A Series of Unfortunate Events hits Netflix

Katie Cavender, co-editor-in-chief

We’ve all had a day where it feels like nothing was going right. Maybe you forgot to write a works cited page for your essay, then tripped over your shoelaces and face-planted in the hallway, then got back a failing test grade, all in a span of a few hours. The frustration and embarrassment felt unbearable, and you thought you would never recover.

Now, let’s take that to the next level: imagine your parents died in a fire that destroyed your family home, your new guardian would stop at nothing to get his hands on your family fortune and the only man with the power to stop him was too incompetent to understand what was actually going on.

All of this occurs within the first two episodes of the new Netflix series, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. The series follows three children, the Baudelaires, for whom misfortune and turmoil is always inevitable. While I have not read the books the series is based on, the January re-vamp was a welcomed revisitation of the story I had enjoyed while watching the 2004 movie interpretation.

Something refreshing about A Series of Unfortunate Events is its dedication to the notion that the story is not, and will never be, happily resolved. The narrator, Lemony Snicket, reminds the audience at several moments during each episode that they are only watching to see the lives of three kids turn out miserably.

While some would find this off-putting, I found the warning to be enticing. And despite being told over and over that there will never be a happy ending, there are several points in the story where the viewer can be easily led into believing that a cheerful resolution is right around the corner. The fact that it never actually is, though, is more satisfying than if it were.

The main villain, Count Olaf, portrayed by Neil Patrick Harris, is sinister, yet almost humorous because of his ability to take an overly confident and easily see-through plot and nearly succeed. His outrageous disguises and his ragtag team of accomplices are too ridiculous to get him anywhere in the real world, but with the unfortunate combination of variables facing the Baudelaires, he manages to chase them from one guardian to the next, narrowly escaping capture each time.

Harris portrays the character perfectly; his intimidating sneers and evil laughs are perfectly timed so that the audience fears Olaf as much as the Baudelaires do. He even manages to incorporate his love of musical theater into the show with an ominous-yet-catchy theme song, a musical number to introduce his character and a musical number to conclude the story of the first season. While the latter seemed oddly placed to me, it was effective in continuing the dark, dismal tone of the story.

I am optimistic for the next season–well, as optimistic as I can be for a show with no happy ending. The Baudelaires have an extremely uncertain future, one that is sure to include Count Olaf, and it will be interesting to see the rest of the story told in a TV show format. If the show sticks to its current themes and strategies to engage viewers, it will not disappoint those who have read the books nor those who are new to the story.