Misery normally loves company, so when A Series of Unfortunate Events became Netflix’s latest show, you may be a bit perplexed by the really catchy theme song “Look away! Look Away!”. Those who are familiar with Daniel Handler’s unique pessimism by embracing the 13 part children’s book series, which was penned under Lemony Snicket, who is a character in the story, will find those words quite welcoming and warm as a louse infested blanket.
Handler’s work was made into a large scale condensed version that starred Jim Carrey in 2004. Handler and director/producer Barry Sonnenfeld was given the opportunity to take an easier approach to the storytelling. Each book will be 2 episodes, so this first season of 8 episodes will be the first 4 books: The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, The Wide Window, and The Miserable Mill. This allows us all to go into the visually complex and verbally unique world, where a running gag could be explaining the differences between figuratively and literally, which is occupied by the Baudelaire orphans.
What’s the story?
Teenagers Klaus and Violet played by Louis Hynes and Malina Weissman, as well as sharp toothed Sunny played by Presley Smith, who have been informed by Mr. Poe played by K. Todd Freeman that their parents have died in a fire. Their travails, which seem shuffled forever and always between ill-omened guardians is narrated by Snicket, played by Patrick Warburton, who does all he can to convince that this is not where you are supposed to be uplifting and cheerful. That type of story is someplace else. Handler and his co-writers have credited that such jests are welcomed to all the sorrow of he show.
It does help that Sonnenfeld, who has directed 4 of the eight episodes, seems quite engaged and energized in ways that recall his unique Addams Family movies, as opposed to the recent comedy Nine Lives, where Kevin Spacey learned life lessons after being reincarnated in cat form.
Meanwhile production designer Bo Welch, has given us an eye popping and imaginative field day with the sets, which gives a nice practical and CG elements that have really brought that creaky shack that is perched on that cliff to the evil optometrist office that is located in the metal tower.
Promise of great perfomance
None of this takes into account the trump card, and we aren’t talking about that Trump. That would be Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf. He is the biggest thorn in the Baudelaire children’s side, being completely obsessed with getting his hand on the huge fortune left to the children’s parents who may or not appear. In the first two episodes, Count Olaf, suggests that Nosferatu was resurrected as a sociopath who needs to brush up on Stanislavski. In the other episodes, he will go through a series of disguises such as a female secretary, and peg legged sea captain, to that point the lack of talent while showing Harris’ artistry.
The former Doogie Howser knows how to get laughs from a glower, physical comedy or sarcasm tinged line readings. None of that actually counteracts the twinges of the pathos that he lets break through the cartoony veneer whenever there is a reference of the backstory of the Baudelaire’s and Olaf, which is something about a secret society that is similar like Jacques Rivette fantasia for children.