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Review: A Series of Unfortunate Events
TV critic Emily Barker reviews the long awaited revival of A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix
I should preface by saying that A Series of Unfortunate Events is one of my all-time favourite book franchises; it holds a hallowed spot front and centre of my bookshelf, each instalment has been read upward of eight or nine times, fan theories explored and contributed to online, and I have been waiting for a satisfactory adaptation of the whole series for, oh, I don’t know, about ten years? Needless to say, I was so damn ready for Netflix to hit me with everything they got, and come Friday 13th had cleared my schedule (uh, seminar tutors don’t read Redbrick, right?), accumulated snacks, assumed my binge-watching position, and ripped off my headphones within forty-five seconds in horror and disgust because what. was. that. theme. tune. NPH, we get it; you do lots of theatre and you’re super good at singing and you have Tonys and stuff but now is not the time. It did not fill me with hope. Not the best of starts. One might even call it a…pretty bad beginning.
But don’t worry, it gets better (my jokes do not). Hoorah, someone managed to persuade producers that there was time for the dedications that open each of the books, and with a swift:
To Beatrice –
darling, dearest, dead.
We’re back on track (although in order to totally win me over you would have had to somehow work in the letters To My Kind Editor as well, but whatever, it’s a start).
It’s a bit difficult to not spend the first three-quarters of the season comparing it to the 2004 film, and that’s never going to end well when you’re setting your actors up to be judged against the standard of the god that is Billy Connolly. In case you’re ever confused, the Netflix version is the one where Barny is Olaf, Robin is Mum with her loving husband Gob, and a weird Jeff/Puddy hybrid is Lemony Snicket. Basically a sitcom Avengers. It’s also visually distinguishable by the Wes Anderson inspired aesthetic, with plenty of distressingly brightly coloured, eerily symmetrical shots. I know I sound like I’m slamming this, but I’m really not, it works well for the similarly implausible storyline. Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket), wrote these elaborately stylised, absurdist books, and that’s pretty difficult to translate to screen. So props to Netflix for doing the one thing that the film seemed terrified of; accepting its fate and steering into the skid. Sunny as a general character is a great example. See: baby Sunny using her teeth to reshape a rock or debark a tree while shimmy/crawling along its trunk like Samara in the ring. In fact, for most The Miserable Mill episodes, Sunny appears as a floating head attached to prop baby in a worker’s jumpsuit. It’s as if the producers have sat down and said look kids, it’s just not safe to have a baby actor on a set with massive pieces of moving machinery, you know and we know it, so here’s a CGI of her head, let’s move on with things. I appreciate that level of honesty.
There’s a couple of other respects in which Netflix has the edge; long form television not only allows for a much more expansive two hours per book, but, as NPH tells us in quite definitely the best six seconds of the whole season, it IS so much more convenient to consume entertainment from the comfort of your own home. (The Reptile Room: Part One, about 28:30 in, just, just watch it, okay?) But my personal favourite addition is all the Easter eggs foreshadowing future plotlines in later books; from Lemony narrating in the tunnels connecting VFD members’ houses to cameos from the Quagmires to (what looks like) Hector’s self-sustaining hot air mobile home floating past Snicket’s head in the background of 11:30 of The RR: Part One (you’re welcome), the set up for seasons two and three (dear Lord, PLEASE) is strong.
“The last couple of episodes already felt like they were heading in a more promising direction, with some intriguing developments in character backstories
So, things that they’ll hopefully work on: eradicating the theme tune and all other self-indulgent NPH moments. He’s having so much fun with dressing up and putting on voices, which is fine, but I could do without a finale song next season. With a bit of luck the children playing the, uh, children, will have settled into their roles a bit more and ironed out some of those shaky acting moments. I’m looking at you, Violet, no-one’s that happy when they’re rock-skipping. But on the whole, I’m staying positive about subsequent seasons. The last couple of episodes already felt like they were heading in a more promising direction, with some intriguing developments in character backstories and weirdly, very logical and satisfying deviations from the books (shhh, it’s not sacrilege when Handler’s writing the script). Anyway, these first eight episodes are worth a watch, and I have it from a reliable source (the Internet), that writing on season two (a.k.a. the part of the series we've actually been waiting for them to adapt) has already begun. Production has, however, apparently not yet been greenlit, so we might have a bit of a tense wait on our hands…
Watch A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix now.