The beginning of the end is approaching. Netflix has regrettably confirmed that season three of A Series of Unfortunate Events will be its last, and will air in January 2019. So far, the show has been an emotional roller-coaster ride and our time with the Baudelaire orphans has been a miserable one. The orphans are now on the run, and Count Olaf is still hot on their trail.
But is the series full of mysteries and contradictions like Snicket’s books? Does it display Snicket’s gallows humour successfully? Let us dive into the depths of despair and find out.
The first season covers the story-lines from The Bad Beginning (Book 1) to The Miserable Mill (Book 4). The Baudelaires, Violet (Malina Weissman), Klaus (Louis Hynes) and Sunny (Presley Smith), live a happy, normal life with their rich parents. However, their world is turned upside down when the Baudelaire mansion mysteriously burns down, killing their parents and making them orphans. To make matters worse, the hate sink of the series, Mr Poe (K. Todd Freeman), comes along and sends them to their new guardian, Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris).
After the Baudelaires step into Olaf’s home, he sings a musical number about how he intends to steal the Baudelaire fortune. The orphans become slaves and do complicated errands for Olaf’s amusement. His first plan revolves around marrying fourteen-year old Violet (yikes!) in the Marvellous Marriage, so he can take the fortune when she is of age. Throughout the show, the Baudelaire’s rely on their wits to foil Olaf, since the adults in this world are not up to the job.
The storyline is well adapted. More screen time is placed on characters who were briefly mentioned in the book. Poe’s secretary’s arc is cleverly merged into the main plot; it ties up loose ends about the mysterious organisation, ‘V. F. D.’ nicely. Mr Poe’s wife has her own plot, despite not being present in the books. She outstays her welcome as the interrogative journalist caricature, who falls for Olaf’s flirting. But the story changes during the Miserable Mill plot. Instead of Mr Poe sending them to Lucky Smells Lumbermill, the Baudelaires voluntarily decide to go there to investigate V. F. D. An interesting change, since it shows their newfound distrust of Mr Poe.
Patrick Warburton’s performance as the dry and cynical Lemony Snicket is excellent. His narrative intrusions are entertaining, especially when explaining key phrases. The dramatic irony explanation in the Reptile Room episodes is clever, linking effectively to the murder plot in episode four. Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf is wicked, a delight to watch. Harris can be comedic and threatening, which takes a lot of versatility from an actor. He displays this perfectly through his disguises, especially as the secretary, Shirley. The ‘Yessica Haircut’ scene is comedy gold.
The rest of the supporting cast are gems too. Catherine O’Hara (who played Justice Strauss in the film adaptation) returns, only this time playing the villainous doctor, Georgina Orwell, in episodes seven and eight. However, the child actors’ performances as the older Baudelaire siblings were very wooden at times. The CGI baby had more acting chops than Weissman and Hynes combined; and all she did was babble at the camera!
Bo Welch’s whimsical set design breathes life into its absurd world. From its ‘50s aesthetic to its pop culture references, the visuals convey a timeless feel. His work is prolific, having collaborated with Tim Burton on many of his projects; he even sneakily references his past work throughout the show. Olaf’s house alludes to the inventor’s Gothic castle in Edward Scissorhands. The show’s tone is conveyed through James Newton Howard’s soundtrack. Soft piano music is played during poignant moments. AT other times, Olaf’s goons play the soundtrack (usually in Olaf’s songs), a clever meta-joke that adds to the show’s postmodern style.
Overall, this show is intriguing, mysterious and (naturally) unfortunate. Although the acting is awkward at times, the actors convey the nonchalant tone in a darkly humorous way. Its setting captures the books’ vintage aesthetic and alternate history fantastically, and the Baudelaires’ story is intriguing enough to leave you craving for more. So far, Netflix is doing an excellent job.