❉ Our verdict on the recent Netflix series: Don’t look away, it’s a joy to watch, from start to finish.
“Look away look away…” Well I’m glad I didn’t because Netflix’s new series based on the ‘Series of Unfortunate Events’ children’s books is an absolute delight.
I came into it cold, not read the books or even seen the 2004 film. What I know about it I got from pop culture. I knew it was about the misfortunes of the Baudelaire children and their guardian Count Olaf’s attempts to get his hands on their inheritance. What I didn’t know was it is written by someone called Lemony Snickett who is really writer Daniel Handler under a pen name.
The Netflix series is composed of 8 episodes of 45 minutes to an hour in length, covering the first 4 stories in the book series as two-part episodes. All of the episodes in the TV series are available to stream or download. This is a lovely feature that Netflix do with most of the TV programmes they make and means you don’t have to wait week by week for the next instalment. It also means you can binge-watch (as I have done) or watch an episode at your leisure.
In the TV series Lemony Snickett appears as the narrator at various points in the story much like the chorus in a Greek or Shakespearean tragedy. Lemony (played by Patrick Warburton of ‘Family Guy’ and ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ fame) pops up in a scene to segue into another scene or flashback or give the viewer some exposition. For the most part it works, but occasionally the interruptions from the narrator disrupt the pace of the story. That’s a minor quibble as the narrator is played so wonderfully by Warburton that it usually serves to bring you into the story as good narration should.
The Baudelaire children: Inventive Violet, book smart Klaus and granite toothed baby Sunny are (ably played by Malina Weisman, Louis Hynes and Presley Smith respectively) are sent to live with their guardian Count Olaf by the banker and executor of their parents’ will Mr Poe (played by K Todd Freeman who I remember as Mr Trick in Buffy the Vampire Slayer) after their parents are killed in a house fire. The baby often chips in sarcastically or wisely as goo-goo baby talk that only the children can understand and is translated for our benefit. The two older children use their learning and inventiveness to thwart the various schemes that Olaf does to try and get hold of them.
There’s a running gag where the clearly very intelligent children are mansplained words, phrases and sayings which often raises an exasperated “yes we know what that means” from Violet and Klaus. The roles seem to be reversed with the adults behaving like children an children behaving like the adults.
The dastardly count Olaf is played by Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser MD; How I Met Your Mother). Olaf after the first story appears in various disguises to try to trick and get rid of the adults that are supposed to be protecting the children. I love the children’s frustration as they desperately try to convince the hapless adults that it’s really Count Olaf in his various and obvious disguises. Harris quite clearly relishes the role; there’s a mischievous twinkle in his eye whenever he appears and you can’t help but smile as he chews the scenery, rubs his hands in glee and twirls his moustache (he doesn’t really). He brings his comedy acting experience to the role making him a hilarious and very “boo hissable” pantomime villain. Olaf, the failed actor, has a troupe of oddball characters pulled from a circus freak show to help him in his various schemes.
This seems to be a pet project for Harris who also produces the show (with noted film producer Barry Sonnenfeld) and writes and sings the “feem toon”. The lyrics, if you listen to them, serve as a précis for each story and also warning us to “Look away” and not watch for “horror and inconvenience is on the way”. A nice touch that hooks you in from the get go.
There are a lot of guest appearances that will have you scrabbling for IMDB to find out what else they have been in: Joan Cusack as the kindly but gullible and naive judge Justice Strauss, Aasif Mandvi (The Brink, Jericho) as the overenthusiastic but clumsy Herpetologist and second guardian after Olaf, Afre Woodard (Star Trek First Contact, Luke Cage) as the fearful, grammar obsessed third guardian Aunt Josephine. Most surprising of all is Miami Vice’s Don Johnson as the Colonel Sanders-alike lumber mill owner simply called Sir with Flight of the Conchord‘s Rhys Darby as his supposed business partner. The children’s parents are played by Will Arnett (‘Arrested Development’) and Cobie Smulders (‘Avengers’ films, ‘Agents of Shield’).
I am unsure of the setting but it seems to be 1950s Americana. Chugging trains, horse drawn carriages, long roads that lead to nowhere and women in patterned dresses, men in sharp suits. Maybe that’s the setting in the book and I want to investigate.
And that’s the thing: This TV series makes me want to read the books, watch the film find out everything about it. A Series of Unfortunate Events is a joy to watch, from start to finish. There’s plenty more books that have been written and I look forward to watching many more episodes of the TV series with any luck.
❉ All of the episodes in the TV series are available to stream or download. https://www.netflix.com/gb/title/80050008