a series of unfortunate events

I’ve been watching Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, but I refuse to binge it. Instead, I’ve been taking my sweet time, revisiting Daniel Handler’s books between each episode and reminding myself that the source material is kind of remarkable. As someone who grew reading Roald Dahl and Douglas Adams, the pitch dark comedy, witty prose, and resistance to easy pleasantries sing to me in a special way – they’re the kind of stories that make me wish I had children so I could read these books to them and warp their fragile little minds.

The show is good, too! And really, I’m using this newly arrived featurette as an excuse to talk about the show itself for a moment.

As you may know, A Series of Unfortunate Events tells the story of the Baudelaire children, who are orphaned when their home is burnt to the ground and their parents seemingly killed in the blaze. And then nothing good happens to them for a long time as they’re shuffled from one family member to the next, always pursued by the relentless Count Olaf, who wants their fortune. Like the (underrated!) 2004 film adaptation that failed to kickstart a running franchise, the series looks terrific, boasting incredible production design, killer make-up, and an overall aesthetic that suggests a fantasy universe rather than anything remotely like our own world. This featurette offers a look at all of that and it’s pretty fun.

While I take issue with how the series pushes the larger mysteries and conspiracies to the forefront of the narrative (it feels like a little too much hope, too soon in a narrative that is powered by its own sense of spiraling hopelessness!), the bulk of the series is a charming encapsulation of what makes Handler’s prose sing. Everything that actually occurs onscreen is ridiculous and demands a whimsical touch, but the the deadpan narration from Patrick Warburton’s Lemony Snicket is the constant reminder that we’re dealing with constant misery and death and deceit and that no one is going to be happy when the credits roll.

It’s a tricky combination, to make something so silly that also feels so distressing, but everyone seems to pull it off. And while Neil Patrick Harris gets to chew on the scenery as Count Olaf (and his theme song is killer), it is Warburton who acts as the series’ secret weapon, observing the utter calamity with a solemnity that deserves a throne made out of melted Emmy awards.

A Series of Unfortunate Events is streaming now and you should watch it. It’s good! And you should revisit those books. They’re excellent! Our own Jack Giroux wrote a longer review of the show and I recommend checking that out as well.

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