"When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them . . ." Oh that's right! That's not this post. Well from here on in you are on your own!
Given some of the extra time I had this weekend I put on a little TV. And given that it was Friday the 13th, all kinds of horrific things are possible. As a result, one TV series caught my eye, the first season of “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.” Based on the book series by Daniel Handler, I mean Lemony Snicket. Shhh!!! Don’t tell your kids. The book series is a wonderful tale about the Baudelair children who have their parents die, or so the Baudelairs are lead to believe, in a terrible accident, only to be adopted by the malevolent Count Olaf. (No Disney did not borrow the name for the snowman in Frozen. And if they did there is something very twisted about that. Now that I think of it. Hmmmmm…..) Olaf will stop at nothing to inherit the children’s fortune. From attempting to marry the fourteen year old Violet, to pretending to be a peg legged sea captain with an eye patch, the vastly untalented Olaf bumbles his way through a series of schemes to get the children’s money. He has so many unfortunate adventures, at times you aren’t sure whether the unfortunate events are his unfortunate events or the children’s.
Bringing this TV series to the small screen did face some challenges. They had already made a big screen adaptation of the book series with Jim Carrey. While only covering the first three books in the film, doing a TV show of the book could face heavy criticism in its attempts to try to upstage Jim Carrey. In his place for the small screen adaptation they brought on Neil Patrick Harris. While very gifted it was going to be a challenge to get people to accept him in the role of Olaf. He may not have the presence of Carrey, or the elasticity of face, but he brings on another sort of a presence that Carrey might not have been able to pull off, aside from doing all of the singing in every episode of the titles sequence. (Do not miss the titles sequence as the songs about the Baudelair children change every single time.) Harris brings a kind of joy to Olaf that I don’t think we ever really see in the movie version. Yes his plans are being foiled all of the time, but he is obviously having fun in the process.
Patrick Warburton, the voice of Kronk in the Emperor’s New Groove and David Puddy in a brief role in Seinfeld, plays the aforementioned Lemony Snicket. While not Jude Law, his grisly voice lends to the foreboding nature of the series as it unfolds. As an audience we are invited to see things through his perspective. He is constantly on scene to observe the harrowing adventures of the Baudelair children as they face all of their trials. I do have one interesting question though. Frequently all of the children are told something and then a character who is supposed to be an “adult” explains to them the meaning of those phrases. With almost unanimity the children repeat that they already understand whatever the meaning of that phrase is. Lemony Snicket, as an author who inserts himself into his story, frequently explains those phrases to his audience reading, or in this case watching, the series unfold. All of these adults cannot see Count Olaf through all of his disguises. Yes, Olaf does appeal to their own vanity in some way. But they do not recognize Count Olaf for who he is until it is too late. This makes all of these adults out to be foolish in some way. If Lemony Snicket treats his audience the same way as all of these adult characters treat the Baudelairs, does this make him an unreliable narrator? Just something to ponder.
The Baudelair children are played quite effectively by Malina Weissman(Violet), Louis Hynes(Klaus) and Presley Smith(Sunny). I know I need to admit this up front, but my 10 year old daughter did attempt to try out for the role of these kids. She was too young for Violet, and too old for Sunny, obviously. And unless they were going to go far afield with this series, she was not going to get the role of Klaus. Admittedly, as the Baudelair children, they are mostly reacting to whatever circumstances their impossible situations place them in, but they do an appropriate job of seeming shocked and dismayed by everything that is going on around them. In fact, they are the only ones acting like normal human beings. Could all of these zombified adults really be aliens? I supposed you will need to read the books or watch the series of find out. Maybe I am being a boy, but I especially appreciate Louis Hynes portrayal of Klaus, as the intelligent brother who is gifted and yet appreciative of others gifts around him. He could let this character become over the top, and yet he does not.
What will you or your children think of it? I suppose that this is the most important question here. I think there are a lot of ways to appreciate this series. Kids appreciate a good story, well told. Slightly older teens may feel like the author is always talking down to them, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing here as it invites you to relate to the Baudelair children all the more. In a world that seems to not want to trust them at every turn, teens can identify. As an adult it is much like the cartoons of yesteryear. It is stock full of references that the parents can appreciate, that might escape the eyes of the unassuming child. As a parent, it is the perfect opportunity to help your children to understand different idioms and what they mean. As a former English teacher I am always appreciative of anything that helps kids to have a better understanding of reading. Finally, someone who is constantly concerned with the state of reading, the fact that it has inspired my child to pick up a book rather than a graphic novel makes me very heartened. (This isn’t to say I don’t love a good graphic novel.)
Barry Sonnenfeld helps bring the work to the small screen on Netflix and is one of the lead directors. It may be far afield of Men in Black, Get Shorty and The Addams Family that he directed on the big screen. But as the medium of Television seems to be rapidly changing, attempting to compete with the big screen visuals, this Series of Unfortunate Events is a series of beautiful images well told on a screen. It at once moves from something like Tim Burton’s suburbia in Edward Scissorhands to a story told in the shadows like classic film noir. There is a bit of irony in the creation of this series as well. The real author, Daniel Handler, is quite involved in the project as one of the main writers, not unlike the author “character” of Lemony Snicket himself. The first season has some interesting guest appearances by Alfre Woodard and Don Johnson.
It is definitely worth a watch.