compare a scene from the TV series with one from the movie and potentially not know which-is-which.
Which, in all honesty, was a brave route to take; but the correct one. The 2004 movie was pretty much pitch-perfect in the way they adapted Lemony Snicket’s stories; so I fully support Netflix’s decision not to reinvent the wheel, and instead build on what had already – successfully – gone before.
Compounding the similarity between the movie and the TV series are stars Neil Patrick Harris and Malina Weissman. Neil Patrick Harris takes the role of the menacing Count Olaf, and his costume and characterization is so uncannily like that of original star Jim Carrey that it’s kind of…
He looks the same. Sounds the same. The only difference is that his performance is set to an 8, whereas Jim Carrey was (as he always is) dialled up to 11. In that respect Neil improves on the original by being not quite so… intense.
Equally uncanny is newcomer Malina Weissman as Violet Baudelaire. She looks ridiculously similar to the star of the original movie, Emily Browning. Absurdly so. To the point that my wife and I looked at each other and wondered if it was the same girl; even though it couldn’t have possibly been, since more than a decade had passed in the meantime.
It was deja vu all over again in a number of different areas, with each of the roles being cast with similar actors as the original; albiet with a lot more diversity. The role of Aunt Josephine, for example, was originally filled by Meryl Streep. Now she’s played by Alfre Woodard. Likewise, Timothy Spall is replaced by K. Todd Freeman; but the look and character stays remarkably similar. Billie Connelly played a lovable Uncle Monty in the 2004 movie; and Asif Mandvi is triumphant in the role in the TV series.
It’s all achingly familiar, yet just different enough to be addictive.
New elements are introduced in the form of “Mother” and “Father” – who we assume are the parents of the Baudelaire orphans – played delightfully by Will Arnett and Colbie Smulders. The ante is also upped on the mysterious secret society; which played a vital role in the final books of the 13-part series.
The normally brilliant Patrick Warburton also replaces Jude Law as the narrator, Lemony Snickett, although I’ll confess that doesn’t work quite as well as you might like.
But that gripe aside, the adaptation is nothing short of magical; and one of the finest examples of family-friendly entertainment I’ve seen in years. I can’t wait for more episodes to come; and I know this is a series my kids will grow up treasuring just as my wife and I, loved the first incarnation.