Netflix turns classic children’s books into mesmerizing series

From the outside, “A Series of Unfortunate Events” may seem like a grim and unforgiving Netflix series that annihilates any signs of happiness. The opening credits even beg the audience to “look away” in a tune sung by Neil Patrick Harris, who plays the infamous Count Olaf. But these first signs should not deter you from watching the fantastical adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Fans of the book series will certainly be pleased with the Netflix series. Contrary to the dull and underwhelming 2004 A Series of Unfortunate Events film, Netflix revamps the series and gives it the full adaptation it deserves.

Harris plays a comedic yet disturbing Count Olaf who will stop at nothing to gain the fortune of the Baudelaire orphans—three innocent and clever children who just lost their parents in a terrible fire—by using various disguises. The series is successful in translating the intellect Snicket gives to each of the children, making them daring and strategic no matter what sticky situation they find themselves in. 

Violet—played by Malina Weissman—is the inventive elder sister, whose mind works strategically and is always trying to think of new ways to solve the trio’s problems. Klaus—played by Louis Hynes—is the middle child who uses the extensive knowledge he gains from various books to help Violet save their lives and their fortune. 

Then there’s the sharp-toothed Sunny—played by youngster Presley Smith—who offers much-needed comic relief. Smith’s baby language is translated into well-executed and smart phrases that only Violet and Klaus can comprehend.

If the gloomy atmosphere isn’t enough to remind you of the orphans’ miseries, Lemony Snicket himself—played by Patrick Warburton—is there every step of the way to always remind you of the horrible suffering you are voluntarily watching. Warburton brilliantly plays a deadpan version of the narrator/author, dropping hints on the upcoming fate of the Baudelaire children; Warburton portrays the excellent wit that made the original series so likable—even by a much more mature audience.

In fact, Netflix seems to perfectly capture the attitude of Snicket’s books, beginning each book adaptation—The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, The Wide Window and The Miserable Mill for a total of eight episodes—with Snicket’s small message to his beloved and deceased Beatrice, which appears in each book. 

For someone unfamiliar with Snicket’s humor, it may be difficult to appreciate the show for its irony and satire. If you look below the surface, however, there are many details to pick up on. The children are much smarter than the adults, especially the banker Mr. Poe—played by K. Todd Freeman—who has an uncontrollable cough and brings the orphans from one guardian to the next. Despite the Baudelaire's constant warning to the adults around them that the sea captain or big-eyed scientist is in fact Count Olaf in disguise, they refuse to believe the siblings.

The melancholy tone of the series is also satirical. The Baudelaire’s constant stream of bad luck may seem repetitive, but it only works to emphasize the show’s ironic message that the world—especially today’s world—is a horrible and unforgiving place for children to grow up in. 

The one big flaw within the series is the somewhat flat and awkward portrayal of the Baudelaire orphans by the young actors. For such intellectual children, their intelligent dialogue and cunning wit does not seem to translate well across Weissman and Hyne’s portrayal of their characters. 

Despite the show’s encouragement to “look away,” Netflix’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” should be watched with full-attention and great delight both for its accurate representation of the original series and for its refreshing attitude.