I feel like before I get into this review, I should start with a caveat: I have never, and probably will never read the Series of Unfortunate Events books.
I know, I know. I’m some sort of terrible person who had no childhood because I didn’t read Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events, or whatever books you deem necessary for me to actually classify myself as a product of the ’90s and early 2000s. Deal with it.
Now. On with the review.
A Series of Unfortunate Events is Netflix’s latest hit, based off of the series of books by Daniel Handler. I must say that I don’t think I would have watched the series if I didn’t hear Handler on Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me! talking about the series. He seemed like a really funny, down to earth guy and I thought I’d give it a shot. I had seen the Jim Carey movie a long time ago, but it’s not anything that stuck in my head or made me swoon at the fantastic nature of the story. I guess that’s why I never read the books – it didn’t seem like it was all that interesting.
But that view quickly changed after the first episode of SUE on Netflix. Every aspect of this show immediately drew me in and kept me wanting more. Even now that I’ve finished the series, I find myself actually attached to the characters and their plight through the terrible world they inhabit.
And what a world they’ve created. This is probably one of the most beautifully shot shows that I’ve seen in a long time. Absolutely beautiful. The world that Handler has crafted for these children to live in is bright and colorful – dark and terrifying – familiar and oh so strange. I think the best example of this is in the first episode where the children are taken to Count Olaf’s house for the first time.
They get out of Mr. Poe’s car and are welcomed by a warm landscape filled with colorful trees and flowers. But oh no. That’s not where the children are going. The camera immediately swoops around to the other side of the street where you see their actual home – a dark, decrepit old mansion covered in dying ivy. (Also, somehow it’s pitch black and thundering on that side of the street. Weather, am I right?) These stark camera contrasts are used consistently as the series progresses, and the visuals really help immerse the viewer into this unfamiliar plane.
But it’s not just the camera shots that help drag you into this cruel new world. The acting is absolutely superb. Neil Patrick Harris’s Count Olaf is clearly the star of the show, but he has an entire star-studded cast to contend with on that front. Patrick Warburton’s Lemony Snicket is a fantastic narrator and excellent plot device.
Narrators are supposed to be all-knowing, omniscient creatures that all too often drag viewers or readers out of the story, only to be thrown back into it as soon as their monologues are finished. While Warburton does offer this omniscience to SUE, he actually plays an integral part of the plot. Now, not knowing how this series ends, I’m only assuming that Snicket does in fact play a part in the later episodes since he and the other characters often reference him in the show, but I’ll be interested to see how this continues as the series goes on.
Other big names – relatively big names – that peek into SUE include Rhys Darby, Joan Cusack, Asif Mandvi, Don Johnson, Will Arnet, and Cobie Smulders. But, like I said before, Neil Patrick Harris shines in this role. I really don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at Barney Stinson the same way again.
But what drew me in most wasn’t the skilled acting or the beautiful cinematography. It was the wittiness of the writing.
One of the reasons I was interested in watching it in the first place was that I’d heard that Handler actually wrote the series himself. All too often when developing TV shows or movies, writers are shunned off into a consultant position while shitty screenwriters take their place. But Netflix made a good call by leaving him in charge of his own work. Regardless of this being a ‘kids” show, Handler doesn’t talk down to his audience.
In a lot of newer comedies, writers feel like they need to explain their jokes to the audience. They feel like their audience won’t understand the humor if it’s not served to them on a silver plater. But Handler doesn’t do this. There are no long pauses in between jokes and regular dialogue that allow it time to ‘sink in’. He just makes a quick, tiny jab and then gets on with the rest of the show. If you get it, great! Good for you for understanding that joke about Netflix. If you don’t, then that’s okay, too. Not understanding the jokes won’t take away from your enjoyment of the series, but if you do, it just adds that much more to the show.
Needless to say, Netflix really hit it out of the park with this one. The episodic format of the show (each book is divided into two episodes, so season one, which is eight episodes long, makes up the first four books in the 13-part series) allowed for Handler to tell the story he wanted to tell without worrying about an hour-and-a-half long film length. This, from what I gather by reading some other reviews, was the main problem with the original film. It doesn’t feel rushed, but it doesn’t feel terribly long, either. I never felt like I was ready for it to end. And leaving the story where they did, it never really did end. I think Netflix is finally starting to get content creation down, and I’m really excited to see what happens next. Not only in SUE, but for the rest of their shows, too.
When I finally finished season one, I was ready for more. I had already endured almost seven hours of this terrible, grueling tale, and I wanted more. So no, terribly annoying theme song sung by Neil Patrick Harris, I will not, as you ask, ‘Look away.’ I will instead patiently await the coming of season two, and look forward to the terrible series of unfortunate events to come.
Reed’s Review Corner:
A Series of Unfortunate Events
9.4 consumption coughing fits out of 10
Please… Make the theme song stop…