Taking a side step on my usual feminism/Paris content to review a TV show, which is pretty shocking. But when Netflix released A Series of Unfortunate Events and I subsequently binge watched all eight episodes within a week, I knew I had to write something about it.
On the day of its release (Friday 13th, now THAT’s some good marketing), I ran downstairs at 8am, alerting my Mum to the significance of this otherwise usually grim day. When I was a kid, I was OBSESSED with this series. I started reading them when I was probably about seven or eight, and I was absolutely hooked. There’s just nothing like this series. The tone, the characters, the world that they inhabit… it’s just unlike anything else. This was finally a book series for kids that wasn’t a little bit patronising. It spoke to kids as the smart people they can be – they constantly showed how Violet, Klaus, and Sunny were more intelligent than most adults, and Lemony Snicket taught me more new vocabulary than any of my junior school teachers.
So when the film came out, it was probably the most excited I’d ever been about anything. Granted, I was nine, so obviously I thought it was the best thing in the world. I remember being sat in the cinema, and the end of the film approaching, and Mr Poe driving them past their house, and thinking to myself “maybe they’ll drive to Lucky Smells Lumber mill and they’ll do a quick bit about that, surely it can’t be ending now…” but obviously, I knew damn well this film was only going to cover the first three books.
Which leads me to my first critique with the film:
It was just clearly meant to be a TV series
Thirteen books is a LOT of books. No way should they have attempted to make this series into a Hollywood blockbuster if they didn’t have the scope to film the rest of the books. You can’t just adapt the first three and leave us hanging! It just makes so much more sense to have a TV series where each book is split into two episodes, that way the story can properly be told, without having to miss bits. I had forgotten about so much stuff that happened in the books until I watched the series – like when the kids go to the Anxious Clown for brunch and have to use the peppermints as an escape tactic. Completely forgot that happened.
I also really like the way they’ve decided to jump straight in with the whole ‘secret organisation’ thing. In the books, you don’t find out anything about VFD or any of the mysteries surrounding it until about book six. You just think it’s a story of three kids who are just really, really unlucky, with some dude following them around trying to get their money. The movie did touch on this a bit with Klaus finding the spyglass, and when they look at the photo album at Aunt Josephine’s, but the series goes way more into it.
Allowing more time to actually explore the books in depth means that way more important stuff can be covered – like the scene where they go and see Zombies in the Snow and Uncle Monty decodes the message hidden in the film, another scene I had completely forgot even happened because the movie didn’t get time to cover it.
In the series you see secret agents working behind the scenes, and you get much more hints as to the mystery that’s really going on with them. And that plot twist with the parents (if you’ve seen it, you know what I mean) – wow.
The TV show’s cast is so much more diverse. Mr Poe, his family, and Aunt Josephine are all black. Their Uncle Monty is Indian. The hook handed man is a Muslim. Although Timothy Spall was amazing and hilarious as Mr. Poe, and to be fair very similar to how I imagined him in the books, K. Todd Freeman plays the role excellently as someone who sugar coats things to seem friendly and well meaning, but actually has the complete wrong idea, as opposed to Spall playing it more as a bumbling portly English man who didn’t have a clue. Both were good interpretations, but I have to give them brownie points for diversity. Even the henchperson that was “neither a man or a woman” (who is probably one of the funniest characters) has a role in the TV series, which is amazing. Also how cool are the white faced women? Making them old ladies was such a genius move.
And now for the great debate: Jim Carrey or Neil Patrick Harris.
I’ve seen so many mixed opinions about this, but for me NPH fits the style of the series more. Jim Carrey was hugely over the top (and of course, hilarious) but it didn’t make him feel sinister enough. This was just classic Jim Carrey acting, in the same way he does in many of his roles. He was basically Ace Ventura on a bad day. This was great to watch as a young child, because it meant I could have a giggle and quote his memorable moments with my friend, but for a more sophisticated and true to the story adaptation, NPH wins for me. Carrey’s Olaf was too much of an idiot for us to genuinely feel like he was a threat. NPH is still hilarious, but in a way that fits the subtle humour of the series. He’s stupid, but not to the extent where he isn’t a little bit sinister. That moment where he says ‘I’ll touch whatever I want’, laying a hand on Violet’s shoulder, was genuinely terrifying.
