When Netflix announced that it was launching a TV series adaptation of the books, I wasn't sure what to expect. Did we really need another adaptation as the movie as the movie did pretty well (although it never went anywhere after that)? Was Neil Patrick Harris just going to be all Jim Carey style Count Olaf again?
Thankfully, the final result was something else entirely that made the most of Neil Patrick Harris's diversity and also managed to present to us already familiar stories in a very new way. It just goes to show that an adaptation does need to be absolutely faithful to the source material in order to be effective.
Synopsis: Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events is a US television series developed by Mark Hudis and Barry Sonnenfeld as based on the series of children's books by the titular Lemony Snicket. The first season consists of 8 half-hour episodes covering the first four books in the series.
As in the books and the movie adaptation before it, the story begins with meeting the three Baudelaire children: Violet (Malina Weissman), Klaus (Louis Hynes) and Sunny (Presley Smith). Each is quirky with their own unique areas of specialization (like how well Sunny can bite things) and the three get along just fine. But things take the first of many tragic turns when their parents are killed in a fire that also destroys their family home.
Now orphans, the three children are then endorsed to their "closest" living relative, who turns out to be an actor that calls himself Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris). It is immediately clear to the children that Count Olaf is only interested in the fortunes they are expected to inherit when they come of age and soon Count Olaf is trying scheme after scheme in order to get his hands on their fortune. His first scheme is thwarted, sending the children to the care of another relative and this cycle goes on as Olaf continues to manipulate things to get his way.
What I Loved: Neil Patrick Harris clearly learned something valuable during his time on Broadway for shows like Hedwig and the Angry Inch as he is phenomenal in this series. Count Olaf is a "master" of disguise after all and each episode before the first arc has him dressing up as this or that character trying to weasel his way into the lives of the Baudelaire children as he continues to try to get his money. His acting troupe feels like something out of Batman Returns or something but maybe wit a dash of more color.
Then beyond the core story, they Netflix edition has tacked on a fascinating meta-plot narrative that involves more of the secret society that is teased as early as the first book but never really gains sufficient substance until the end. In the show they bring this narrative forward and depict more and more of the efforts to help the children but secretly so from a distance. Add in other parallel events and things can be quite exciting.
What Could Have Been Better: It's hard to criticize the series from the perspective of someone who enjoyed the movie. Yes, I absolutely loved things like Meryl Streep as Aunt Josephine and I wish that the Netflix depiction of the Wide Window followed that narrative a bit more closely. But then again I also respect their efforts to distance themselves from the movie and try to do things differently this time around.
On an intellectual level I recognize this struggle but on a personal level I still wish certain parts of the story were closer to the books or to the movie at times. Such is the challenge of a new adaptation of anything. It's easy to setup fans or moments of disappointment even though the succeeding work is totally justified in trying to stand on its own merits.
Oh, and as much as I love Patrick Warburton's voice work including that of Brock Samson on The Venture Bros., hearing him as the narrator Lemony Snicket is oddly distracting. I keep hearing Brock.
TL;DR: Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix may not involve wall-to-wall moments of Neil Patrick Harris singing, the series as a whole remains quite entertaining. They put an effort to diversify things to make the show more interesting and this may or may not be to your liking. Thus the show gets 4.5 crazy Count Olaf characters out of a possible 5.