The opening of Lemony Snicket's Netflix series kicks off unfortunately slow, but showing promise.
Your reaction to Netflix’s announcement of an original show based on A Series of Unfortunate Events can contradictorily only be of both uncontainable excitement and trepidation. Though the longevity of TV may finally do the hidden depths of Lemony Snicket justice, it has to live up to both the fantastically odd book series, and Jim Carrey’s iconic film adaptation.
Season 1 has eight episodes, allocating two episodes to each of the first four books of the series. The first episode – Part 1 of The Bad Beginning – feels very much like an introductory episode. A lot happens to establish the Baudelaire orphans in their *unfortunate* situation, but after this the plot seemed to lose steam. Where the film seemed to chronologically stand around the Victorian era, this adaptation exists outside of time, with some references to more modern technology, but at times harking back to this older era. This is not necessarily a bad thing; it just calls for the audience to suspend their disbelief and enter the timeless space director Barry Sonnenfeld is creating.
Suspension of disbelief is required in several other regards, too. The obvious CGI backdrops and computer contortions to Sunny Baudelaire’s face, coupled with the juxtaposing bright cartoonish of outfits and the grim dullness of the sets, give the overall cinematography an essence that may have been more at home in the ‘Happy Little Elves’ that Snicket likes to so often refer to in his books. If you can accept this style and roll with it, then Episode 1 is in large an intriguing start, with even better potential.
With so many metanarrative comments in the books, it is nice to see Lemony Snicket properly cast, and Patrick Warburton instantly makes the character his own, bringing the essence of Snicket’s narrator to life. Regretfully, the same cannot be said of the children cast as the protagonists. They seem to suffer the curse of many child actors, and in large over-act the roles, making for flat, unconvincing performances. Having initially been excited to see more age appropriate casting than that of the film adaptation, it now makes more sense to why Brad Silberling chose to age his Baudelaire orphans using older, more trained actors. That being said, this is only the first episode, and their sweet, innocent charm adds a new, interesting dynamic.
The show is stolen by Neil Patrick Harris’ take on the psychopathic antagonist, Count Olaf. Keen eared audiences will hear Harris singing the theme song, and this sets the tone for his fame-seeking character. The make-up and costume are excellent, and it really does feel as though Olaf has climbed out of the books and onto the screen. Harris falls victim to the shadow of the iconic Carrey at points, however; instead of taking the character in a new direction, Olaf at points feels very much a Carrey-knock-off. Those aware of both the film and the show are plagued with the knowledge a better Count Olaf is out there, but, if one watches the series without having seen the film, then Harris shines as the narcissistic failed actor.
True to the unique and wonderfully surreal writing style of Lemony Snicket, the dialogue offers moments that genuinely make the audience want to laugh out loud. It is often moments of bitter irony and dry wit that stand out, helping to build the atmosphere of the show when the action is lacking. It is a shame that the inexperienced acting style of the children sometimes did not do justice to the script, but the adult supporting cast helps to pick up the gems of comedy.
Episode 1 certainly seems like a learning curve, allowing viewers to adjust to the cinematography, acting styles and dialogue of the show. Those who do not warm to it may struggle with the following episodes, as it seems to have settled into its style; however, accepting all elements in their wacky glory, the rest of the series appears as though it will do justice to the books that mesmerised a generation of children.
The first season of Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is available to watch in its entirety now. If you need a refresher to the brilliant children’s books that inspired the show, check out our Introduction piece.