Review: A Series of Unfortunate Events Season 1

A Series of Unfortunate Events Season 1 Review

Contains Spoilers

Find my Non-Spoiler Episode Reviews HERE

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Source: The AV Club

Is Netflix able to successfully adapt Lemony Snicket’s acclaimed set of novels? How will the show separate itself from the film, and will it be a better adaptation? Will Daniel Handler, the author of the novels, fit his material to the TV format? Will new modern CGI and technology assist the material’s gothic, superficial tone?  Here’s my review of A Series of Unfortunate Events Season 1

Pros:

  • Neil Patrick Harris was able to sensationally capture Count Olaf’s zany, absurdism. His cartoonish style could be over-bearing, but it never felt drastically unrealistic.
  • Patrick Warburton absolutely owns the role of Lemony Snicket. His voicework/narration is striking, grasping the audience’s attention and often raising the tension, while he also was able to conjure up the character’s mystery.
  • The actors who played Count Olaf’s theatre group were also brilliant. Each perfectly excelled in portraying their character’s unique personality, but never came off as attempting to overwhelm the narrative or steal the spotlight from Olaf.
  • While at times I had problems with Mr Poe, K. Todd Freeman always gave a dedicated, hilarious performance, truly diving into the character’s theatrical incompetency that really emphasised these key themes. His comedic timing was superb as was his balance between seriousness and lack of care.
  • The guest performers all did well with the material they received and were well suited to their respective roles. My personal favourites were Joan Cusack, Aasif Mandvi, Patrick Breen and Rhys Darby. What made them stand out was that they didn’t let the absurdism and outrageousness of their roles overwhelm them. For a show partially about superficiality, these actors didn’t just give superficial performances.
  • The design of each story’s setting felt perfectly in align with the style and drama of the guest stars and their characters. This harmony meant that the tone at times felt more grounded in the internal world’s context and logic.
  • While it didn’t amount to much, Cobbie Smulder’s and Will Arnett’s storyline provided the show with some long-term focus and mystery. This especially helped as the show’s formulaic structure became tedious. The twist, with the characters not being the children’s parents, was also unpredictable.
  • At times the show took on a sort of fairytale approach, where the tales were simplistic and straight-forward, but there was a darker message behind the scenes. This reminded me of a lot of Grimm’s stories and though ASOUE never quite excelled in its complexity, there were a few thought-provoking moments of hidden depth.
  • A few episodes were able to put the show’s self-aware, quirky tone to good use, rather than it be forced in for comedy. When this dialogue was in sync with story and character it felt organic, rather than jarring and obvious.
  • The comedy did flourish at times, especially when the writers and directors recognised the show as a gag. It ran at times like a sketch show, which was fine when the creators realised this. It meant the actor’s performances, the situations and the dialogue had reasoning and vision, fitting the absurd material. This also led to a lot of great physical comedy.
  • It was interesting to look at the children’s arc over the course of the series. While they began quite capable, their behaviour became riskier and more dangerous as the show went on. If ASOUE had played this up and zoned in on its implications, an interesting discussion of the consequences of adult incompetency upon the children’s actions could have been delivered.
  • The cinematography often felt hampered by the show’s distinct aesthetic and tone, where sweeping shots and more grand imagery were forgotten in favour of more ‘artistic’, odd shots. However, when the cinematographer was given freedom, many of the shots were mesmorising and often capurted a certain peril that the writing couldn’t achieve.

Cons:

  • While Neil Patrick Harris was able to capture Count Olaf’s wild, loose, and opportunistic traits, he failed to make the character menacing or sinister. This was one of my major problems with the entire show as it never became tense or foreboding. The darker, more disturbing undertones of the books were never replicated and therefore Count Olaf become repetitive and never intriguing. This also was a reason that the show felt so formulaic. Instead of Olaf’s plans being deceptive and unpredictable, they only pandered to the theme of incompetency and therefore were never expressive or haunting. In my opinion, Jim Carrey encapsulated both sides of Olaf better than Harris was able to.
  • Following the adaptation of the book into the Jim Carrey film, I would have personally chosen child actors that looked signficantly different to those in the film and the books. Having them look similar meant comparisons were always going to be made, and the kids chosen for this show just didn’t have the acting ability of those in the film. It actually became quite sad, especially when the show had shots very similar to those in the original movie. These actors were just unable to deliver emotion, nuance and concern. There individual skills, such as Violet’s inventiveness, came off as cheesy and at times their readings lacked inspiration.
  • Though Patrick Warbuton was great as Lemony Snicket, the narration did become overused in some episodes, and this, in conjunction with some dialogue, meant that exposition often felt forced and bland.
  • I feel the show’s lack of emotion and heart was intentional. It attempted to try reflect the mentality and situation of the children, however, this meant it was also incredibly difficult to connect with the characters and their struggles. For most of the season, the children were not the focus, the guardians were and they received all the development. Because of this, I never really cared for the children or was concerned about the impact of all these struggles upon them.
  • The self-aware, referential writing often became cringeworthy and annoying. It felt as if it was added blatantly for laughs or to divert the focus away from an illogical plot development.
  • One of the aspects of the original film that really inspired me was its gothic undertones and aesthetic. This adapatation took a more modern, fantastical approach, but it never came close to representing the ideas and sinister concepts that the gothic design could. In some ways the show’s attempts at ‘artistry’ came across as too obvious.
  • A clear problem I had with ASOUE, and something that influenced many other issues, was its structure. While I believe it would have worked better if the episodes were shown weekly, instead as a show created for binge viewing, it simply became tedious and annoying. It wasn’t necessarily the thought of a new location, new guardian, new problem every second episode that became off-putting, but the actual structure within each two-parter. The show was predictable, and because you quickly learnt such a formula, the events within each ‘setting’ never had suspense or tension. In a sense, ASOUE felt mechanical and without a lot of inspiration.
  • This also meant that Mr Poe eventually just became frustrating. While his lack of ability was initially funny and clever, it began to become draining and slow down developments.
  • The larger mystery often felt like an after-thought or was only added in contrived, convenient places.
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