At first it felt weird cos I was used to seeing him as Barney Stinson, but as the show went on, I got used to seeing him as Count Olaf, and actually he looks a lot more like the Count Olaf in Brett Helquist’s illustrations, and therefore how I actually imagined him to look.
And the kids. Well, I’ll have to admit when I first starting watching I was feeling a bit ‘ugh’. The scene on Briny Beach was just so twee, and the kids were slightly irritating. I wasn’t sure if this was them being bad actors, or if this was supposed to be a kind of ‘Happiest Elf’ style moment, like we saw in the film: an overly twee and happy scene to set you up for the misfortune ahead. I think is in fact the case, because as the series progressed, I loved the kids more and more, especially Klaus. I want to adopt Louis Hynes, he is just so adorable. He actually is the nerdy little boy that Klaus was meant to be, whereas the Klaus in the movie felt like that guy in sixth form college that starts a band and plays bass and never learns to drive. In the movie, the actors felt way too old, whereas in the series, they’re actually played by kids, and look like kids. Yeah, their acting isn’t exactly spot on yet, but we have to remember they’re just kids, in their first major production. And again, they actually look like the illustrations!
The literary references and general humour
Firstly, the way it is so self aware. Olaf says to Violet “Poor little orphan. Haven’t you heard anything this week… season… year?” as a nod to the fact that NOBODY HAS ANY SENSE OF TIME in this series. Has it been a year? A month? Nobody knows! He also breaks the fourth wall in this great little moment which throws some shade to the movie:
The henchmen are also hilarious, and I love how they get to play more of a part in it. The scene in the Wide Window where they’re “dispersed” amongst the market talking about Captain Sham, and the “Its The Count” musical number were both excellent. The hook handed man is funny and adorable, and I especially love the way they made him be able to understand what Sunny says. The Henchperson of Indeterminate Gender is probably one of the funniest characters (and also stylish as heck – I’m loving the Oscar Wilde vibe):
The literary references are also on point. From the kids remembering quotes from Beckett and Murakami, to the hilarious taxi driver (anyone need a ride somewhere for a reasonable fee?) giving an in depth scholarly review of Moby Dick only to finish it by saying “call me Ishmael”. The English Lit student in me was so satisfied.
And finally, the absolute SHADE thrown to Trump’s America:
Honestly I almost choked at that part.
The great messages it sends
It’s funny that in a show that’s supposed to be about misfortune, there is actually such a positive message behind it. Gender roles are just not happening (see the henchperson, whose actual character title is Henchperson of Indeterminate Gender). Klaus says “plenty of young boys like to play with dolls”, and “my sister is a nice girl, and she knows how to do plenty of things”. The women have the power (Dr Orwell, a sinister but successful optometrist, Eleanora Poe, mean but hard working journalist, and Justice Strauss the lawyer).
Plus, the whole ‘partner’ bit (WITH FREAKIN’ MURRAY FROM FLIGHT OF THE CONCORDS OH MAN, THAT WAS EXCELLENT CASTING), which basically suggests that Sir and Charles are partners in a romantic sense as well as in a business sense. Lemony says:
“Well, in fact, partner can mean several things. It could mean ‘two people who own a lumbermill together, or a cupcakery. Now, with the advent of more progressive cultural mores, not to mention certain High Court rulings, it could also mean…” to which Sir says “I do all the work. He irons my clothes,” and Charles says “I also cook your omelettes.”
All in all, I’m so glad this happened. A Series of Unfortunate Events was so not made for Hollywood – it needed to be explored in depth, by people who GET it, and get the style. It’s subtle, it’s witty, it’s intelligent, the aesthetics are perfect, and THE THEME SONG IS AN ABSOLUTE BANGER. I mean, there’s so much more I could say about this show and how amazing it is, but for now, I think I’m just gonna re-watch it again and again until we finally get a second series.