Fans of the beloved children’s series “A Series of Unfortunate Events” have long-awaited a true to the tale adaptation. The 2004 film dismantled the story, and afterward, the corporate drama completely flopped. The unresolved cinematic experience left fans feeling incomplete and disappointed. A word which here means, sad or displeased, because the terrible film attempt failed to fulfill our hopes and expectations. The Netflix original, which concluded in January 2019, is the perfect on-screen adaptation we’ve been patiently waiting for the last 20 years.
“A Series of Unfortunate Events” is based on the 13 book series by Lemony Snicket about the Baudelaire children: Violet (Malina Weissman,) Klaus (Louis Hynes) and Sunny (Presley Smith). One dreary morning at the beach, the Baudelaire children learn their parents perished in a terrible fire. From then on, the three children move from guardian to guardian while constantly pursued by Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris), who is after their enormous fortune. The exceptionally clever children play to their strengths to outwit Olaf and slip from his clutches over and over again. The children are also haunted by the letters VFD, a secret organization everyone in their lives seems to be a part of.
Book to screen adaptations are hard to get right. There’s a subtle balance between accurately telling the story and creating an engaging interpretation. The audience is already deeply invested in the characters, so there’s a lot of pressure to be true to details. Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” is dark and absurdist. Every detail plays into the central theme and becomes important as the reader detangles the web of secrets spun by Snicket.
The Netflix series is exceptionally true to the Baudelaires’ story. At times it feels like Netflix simply plugged a projector directly into the books and played what was on the page. The addition of Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton) as an actual character, facing the camera, telling us this story perfectly captures his role as the narrator of the books. Instead of Snicket simply speaking over the story, we are instantly given the impression he too is a part of the Baudelaires’ lives.
Where the series succeeds best, however, are when the story expands beyond the main “A Series of Unfortunate Events” books. Lemony Snicket, which is a pen name for American author Daniel Handler, also wrote prequels and other works related to the Baudelaires’ story. Details from these other works help round out the story and fill any gaps left in the original book series. It’s an especially nice touch for viewers who adored the original series but felt too old to read the prequels by the time they came out. Those only acquainted with the original story will find answers to unresolved questions and even entirely new storylines. Kit Snicket’s (Allison Williams) quest for the sugar bowl and Jacques Snicket’s (Nathan Fillion) character both extend far beyond their appearances in main book series.
The story is told over three seasons, with two episodes devoted to each book. “The End” is the exception, with just a single episode. Episode length varies, with each taking the time it needs to tell the story properly. Streaming platforms give writers and directors newfound freedom. There are no ad breaks or time slots to work around. Stories don’t need to be cut short or drawn out beyond their means. Most episodes in “A Series of Unfortunate Events” are around 45 minutes, however, some are closer to 30 and others stretch beyond 60.
To Binge or Not to Binge
Even if just for nostalgia’s sake, “A Series of Unfortunate Events” is worthy of a binge. The show isn’t just great — it’s deeply satisfying and possibly the best book-to-screen adaptation out there. A streaming platform is exactly what the series needed to reach its full potential. Nothing feels like it’s missing or out of place. There’s all the absurdity, humor, wit, complexity and conspiracy Snicket packed in the books. The plot takes the time it needs to develop, so you never feel rushed or bored. Episodes flow into each other seamlessly, making it easy to get caught up and watch all three seasons in one go. At about 20 hours of content, it may take several days, but it’s definitely worth becoming a shut-in for the weekend.
“The Hostile Hospital,” episodes seven and eight in season two, are possibly the darkest and truest recreation of the book in the entire series. To be fair, “The Hostile Hospital” was my favorite book in the series, so I’m a tad biased. While the entire show is dark, “The Hostile Hospital” is the turning point. The Baudelaires are on their own for the first time and it’s not just dark, it’s pitch black. Even the color palette in these episodes shift towards a dark, dreary gray. The three children have to make impossible decisions and compromise their morals to stay alive. Sure, their lives were filled with kidnappings, poison, psychological torture and the threat of burning at the stake before the events in “The Hostile Hospital,” but the threat of violence in this story is an entirely new level.
If you’re interested in another spectacular series based on children’s literature, “Anne with an E” is a great choice. If you want something a little spooky, then “Goosebumps” is a fun watch, but you compromise on quality. If you’re looking for something with similar vibes but more adult, go for “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.” You can read a previous To Binge or Not to Binge about “Sabrina” here.
The show is heavy and deals with some intense and dark material, but overall there is nothing explicit.
Rating: 5 out of 5
“A Series of Unfortunate Events”
Available to stream on Netflix
25 episodes, 3 seasons