Why You Should Watch ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’
by Tito W. James
The 90s and early 2000s offered a gold rush of excellent book series for children and young adults. Of course the mega-hit was Harry Potter, but there were also plenty of creative stories including, Redwall, Artemis Fowl, Eragon, Inkheart, and The Golden Compass. However, there was one series that wasn’t strictly speaking fantasy– a tale of three plucky orphans who are pursued through a bizarre Neo-Gothic world by a murderous master of disguise: Lemony Snicket’s, A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Upon revisiting the Unfortunate Events movie, I feel that it perfectly captures the tone of the books with strong performances by the actors playing Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. Jim Carrey delivers arguably the best performance of his career and makes Olaf an unpredictable cartoon villain you love to loathe. Credit should also be given to the production design. A Series of Unfortunate Events was never as big a success as Harry Potter, but the set designers brought their A-game for the Reptile Room and the house overlooking Lake Lachrymose.
The homages to the silent era of film and a lengthy animated credits sequence showcase how seriously the filmmakers took their craft. The film’s ending differs from the books but strikes a bittersweet tone that’s authentic to the characters. The Baudelaire orphans may not have a home, but they have each other, and that’s enough.
Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is the closest I’ve ever seen to a Wes Anderson film as a TV series. The TV adaptation, is more book-accurate, and splits up most of the novels into two-part episodes. The TV series differs from the novels by seeding in the Baudelaire’s parents’ connection to a mysterious secret society from the start. Two stories are told in parallel, the orphans’ exploits to escape Count Olaf, and secret agents who try to aid the children discreetly. This inclusion of adventure pulp espionage in addition to the Neo-Gothic narrative makes the show a thrill to watch. Just like Gravity Falls or Mystery Incorporated, there’s a long-running mystery and plenty of jokes that go over the kids’ heads.
While it’s impossible to top Jim Carrey’s performance as Count Olaf, Neil Patrick Harris makes the role his own, by tapping into his musical skills and his ability to share the stage. Olaf’s troupe of minions provide as much humor as the main villain. A stand-out villain for the series is Lucy Punch as Esmé Squalor. Punch plays the villainess like a purebred poodle who gets more hilarious the angrier she gets. The costume designers clearly had a field day giving Esmé ludicrous outfits that would make Lady Gaga jealous. Always fashionable and unpredictable, Esmé is easily my favorite character from the series. A Series of Unfortunate Events remains a unique and creative tale distinct from its high fantasy contemporaries. Its bombastic characters, anachronistic setting, and macabre humor continue to delight audiences young and old. The series’ themes of perseverance, friendship, and literary inquiry, remain relevant in a world where book-banning is on the rise and the really bad guys don’t always get caught. Whether you wish to revisit the books in a new form or are being introduced to these characters for the first time, I invite you to watch A Series of Unfortunate Events.