REVIEW: Netflix innovatively adapts A Series of Unfortunate Events

Young adult franchises have maintained an ubiquitous presence in Hollywood for the last decade. Some series like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games have seen great success, while others have faltered due to their lack of originality, such as The Divergent Series and The Maze Runner).

Back in 2004, director Brad Silberling attempted to adapt the beloved children’s novels, A Series of Unfortunate Events, into a standalone film. His result was a polarizing feature that had fans of the books and general audiences butting heads in their opinions — the film was either great or horrid.

In 2017, the series has been rebooted into a miniseries (instead of a film) on Netflix. A Series of Unfortunate Events stars Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf, the eccentric criminal and primary antagonist attempting to steal the fortune of the recently orphaned Baudelaire children.

The three Baudelaire children include inventor and the eldest Violet (Malina Weissman), bookworm Klaus (Louis Hynes) and adorably resourceful infant Sunny (Presley Smith).

The first season follows the Baudelaire children as they discover that their parents have perished in a fire that burned down their home. A clueless banker, Mr. Poe, breaks the news to the children and takes them to their new guardian. Initially, the children are sent to live with Count Olaf, but soon after witnessing his terrible ways, are sent on a wild goose chase away from him as they seek a more suitable guardian.

The season consists of eight episodes, adapting the first four novels that are split into two parts: The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, The Wide Window and The Miserable Mill. Lemony Snicket, a character within the novel played by Patrick Warburton, narrates the Baudelaires’ story throughout the season.

Though his role in the overall plot of the series is unclear, it is suggested that Snicket plays a pivotal role in the future of the series. The innovative approach to adapting the novels works extremely well, and it may lay the groundwork for other series to be adapted in a similar way.

The cinematography of the series sets it apart from other shows on Netflix. Filmed in a similar style to that of a Wes Anderson film, the series is able to maintain a gloomy, dark tone while capturing the dry humor of the novels. The source material provides a great opportunity for Harris, as his over-dramatic tendencies as an actor are fitting in the role of Count Olaf.

The long list of guest stars consists of several A-list actors who have a lot of fun indulging in the ridiculous and illogical style of their characters, such as Joan Cusack, who portrays the outlandish Justice Strauss. One standout is Alfre Woodard as Aunt Josephine, a perpetually terrified woman to whom the Baudelaire children are sent in The Wide Window. Her performance is hilariously weird, bringing the masterful writing of the show to life.

The writing of the series is sharp and funny, with several pop culture references incorporated into the dialogue. It allows the cast members to easily mold into their roles. An interesting aspect of the series’ overall tone is how self-reflective and modern it is, adapting the series with updated references.

At one point, Count Olaf claims entertainment is best consumed at home in a longform medium, suggesting the series should be binged in bed as opposed to in the theater. Another scene shows the youngest Baudelaire, Sunny, recommending the children take an Uber to their destination. Sunny is often the voice of reason in the show, pointing out the egregious logical fallacies of Mr. Poe and several of the other adult characters.    

The show succeeds because it remains faithful to the novels in tone and content. The humor is spot-on and extremely — though pleasantly — weird. The stupidity of the characters is always a treat, and while the Baudelaire children may be the least compelling aspect of the actual series, their misadventures are so fun and outrageous that it will leave audiences eager for a sophomore season.

A Series of Unfortunate Events joins the list of many greats in the Netflix canon. Its absurdity and originality feel fresh, even though the source material is over a decade old. The show has already been renewed for a second season, which will adapt the next five novels into 10 episodes, and will likely conclude with a third season to adapt the remaining four books.

All eight episodes of the first season are available to be streamed on Netflix.