Maybe you read A Series of Unfortunate Events when you were younger, or maybe you saw the 2004 movie adaption starring Jim Carrey. Maybe you even played the video game. If any of these were the case, you may have gotten a little nostalgic, when you heard of the new Netflix television series. There is also a chance that you, like me, hadn’t heard of the book (or the movie or the video game) before Netflix decided to pick it up. Of course, a “Netflix original” acquires extra attention by virtue of its own label.
After hit shows like House of Cards and Stranger Things, Netflix is A Big Deal; and when the show in question features Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother) in the main role, well, it starts to be hard to ignore. Therefore, I sat down and reviewed the first three episodes of the show, and found five reasons the show is not worth your precious hours of procrastination.
Reason Number 1 – They Tell You Not To
If this doesn’t tell you what sort of show this is, I don’t know what does. In the very first scene, a man called Lemony Snicket tells us exactly why not to waste our time on this miserable story, advising all viewers to “turn away immediately and watch something more pleasant”. This is not the last time Snicket will interrupt the story to ensure us of its misery, and not only does this get rather repetitive after a while, but why waste your time on a story that does not, apparently, even have confidence in itself? After all, the people who made the show are the ones who knows what it’s about, so they should be the experts.
The opening sequence with Lemony Snicket standing in a sewer with a lit matchstick, looking directly at the camera, is very atmospheric, echoing a similar technique used in another Netflix hit show, House of Cards. Although Patrick Warburton (who you may know from a list of voice acting roles, such as Joe Swanson in Family Guy, and roles in Scooby-Doo and Kim Possible) who plays Lemony Snicket is not as threatening in this role, nor has the same charisma as Frank Underwood, the scene nevertheless has perhaps one of the best uses of Fourth Wall breaking I have ever seen in a TV show. But other than that, don’t watch it. They tell you not to!
Reason Number 2 – REPETITION, REPETITION.
If there’s one thing you’ll get tired of very, very quickly it is the constant, constant repetitions. As mentioned, Lemony Snicket repeatedly pops up to remind us of how miserable this tale of the Baudelaire children is, which does get annoying, very annoying, after a while. But other than that, there is also the constant “that means this” jokes. What am I talking about? Every now and then an older character will use a more complicated word, such as ‘standoffish’, and will explain what it means. The Baudelaire children will almost always respond with some version of “WE KNOW” (as will you understand after the first two times), and it just gets rather tiring, very tiring indeed, after a while.
Furthermore, the title says it all: A Series of Unfortunate Events. Knowing this was based on a book series, I was afraid it was going to be a very slow ride, with some sort of unfortunate event happening in every episode (which is the case), but luckily it is not as slowly paced as I feared. The first season covers the first four books (out of a total of 13), and so every episode is half a book, rather than half a chapter. Still, after the third episode you will probably still sit with the feeling that this show is just a couple of children being very unlucky with everything that happens around them – but hey, you did get a warning.
Reason Number 3 – Obvious Plot is Obvious
Another problem is the show’s glaringly obvious plot. Nobody (except the children) seems to recognise Neil Patrick Harris’s character, as long as he either puts on a hat or calls himself Stephano, and from the very start every one of Count Olaf’s plans seems so obvious you wonder if it can even be called a plot at all. Unfortunately for the Baudelaires, none of the adults see past his disguises, and even the children are a little slow at times. It is so obvious that at one point a journalist even asks Count Olaf how he responds to accusations that his activities are “nothing more than an evil plot?”.
Despite these see-through plots and characters that seemingly have the brain activity of a five-year-old, the story actually manages to stay interesting and compelling. I was not bored at any point, while watching the episodes, maybe because the characters are so unintelligent that at least you get to feel clever, no matter how low your own IQ is. So, when Mr Poe says he had his doubts about Count Olaf caring for the Baudelaire children, but now that “he’s putting three young children in the theatre all my doubts are put to rest”, well…
Reason Number 4 – Lack of Theatrical Talent
Most child actors are criticised for being horribly untalented. This is not the case here; Malina Weissman seems very convincing as Violet Baudelaire, as is Louis Hynes as Klaus. As mentioned before, Patrick Warburton does a decent job as well, but the same cannot be said for Neil Patrick Harris and his theatre troop. Not only must we listen to Harris’s awful attempt at singing (just listen to the theme song), we also have to watch him and his theatre troop. Even Justice Strauss gives awful performances, so bad that they can’t even seem to remember her lines properly…
Okay, so maybe it is the characters who cannot act, and not the actors themselves; everyone is actually pretty good at pretending to be awful at acting, especially Harris who is hilariously amazing in his role as the incompetent Count Olaf, and that is really all you need to know.
Reason Number 5 – If You Don’t Like It, Don’t Try It
Finally, you shouldn’t watch A Series of Unfortunate Events if you don’t know what kind of show to expect. More precisely, if you don’t like surrealistic, and just plain weird shows, then you should not watch this, and instead just go back to watching The Big Bang Theory or Friends or whatever other show you are currently watching.
Because this is the kind of show where an infant is smarter than most of the rest of the cast put together, and where said infant chews on a rock until it is suddenly shiny and flat and perfect for stone skipping. It is also the show where you will see Neil Patrick Harris in a wedding dress and where a pasta machine is used in a rather unusual way. If this is not your cup of tea, just look away now.
… And One Reason You Absolutely Should…
As you might have figured by now, if you’ve read this whole review through and not just skimmed your way to the end, in contrast to what the title of this review says, A Series of Unfortunate Events it is actually a pretty good show. It is entertaining, and will most likely make you laugh, but that is not the main reason that you should watch it. Instead, you should watch it because it is stunningly poetic, while still managing to not be boring, or uninteresting. The show is incredibly meta: Lemony Snicket is not the only person to break the fourth wall. When you get to the scene where Harris stares directly into the camera; and talks about the wonders of streaming television online, you will see what I mean (and I am talking about the third episode, not the second here).
Furthermore, there are some beautifully poetic scenes and quotes, such as when Snicket tells us that the “right idea can shed light on a depressing situation” (and it is not just good because that quote would look good on a t-shirt and reminds you of the famous quote said by Dumbledore in Harry Potter, but because it is also directed very well). Give the show a try and by the end of the first three episodes, you might actually care about a certain picture of a piano hanging on the wall.