Despite a few translation issues, the show is an enjoyable and addictive watch.
As Series 1 of Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events draws to a close with ‘The Miserable Mill: Part Two’, we arguably receive the most comprehensive and definitive version of the show so far. With bizarre quirkiness, exposition loaded dialogue, and, of course, episode-stealing supporting characters, Lemony Snicket’s series finally finds its feet.
Translating Lemony Snicket’s (real name Daniel Handler) beloved books to a screen of any form is undoubtedly a tough task. Brimming with off-key characters, unconventional settings and story points, and frustratingly overly confused subplots and secrets, there’s a near unfilmable element to it. The 2004 Jim Carrey feature film adaptation gave it a go, resulting in an enjoyable yet rather detached silver screen version of the first three books. And whilst many elements of the film do transfer near directly to the first six episodes of Netflix’s version, the final two episodes (the last in particular) are able to stand admirably on their own, without any real preconceived ideas of what they may be like.
In ‘The Miserable Mill: Part Two’, Klaus (Louis Hynes) begins to act strangely after his visit to Dr Orwell (Catherine O’Hara), leaving Violet (Malina Weissman) isolated in both her struggle to clear their parents’ name, and figure out what is going on the Lucky Smells Lumber Mill. All this happening whilst Dr Orwell and a poorly disguised Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris) begin to plan something sinister for the Mill and its owner, Sir (Don Johnson) and his “partner” Charles (Rhys Darby).
With dialogue lifted pretty much straight from the page, it’s very exposition heavy and a bit clunky, but that’s become the Unfortunate Events style and needs to be embraced. It’s rather fun when you’re used to it. The quips and humour hits 90% of the time; it’s dry and black, fitting in with Snicket’s (Patrick Warburton) constant insistence that this is not a happy or jolly tale. Snicket’s fourth wall breaking works a treat every time, and Warburton perfectly waltzes in and out of scenes, bringing Snicket to life vividly as a storyteller and mysterious figure. He is a constant highlight of the show. Whilst Weissman and Hynes may be rather bland and unconvincing, NPH constantly delivers charm, charisma and something oddly scary as Olaf; his theatre troupe, or in this episode just the Hook-Handed Man (Usman Ally), slot in perfectly alongside him in a similar vein. And as mentioned, it’s always the supporting characters who steal the show – with Don Johnson and Rhys Darby continuing this trend here, furthering the mystery and eccentricity of Unfortunate Events.
The show is just as good at being morose and dour as it is quirky and likeable, following in famous footsteps as a Tim Burton and Wes Anderson love child. The grey palette is always in contrast to the brighter coloured Baudelaire orphans, emphasising their role as a glimmer of hope in the despair of this terrible tale. It’s a weird yet wonderful visual product and piece of storytelling. A gripe that I always had with the books was how disjointed and unnecessarily mysterious and confusing they sought to be, randomly throwing in characters and objects from various books across the series with little to no payoff on their presence or relevance. It’s fortunate then (if you’ll pardon the pun), that the show does make more of an effort to keep a through line of logic, and to shed a little more light on the underlying secrets, to show that there is sense to made to all of this underneath the bizarre surface.
A Series of Unfortunate Events‘ first season has hit success, with ‘The Miserable Mill: Part Two’ possibly the best episode thus far. In being so faithful to its source material, the show does face a few translation issues, but these are forgivable in the grand scheme of things. The story is addictive; like all good Netflix Originals before it, cliffhangers keep you gripped, and you’ll always want to see more of the Baudelaires – despite the unimaginable misery that may come their way. And is there more misery to come? Well if the rest of the books are anything to go by, then Netflix’s latest endeavour is sure to become much more unfortunate…
All eight episodes of A Series of Unfortunate Events are available to stream on Netflix.