A Series of Unfortunate Events 😧 TV Show Review



Written by Thelonia


The books in A Series of Unfortunate Events were published from 1999 to 2006, from when I was 4 to when I was 13. I remember devouring them as they came out, hoping against hope that things would go well for the Baudelaires, perhaps, one day.

That day is not today.

Nor should it be. In a year that promises to be just as batshit crazy (if not more) than the last (which remains high on the “what the hell just happened scale), A Series of Unfortunate Events manages to make things seem slightly less hellish. Because hey, you could be the Baudelaires.

Netflix picked up the series, which has just released its first season. Based on the first four novels, the eight episodes track the newly-orphaned Baudelaire siblings (there’s Violet, who invents, Klaus, who reads, and Sunny who bites) as they go through guardian after guardian, no thanks to con-man and abominable actor, Count Olaf.


Neil Patrick Harris plays Count Olaf, but even though he spends about ¾ of the show in wild disguises, it is very hard to ignore that the man haunting these tiny baby children is in fact, Neil Patrick Harris. This makes him a bit of a weak link in an otherwise ironclad cast, but depending on your preference, you may cope more or less with his presence – and his frequent singing, which I am beginning to think, may be a clause in every contract he signs. His performance is also helped by the fact that his hench-people are all heaps of fun to watch, which acts as somewhat of a consolation prize for Count Olaf appearing on-screen.


K. Todd Freeman is excellent as Mr. Poe, the bank manager whose recklessness and ignorance constantly puts the Baudelaire orphans in semi-constant mortal danger. His presence as a complete blank slate when it comes to the children is one that is becoming all too familiar, but with great comedic moments (like his wonderful panic-stricken rambling when he discovers Sunny in the embrace of the Incredibly Deadly Viper.

Lemony Snicket, the narrator of the books, played here by Patrick Warburton, is an excellent translation for the book’s narration, in that it is not translated at all. Warburton as Snicket directly addresses the audience and frames events exactly as he does in the books, helped by nifty editing and montages. Rather than the movie’s British voiceover (sometimes accompanied by a shadowy figure writing on a typewriter), Warburton confronts the camera head on, becoming a truly omniscient and drier presence, making the series feel much more like the book series than seems should be possible.

Not to mention the children, who remind you that watching children in movies doesn’t have to be a painful experiment in sadomasochism. Malina Weissman, who plays Violet, the eldest Baudelaire, projects kindness and oldest-sibling responsibility, while still being seeming like a real child, which makes the episode in which Olaf attempts to marry her a real case of yelling “STEP AWAY FROM THE GIRL” at the TV.

Also she is a #styleicon.
Louis Hynes, who plays Klaus, manages to avoid the true pitfall of ‘annoying younger brother’ while still acting on occasion like the child he is (albeit a well-read one – why was he the one I related to the most as a kid?).

Sunny, played (mostly) by Presley Smith (and voiced by Tara Strong) is impressive as so far as baby-acting goes. I am not 100% sure where the CGI ends and begins, but it’s only really noticeable in parts. Mostly, she goes on the cute side of uncanny, and the use of subtitles goes a long way to make her truly like her book counterpart.

We must all remember, it could have been much, much worse.
The adaptation offers a few surprises, most notably the use of the omniscient narrator to show the audience what it us took books of the Baudelaires’ snooping to discover. The mysterious spy characters have goals we do not know and connections we haven’t learned yet, but it all seems to come back to the Baudelaire children, and we are aware of their existence much earlier than we were reading the books, which ups the stakes earlier.

The other surprise, and one which seems vastly out of touch with the rest of the series’ tone, is the presence (from the very end of The Bad Beginning) of the characters “Mother” and “Father,” (played by Will Arnett and Cobie Smulders), whom we check in with every few episodes as they make their way back to the ‘children.’ Their role makes sense and is in a way true to novels, but one needs to make it to the last episode for any sort of secrets to be revealed there.

What really shines, at least to me, is the production. From sets (I want very badly to live in The Reptile Room’s Snake House) to costumes, to editing, the world of Unfortunate Events is a wholly realized one, albeit a morbidly depressing one.


The show is solid, but I’m not sure how re-watchable it is. Much like its book counterparts, it’s a bit of a slog, but an infuriatingly well-crafted one. As the series becomes more and more embroiled in a conspiracy and the V.F.D., things should pick up. And also, get way sadder.

It is entirely, after all, Unfortunate.


A Series of Unfortunate Events is currently streaming on Netflix.

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