Dearest readers, if you opened this link seeking a pleasant review filled with the most picturesque writing and objective opinions, I have bad news. If you were curious, the word ‘picturesque’ here means ‘visually attractive, especially in a quaint or pretty style.’ No, today I come bearing a review of the pilot episode of the Netflix adaption of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, so you can expect a certain level of misfortune to follow.
Lemony Snicket (or Daniel Handler, as he’s known by in certain circles) was and still is one of the most profound authors of my childhood. I would eagerly await the release of the next book in the Baudelaire Orphans’ story, and I was increasingly saddened when it was all over. It was rather unfortunate that the film released with the same name (yes, the one I normally pretend never existed) was rather unlikable, but thankfully it never received a sequel. I had begun to give up hope that we’d ever see a proper adaption of the entire series until I heard the rumor mill begin to churn.
I was cautiously optimistic at first, after hearing that Neil Patrick Harris had been selected to play the awful Count Olaf, and even moreso once it was clear that Patrick Warburton would be portraying the enigmatic Lemony Snicket. Well, the pilot episode (as well as the entire season) has been made public, and I’m confident in saying that this is the loyal adaption we’ve all been waiting for. It’s been years since I’ve read The Bad Beginning, so several of the details had become lost to me, but once I got into the episode much of it came back to me. Especially scenes that were left out of the 2004 film starring Jim Carrey, involving the chronically ill Mr. Poe and his family.
Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes are both excellent choices as Violet and Klaus Baudelaire respectively. It’s actually kind of refreshing to see relatively new talent shine at the roles they’re given, and based on what little I remember from the novels, they are extremely convincing portrayals of the orphans. Presley Smith as Sunny was actually super hilarious as well, despite her small amount of screen-time in the pilot. I was particularly impressed with the writer (in this case Daniel Handler himself) making it clear from the get-go that Sunny’s ‘thing’ is using her incoming teeth to her advantage, which provided a rather hilarious segment where she takes a rough rock from the beach and smooths it out in a matter of seconds.
Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf absolutely nails the part, surprisingly enough. I was skeptical at first because of the characters utter nastiness and my not knowing whether another comedian could do him justice. I was clearly wrong, as he did what Carrey failed to do in making Olaf a wicked, evil character while making you want to laugh at nearly everything he does. If I remember correctly, that’s the kind of character Olaf is. He’s so nefarious and over-the-top the more his plans are thwarted that the reader is often left wondering if he’s being serious.
Patrick Warburton as Lemony Snicket is also a surprising success, as Warburton is often known for portraying comedic characters (Brock Samson, Joe Swanson) but he really toned it down for this role. I would also like to give acknowledgement to K. Todd Freeman who brought Mr. Poe back to life (albeit just for a few scenes) and Joan Cusack who really brought a lot to the table as Justice Strauss.
It goes without saying that this first episode roughly adapts the first half of The Bad Beginning, but there are clear liberties being taken with this series that make things somewhat divergent. Namely, a scene at the end starring Will Arnett and Colbie Smulders that makes me super excited for things to come. Something that made this episode great is how well it captured the oddly anachronistic world of the books. It’s never clear exactly when this story takes place, but that’s never been the point, proven by multiple references to the musician James Brown, despite Snicket claiming this story takes place a long time ago. It adds to the atmosphere and allows the audience who participated in reading the novels years ago to return to this miserable and unfortunate world.
A Series of Unfortunate Events is currently streaming via Netflix, adapting The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, The Wide Window and The Miserable Mill across eight episodes. Season two has already been confirmed by Daniel Handler. Stick with Pixcelation over the next week in order to read our reviews of the remaining seven episodes of the season. Or don’t. I’m sure there are happier reviews elsewhere.