Review: 'A Series of Unfortunate Events' expertly contrasts dark themes with silly humor

“A Series of Unfortunate Events” follows the lives of the newly orphaned Baudelaire children, who bounce from home to home in what is quite literally a series of unfortunate events. Their first guardian, Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris), cares only about the Baudelaire’s massive inheritance, hatching schemes throughout the series in hopes of getting the money all for himself.  (Netflix/screenshot) 

Over the past year, Netflix has been releasing original content that has been meet with acclaim from critics and viewers alike. One of their latest releases, an adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” is no exception, as it expertly and faithfully adapts the novels to the small screen. “A Series of Unfortunate Events” follows the lives of the newly orphaned Baudelaire children, who bounce from home to home in what is quite literally a series of unfortunate events. Their first guardian, Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris), cares only about the Baudelaire’s massive inheritance, hatching schemes throughout the series in hopes of getting the money all for himself.

Season one of “A Series of Unfortunate Events” recounts the first four novels in Lemony Snicket’s 13 part series. Each book is told over the span of two episodes, which gives the plot more than enough time to fully develop without feeling too slow.  The style of each episode is reminiscent of a mix between Tim Burton and Wes Anderson, as the show features dark, dreary grays in one scene, and bright, whimsical colors and visuals immediately after. As far as tone, “A Series of Unfortunate Events” is dark, especially for a show marketed towards children. The show is cut with a lot of silly humor to help break up the dark nature of each episode, but this insertion of childish humor fortunately does not make the show too “campy.”

“A Series of Unfortunate Events” is fairly formulaic in nature; the Baudelaires go to a new home, Count Olaf appears in an obvious disguise, the adults don’t believe the Baudelaire orphans that said person is actually Count Olaf, Count Olaf hatches a plan and the Baudelaires barely escape his clutches. Although repetitive, this formula works brilliantly as viewers are intrigued to see where Count Olaf’s latest crazy scheme takes the Baudelaire orphans. Under the main plot of each episode are references to the secret organization that the Baudelaire’s parents had belonged to, which helps add suspense and variety to the show.

In terms of performances, Patrick Warburton’s rendition of narrator Lemony Snicket stands out as quite possibly the best performance on the show. Warburton’s deadpan delivery of the shows dark events and dry humor help develop the events of each episode as he provides exposition in a manner that is actually enjoyable. Neil Patrick Harris also has a notable performance as the villain Count Olaf. Harris’ occasional overacting works well for his larger than life character, who is canonically a bad actor. In terms of the Baudelaire orphan’s themselves, Louis Hynes (Klaus) and Malina Weissman (Violet) put on performances that were not outside the realm of what one would expect from child actors. There were some times throughout the series, however, where the viewer might have some trouble differentiating between intentional deadpan delivery and bad acting.

Netflix’s rendition of “A Series of Unfortunate Events” far surpassed the 2004 movie of the same name, expertly mixing a dark plot with silly humor. If the viewer is willing to keep in mind that this show is based off a children’s book series and accept some of the “silliness” that comes along with that, it is very likely that they will find watching “A Series of Unfortunate Events” a highly enjoyable experience. Whether or not you read the books growing up, Netflix’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” is definitely worth the watch for anyone who is looking for high quality streamable content.


Lauren Brown is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at lauren.brown@uconn.edu.