A Series of Unfortunate Events is dark, dismal, and hilarious (Review)

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If you have clicked on this review hoping to find cheerful content that will brighten your week and leave a pleasant feeling in your heart, please look away now. All you will find if you proceed further is tragedy and dismay, and why both made for excellent entertainment in the Netflix original program, A Series of Unfortunate Events.

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Patrick Warburton as Lemony Snicket (photo source: YahooTV)

Made available to stream on January 13, the show is an adaptation of the popular book series of the same name. Covering the first four books in the series, viewers are introduced to Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire and are taken on a wild ride when the Beaudelaire parents die in a mysterious fire, leaving them to be shuffled from guardian to guardian. The most formidable of said guardians is, of course, the evil Count Olaf, who is out to steal the children’s fortune.

Newcomers and readers of the source material alike should note that the show does not disappoint, and is well worth the binge-watch. The adaptation understands its source material in a way that too few adaptations are able to pull off. There is the signature Lemony Snicket dark humour that follows the Beaudelaire’s tale and the delivery of the incredible scripts are almost flawlessly done both in the performances and the direction.

In terms of performances, the entire cast brings their a-game. Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes, who play Violet and Klaus respectively, have to be two of the most articulate and expressive children on television. Their ability to play with emotions, both subtle and large, is impressive and they blend right into the atmosphere showrunners Mark Hudis and Barry Sonnenfeld have developed.

Patrick Warburton is also exceptional and a truly delightful surprise in the role of Lemony Snicket. Warburton’s deadpan delivery of the narration is perfect for the overall tone of the show as it is riddled in both gloomy and hilarity. Although, I will admit – I kept expecting to hear someone shout “pull the lever, Kronk!” every time that he spoke.

However, the true star of the show is Neil Patrick Harris’ Count Olaf. Following a long-running sitcom, a couple film roles, and a Tony Award-winning run in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” Harris may come across as an odd choice for Count Olaf. However, he channels his Dr. Horrible persona to make the the role as silly as he is sinister and his experience hosting various award show telecasts allow for him to play the part of showman Olaf as big and bold as the role requires.

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The Beaudelaire children (photo source: NPR.com)

Newcomers to the series are exceptionally fortunate amongst the misfortune because they will get to experience all of the Count’s dastardly shenanigans for the first time. His ridiculous disguises and gimmicks will be brand new to those who have never read the books before, and will certainly evoke laughter whether it be due to the quirky accent Harris uses for Stephano in “The Reptile Room”, or at the lipstick on his teeth and his enormous fake bosom when he impersonates Shirley in “The Miserable Mill”.

But do not be fooled by the zany costumes and plots, Harris’s Count Olaf is far more twisted than he is lovable. Between putting babies in cages and murdering truly lovable characters, Count Olaf is someone that viewers will love to hate. The closest comparison I can think of is Scar from The Lion King, and if you factor in Count Olaf’s spontaneous musical number in the first episode, that feels pretty darn accurate.

Speaking of musical numbers, be warned! After watching about four episodes in a row, the theme song will almost certainly get stuck in your head. Sung by Harris, the theme urges viewers to “look away” repeatedly, but you obviously won’t listen. Which is why, three days later, you’ll find yourself humming the catchy melody in the middle of class. People will stare and it will be quite embarrassing so do proceed at your own risk.

Full of giggles, plot-twists, stunning vocabulary and a star-studded cast, A Series of Unfortunate Events is perfect binge-watching material. Fans of the books will adore it, as will audience members experiencing the story for the first time. So what are you waiting for? Crazy adventures are just a Netflix password away!


Starring: Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, K. Todd Freeman, and Presley Smith.
Availability: Streaming on Netflix now.
Format: Hour-long comedy-drama family series.

Complete first season watched for review.