A Very Fastidious Dedication: Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

 

Promotional poster for the first season of Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

Allison Rosaci, Literary Events Coordinator

I’m not ashamed to admit how obsessed I was with Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events as a child. My ultimate goal, between finishing up whatever assignments I got in middle school and spending time with friends was to read the series 13 times – once for every book in the series. While I was able to complete that goal, I am saddened to say that, all these years later, I’ve forgotten so many of the little details in the plot that had enamored me so much in my middle school years. Of course, the important details of Snicket’s narrations stuck, like the inclusion of the phrase “a word which here means…” and all of his meta calls to the reader to please stop reading, but so many other important plot points have been lost to the sands of time. As a senior in college, I’m sorry to say I don’t have enough time to really do all the reading  I would like – especially not with the possibility of graduate school and an undergraduate thesis looming before me – so I’ve had to find another way to get my fix of the macabre world of the Baudelaire orphans.

“Netflix has been able to sate my desire to read the series while only having enough time for watching a few episodes each week.”

Like any other book lover, I, too, have had many doubts regarding page-to-screen adaptations of my favorite novels, especially those made into movies. We all, sadly, remember what happened to childhood favorites like Percy Jackson and the Olympians and the movie adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender. That’s partially why I resisted watching the Netflix adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events  the first season of which was released in 2017, for so long – especially after seeing the 2004 movie of the same series (spoiler alert: it wasn’t great). However, Netflix has been able to sate my desire to read the series while only having enough time for watching a few episodes each week.

 

From Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

While I haven’t finished the Netflix version yet – as of now I’m still on the second episode of The Slippery Slope in season 3- I can say that the series, up to that point, has stayed true to the most important details – a phrase which here means the parts that I remember on my own or can only recall when skimming the Lemony Snicket wiki. The most entertaining detail, for me, was the inclusion of the narrator himself, as portrayed by Patrick Warburton, which allows for so many of the jokes from the novels to be brought into the television adaptation – such as Snicket’s asides on what certain phrases mean and constant calls to the viewer to please, please stop watching.

“…please, please stop watching.”

Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf

Speaking of looking away, my biggest critique of the adaptation is that, I feel, that the series is so much more macabre and dark than the Netflix adaptation makes it out to be. However – that could be due to time dulling my understanding of the series, or this is because of the casting of Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf (an excellent choice!) where many of the important, terrifying moments become a bit of a laugh. My biggest complaint, though, is the distinct lack of Stephin Merritt within the series. I grew up on his song adaptations, compiled in The Tragic Treasury by the Gothic Archies, and was disappointed to not hear his low, crooning voice in the opening.

Album art from The Tragic Treasury by the Gothic Archies was designed in the style of covers from the book series 

However, more important than my love for The Magnetic Fields (one of my favorite bands that I discovered after listening to The Tragic Treasury), is the fact that Daniel Handler (AKA Lemony Snicket himself) worked on the show. Oftentimes that can be the breaking point for so many adaptations – authors, despite their commitment to the authentic portrayal of their work, are often ignored. Yet, Handler was able to create new subplots unique to the Netflix series – ones that draw upon the extraneous books in the series, such as Lemony Snicket’s Unauthorized Autobiography. There are other sweet moments and new relationships included in the television series, such as the relationship between the Hook-Handed Man and Sunny Baudelaire – which is as heartwarming as it is hilarious. With the adaptation there is so much more room for the visual gags that Handler must have had in mind while writing, and watching the series come to life has been a great joy for me.

Overall, despite the fact that I haven’t finished the series, I would strongly recommend any other fans of A Series of Unfortunate Events give the series a try – and maybe even read the books again afterwards.


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