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“A Series of Unfortunate Events” Review

Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf in "A Series Of Unfortunate Events." (Joe Lederer/Netflix)

Photo Courtesy of MCT Campus

Netflix Originals have proven to be largely hit or miss – “Stranger Things” was a 5-star success, but “Chasing Cameron” was a 1-star flop. Their latest big release, an eight episode rendition of Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” exceeded my expectations, fortunately.

If you never read the books as a child – your loss by the way – here’s how it goes: the three Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus and Sunny, are pleasant, bright children. They live a very privileged life, until their parents die in a tragic fire, setting off a domino effect of unfortunate events.

They are sent off to live with their mysterious and distant relative, Count Olaf, who is revealed to be the plot’s antagonist. Count Olaf attempts to marry Violet in order to acquire their inheritance, which forces the children into hiding. The intelligent and inventive children could have done well enough protecting themselves if it weren’t for the dim-witted adults that move them from one home to the next. The plot of the movie, which follows the books accurately, centers around Count Olaf’s pursuit of the children, and his villainous attempts to claim their fortune.

A cast well versed in comedy – with Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf and Patrick Warburton as the narrator, Lemony Snicket – leaves you questioning if you should laugh, take them seriously, or laugh because you can’t take them seriously.

Malina Weissman plays the role of Violet Baudelaire, and Louis Hynes plays the role of Klaus Baudelaire. Too often, child actors come off distant and awkward like Lily on “Modern Family,” but Wessman and Hynes were as authentic as the characters in the book, and they are as genuine as any adult actor would be.

All eight episodes are filled with nuggets of humor that give the depressing plot more liveliness. For instance, whilst trying to get out of going to the movie theatre with the kids in the third episode, Count Olaf looks the camera in the eye and practically subtweets Netflix. He explains, “In all honesty, I prefer long-form television to the movies. It’s so much more convenient to consume entertainment from the comfort of your own home.” I woke up the whole house laughing out loud.

The subtle humor is full of more aha-moments, without forced, laugh-track humor like in an episode of “Friends.” Netflix took the plot of children’s books and elevated it to become much more sophisticated. It’s perfect timing, because the books came out in 2001, so their readers are all grown up.

The show’s only downfall was that it was tough to delve into at first. Many aspects of the plot were just a little too unfortunate. I found that when Mr. Poe, the banker who oversees the Baudelaires after their parents death, couldn’t recognize Count Olaf through a single one of his cheap disguises, I just wanted to punch a hole through the screen of my laptop while binge watching at three in the morning. But if you stick out the slow start, it becomes worthwhile.

“A Series of Unfortunate Events” is meant to take place in a somewhat ‘timeless’ setting, with most scenery and costumes aligned with the 1930’s, but small anecdotes help modernize the series – just like Count Olaf’s Netflix subtweet. The sets are so intricate and whimsical, it perfectly represents the magical timelessness that the books embody. The attention to detail is commendable, and the cartoonish look of the houses and buildings is just what a child would imagine while reading the books.

Those little moments that tie the plot into modern day and the whimsical, detailed scenery  makes the children’s book plot into something both teenagers and adults can enjoy.

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