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2016 was a blinding year for original programming on Netflix, with shows like The Crown and Stranger Things, Netflix crafted diverse, unique and outstanding TV. With the new year comes more, but for the first time Netflix have aimed to create a family friendly, fun and large budget series. Beyond this, Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events is based on the hugely successful book series, a book series whose previous forays onto screen ended after just one film. The show therefore had the arduous task of pleasing old fans and enticing new fans all while providing enough fun and entertainment, that all aged eight to eighty may enjoy. Anticipation therefore was high, and with big names like Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton and Joan Cusack on board the pressure was on for Netflix to deliver yet another fantastic piece of television.

“it is a classic melodrama; with villainous villains, brave heroes, and more than a little tragedy”

The story follows the fantastic Baudelaire children whose parents have just perished in an unexplained fire. They are placed into the care of Count Olaf, a sub standard actor and an archetypal villain. It becomes immediately apparent that Count Olaf is only after one thing; the children’s “enormous fortune”. Olaf then proceeds to think of many a dastardly plan to gain access to said fortune. The children are assisted by an array of largely useless and unhelpful adults, many of whom refuse to accept what Count Olaf is up to. As the story progresses we witness the children suffer many tragedies, all at the hands of Count Olaf. The Baudelaires try their best to evade Olaf and his band of actors, and also discover the truth about their parents death and the mysterious society of which they appeared to be members. The show is narrated by a dead pan Lemony Snicket who constantly reminds us that no good will ever come to the children, and that the audience should look elsewhere for fun television. All in all it is a classic melodrama; with villainous villains, brave heroes and more than a little tragedy.

“the element of the show that I found most impressive was the casting and performances of almost all of the characters”

The largest potential trip for any adaptation is the fact that large percentages of any viewing audience know what they want from the show or film. From the moment you start reading a book you have an idea of what characters should look and sound like, even streets and buildings paint themselves into your brains. This issue is particularly potent when considering this series; the books are, to many people my age, classics. Classics that I for one can vividly remember reading as a child. The 2004 film adaptation also throws possible problems at the show, as although it wasn’t well received it did provide a few great acting performances. Jim Carey and Billy Connolly particularly stand out in my memory, they both portrayed their characters with such brilliance that it is hard to imagine anyone else in their roles. This makes it all the more surprising that the element of the show that I found most impressive was the casting and performances of almost all of the characters. Aasif Mandvi plays Uncle Monty so brilliantly it’s easy to start feeling genuine affection for the character. The opposite is true of K. Todd Freeman whose performance as Mr. Poe is so well executed that I felt genuinely annoyed at him for large parts of the show. Beyond the individual performances it’s clear to see that the cast complement each other very well.  Malina Wiessman and Louis Hynes’ chemistry as Violet and Klaus is particularly impressive considering the age of the actors. Beyond this, Neil Patrick Harris’ Count Olaf is just as memorable as Jim Carey’s and Neil provides a different interpretation of the character, bringing his own eccentricities into the role.

 

Neil Patrick Harris shines as the dastardly Count Olaf

Something that is perhaps a marmite element of A Series Of Unfortunate Events is the intense focus on style. From the complete lack of a fourth wall to the Wes Anderson-esque production, this show is anything but normal. One stylistic decision I found particular joy in was the fact that the show was so unbelievably self aware. Certain scenes seem intentionally bad or ridiculous, for instance when Count Olaf proclaims in song that the N in his name stands for “nowledge” due to his high intelligence. Although many people I’ve spoken to find the slightly ridiculous nature of the show less than appealing, to me it seems wonderfully odd and largely unique. The complete impossibility of the story and preposterously dead pan interactions between characters help create a surreal atmosphere. This atmosphere is often punctuated with fourth wall breaks. For example, time is often described using terms like “series” rather than weeks or months. The show is also beautifully shot, all the settings and costumes are incredibly stylised, these styles are very comparable to those of Wes Anderson. All these elements create a fun and incredibly off the wall feeling, which I love. It must be said however that if weirdness is not for you, then you might hate this show. The people I know who have watched it either finished all 8 episodes in about 2 days or gave up half way into the first.

“netflix must be proud of their first big jump into a high budget family show”

The show is fun and unique. Netflix must be proud of their first big jump into a high budget family show and excited by future possibilities created by its success. Despite Patrick Warburton constantly reminding us that the show will not be worth watching as it is far far too depressing, the show is actually brilliantly entertaining and wonderfully ridiculous. I would recommend this show to anyone willing to listen, so long as they don’t have any deadlines approaching because this show has the ability to take over your life for a few days.

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