Before we begin, I feel you should be informed that the subject of this review is not a pleasant one. In fact, it is so unpleasant, so needlessly cruel and so depressing, that I would honestly advise that you stop reading immediately. You have no obligation to continue. Close the tab and do something more entertaining or uplifting like watch a funny cat video or start reading a fan-fiction where nothing bad happens and everyone gets to live happily ever after. For there are no happy endings, or happy beginnings, or even happy middles in today’s subject.
A Series of Unfortunate Events is a TV show distributed on the streaming service Netflix. It is based on the book series of the same name, which was written by Daniel Handler, who goes by the pseudonym Lemony Snicket (a pseudonym being a name a person or group assumes for a particular purpose and which differs from their original name. For instance, I use the name Brawler1993 on various social medias when, in actuality, Brawler1993 is not the name I was assigned at birth).
The show follows the lives of the Baudelaire children – Violet, Klaus and Sunny – following their parents death due to a sudden house fire. They are immediately placed into the care of Count Olaf, an actor who seeks to take the Baudelaire fortune for himself. Together, the three must escape and elude the villainous Olaf and uncover the truth behind their parents’ death.
Now you may think this sounds like an entertaining premise; after all, countless media have starred young children who go on fantastical adventures (which are bizarrely portrayed as being positive despite the rampant dangers said young children face). But I must ask you this – what is there to enjoy about watching three young orphans being chased by a villainous man who wishes to do them harm, whilst being constantly beset by the titular unfortunate events? No decent human being would find such a thing fun to watch in real life (unless they had a particular hatred for young children or lacking in any moral fibre – moral fibre referring to a person’s character and not the fibres from, say, a hideous and itchy jumper that your grandmother knitted for you). As such, there is no joy to be found in watching this show.
For eight episodes, you are forced to witness these children undergo numerous hardships. There are occasional moments of respite (respite being a brief moment of rest from something difficult and/or unpleasant) but they’re usually almost immediately shot down by cruel twists of fate. A world where misfortune occurs at every conceivable opportunity is not only hard to stomach but also incredibly unrealistic, not helped by the quite frankly bizarre visual design of the world itself.
The technology and clothing are clearly remnants of the past, yet characters will offhandedly reference the likes of the Internet and Uber, creating a confusing disconnect and making it very unclear as to what time period it’s supposed to be set in. One could argue that this is deliberately done to create a timeless feel; a means of leaving it open to the audience’s imagination and ensuring the show never feels dated. It’s ambiguous, leaving it open to its own rules. However, said rules mean that this world that the Baudelaires are forced to inhabit is a nonsensical one. Any world where an acting troupe can successfully dupe law enforcement despite being poor actors is not a world anyone should live in.
You would think that responsible adults would step in to help keep the Baudelaires safe but, unfortunately, nearly every adult in this series is grossly incompetent. The banker Mr. Poe, for instance, is constantly leaving the children in dire situations, is repeatedly fooled by Olaf’s awful disguises and never believes anything the children tell him. And even the adults who do try to help are quickly disposed of so as to continue the Baudelaires’ suffering. What sort of message does this teach young viewers? That the supposedly trustworthy adults that are meant to look after and guide them are, in fact, dim-witted, self-absorbed and just all-around unhelpful.
If I had to compliment one thing, it would be the acting. Malina Weissman as Violet and Louis Fynes as Klaus perfectly capture the multiple emotions their characters feel throughout the series, which is mostly depression, frustration and uncertainty. This only makes it more difficult and uneasy to watch. The same applies to Neil Patrick Harris as Olaf, whose performance could be called darkly humorous if it wasn’t for the fact that we’re watching a good actor playing a bad actor who keeps getting away with his wicked schemes.
There’s also an attempt to expand on the source material, with a few additional characters and further insights into certain aspects of the world. If one were a fan of the original books (which I find hard to believe), they might appreciate the effort, believing that it breaths new life into the series and helps it forge its own identity yet still manage to share the same tone and style. The added material isn’t intrusive; it enhances what worked in the books, they might say. But this doesn’t change the fact that the story is still a miserable one. If anything, the extra material only further exemplifies the suffering of the Baudelaires. It’s like placing several layers of expired, rotting ham on top of a small but relatively well-made and delicious cake – it’s unnecessary, repulsive, unbeneficial, ruins everyone’s day and, by the end of it, no one is eating cake.
To the show’s credit, at least it is aware of how unwatchable it is. Snicket himself is a character within the show, who regularly warns the viewer of how tragic upcoming events are and suggests that they stop watching. Having to document such horrid events is a thankless task and I at least commend everyone involved with undertaking and enduring all of it. If only they were able to prevent it from ever being created in the first place.
In case you’ve managed to make it this far without being turned away in repulsion, I feel I must spell out the obvious – do not watch this show. Regardless of intent, it attempts to turn the traumatic experiences of three innocent children into entertainment. It’s already confirmed to have two more seasons and while I cannot stop it from being made, I have made it my solemn duty to prevent anyone from witnessing it.
So I implore you, after you finish reading this, do anything but go watch it. Take part in a poorly written stage-play, travel to Peru to study reptiles or even go to work for a lumber mill and be paid in gum. Anything would be more enjoyable than subjecting yourself to, well, a series of unfortunate events.