Saturday, July 1, 2017

A Series of Unfortunate Events - Season 1 (2017)


A Series of Unfortunate Events is based upon the book series of the same name.  The first season adapts the first four books into eight roughly 50 minute episodes.  The show captures the essence of the books perfectly, from the oblivious adults right down to the (slightly annoying) narrator constantly explaining what certain words mean.  Unlike the books, Lemony Snicket, while still the narrator, doesn't always have his face obscured now.  While this removes some of the mystery surrounding the character, it's neither good or bad, just different, and works really well int he show.  His dry sense of humor, coupled with his cynicism, gives him a unique personality and a personal touch to the show.


The show starts off with a great theme song that has the lyrics changed every two episodes to match whatever the events of the story it is currently up to.  It gives an incentive to not skip the intro and is a catchy tune to boot.  The soundtrack is excellent, fitting with the stylized look and slightly washed out colors.  A Series of Unfortunate Events takes place in a highly stylized world with a heavier reliance on CGI than expected.  It kind of fits into the wacky and nonsensical tone but does detract sometimes when the CGI is weak, such as Sunny chewing through a log or Klaus using an invention.


Each book is told over two episodes but you can feel the amount of filler in each story and the lack of substantial content from the books because at times, it feels like the episode is struggling to fill its runtime.  It gets a little bit better in the alter episodes where they have a shorter runtime of around 42 minutes.  The plot is about the Baudelaire siblings, Violet, the eldest daughter, Klaus, the middle son, and Sunny, the youngest daughter who is still a baby.  One day, their parents perish in a fire and they become orphans, and thus begins their transition from guardian to guardian.


The Baudelaire's first guardian, Count Olaf, ends up becoming the recurring villain who hatches plot after plot to obtain the orphans' fortunes.  You can always count on him to turn up in some ridiculous costume in an attempt to wrangle the children away from their guardian.  Thankfully, his plans are ruined by the Baudelaires time and time again.  The Baudelaires gets transferred to a crazier guardian from the last, from Uncle Monty, a reptile expert with a reptile room filled with both dangerous and safe animals, to Aunt Josephine, who is scared of absolutely everything, to a ridiculous degree.  The season ends with the Baudelaires finding themselves at the Lumber Mill, forced to work for lodgings.


Since it's only the first season, the ending doesn't hold any resolutions to all the mysterious characters and references that had been brought up over time.  The final scenes keep going with the foreshadowing, including the full introduction of the Quigleys and a peek into the fifth place the Baudelaires are placed in.  Readers of the books will definitely recognise a lot of allusions to future events.  The acting is superb.  Neil Patrick Harris's Count Olaf is different to Jim Carrey's take on the character from the 2004 movie, but equally good and unique.  His acting, along with the script, does a superb job of making Count Olaf a character you love to hate.


Count Olaf's pettiness, along with his expressions, but mostly his pettiness, makes no doubt that he is the true villain of the series that's here to stay.  The costumes of Count Olaf are well done.  While in the books, it is super obvious that it is Count Olaf, it's not so much here.  If you didn't already know that the character is Count Olaf (being the suspicious new character), then it is hard to tell that it's the same person.  It's not as ridiculous as in the books that no one else apart from the orphans recognize him on first sight.  That being said, it is still somewhat frustrating that all the adults are stupid and clueless, with only the children able to instantly see through Count Olaf's plans.  The adults don't listen to the Baudelaires and have the nerve to be patronizing.


An unfortunate side effect of the visual storytelling is that Violet's invention skills, Klaus' reading skills and to an extent, Sunny's teeth skills, aren't shown off to their full effect.  It doesn't go into the their thought processes to demonstrate how deeply they had thought about the problems and found a solution.  Overall, the first season of A Series of Unfortunate Events does a spectacular job of adapting the books as a TV show.  While it may frustrate viewers with the stupidity of a lot of the characters, it has its unique charm and as a bonus, readers of the books will find plenty to enjoy.

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