A Series of Unfortunate Events season 2 review: Netflix’s strangest, most lavish show doesn’t care what you think
A Series of Unfortunate Events season 2 review: It’s one of the most lavish originals in Netflix’s bottomless catalogue, created by fans, for fans, and featuring a show-stopping Neil Patrick Harris.tv Updated: Mar 30, 2018 08:52 IST
A Series of Unfortunate Events - Season 2
Cast - Neil Patrick Harris, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, Tony Hale, Lucy Punch, Patrick Warburton, Nathan Fillion
Rating - 4/5
In the glut of young adult literature that was spawned by the success of Harry Potter, there was one series of novels that refused to be categorised. While other imitators were happy sitting on the same shelves as JK Rowling’s generation-defining series, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events successfully slipped under the radar of most cautious parents, and school librarians.
I remember the first time our school got the books - brand new copies in those trademark hardbound covers and irregularly cut pages, with that new book smell clinging on for dear life as stinky Ken Follett’s and Jeffrey Archers came in for the kill. A couple of us had concentrated our efforts into convincing the hard-as-nails Malayali librarian - she’d been around since the time of a famous movie star who shall remain unnamed - into purchasing for our collective intellectual stimulation the collected works of Mr Lemony Snicket. She raised an eyebrow at that name. But perhaps out of relief more than anything else - getting teenage boys to read weekly books was as hard a task as it sounds - a few weeks later, there they were, conspicuously radiant in between a sea of green spines the school had bound all the books in for their own protection.
Obviously, they were the only books everyone wanted to read. Suddenly, even the kids who borrowed books only to highlight the smutty paragraphs in what they liked to believe was a grand gesture of social service, had their eyes on A Series of Unfortunate Events. It only took a week before word spread. These books were weird. Pass the Dan Brown, please?
The coast now clear, we embarked upon one of the strangest literary adventures of our youth. The opportunist kids were right, the books were certainly very weird. And to this day the world of the Baudelaire orphans seems as deliberately out-of-the-box as it did all those years ago.
The assumption is that when a popular book is adapted for the screen it opens the stories up for new fans to discover; Stephanie Meyer and Suzanne Collins owe a great debt to the Twilight and Hunger Games movies because the incredible success of the films directed new fans towards the books. But it seems highly unlikely that a stray Netflix lurker would take the plunge and watch A Series of Unfortunate Events without having tested the waters with the books first. It’s simply unlike anything we’ve seen - too grotesque for kids and without any real subtext for adults to chew into.
It is young adult fiction, by definition. In Season 2, the show continues its dependable model of adapting one book into two episodes - this means that every individual story in the Baudelaire saga gets a feature length adaptation, complete with its own tailor-made theme song, performed by the flawless Neil Patrick Harris, who of course stars as the show’s antagonist, Count Olaf.
There isn’t really much to say about the second season - it isn’t breaking any new ground and nor is it being too ambitious. But that’s mostly because the first season was such a breath of fresh air. I wrote about it in a rather non-traditional manner - it was in the style of the books - which meant that I didn’t really talk about individual aspects of the show. Let’s sort that out, shall we?
A Series of Unfortunate Events had already been adapted into a movie, starring a perfectly-cast Jim Carrey as Count Olaf, that, while being a largely faithful adaptation, failed to generate the requisite buzz to warrant a sequel. That movie was always meant to be written by the series’ author, Daniel Handler - you didn’t think he was really called Lemony Snicker, did you? - and was supposed to be directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, the man behind two Addams Family movies and three Men in Black blockbusters.
After a series of unfortunate events, both Handler and Sonnenfeld were forced to depart the project. It wouldn’t be until years later, when Netflix’s deep pockets began validating every whimsical dream anyone in Hollywood had ever had, that the duo would get to take a second crack at it.
The show is perhaps as faithful an adaptation of the books as any fan could have hoped for - both in regards to capturing its uniquely absurdist tone and translating Snicket’s idiosyncratic literary flourishes onto the screen. As with the books, it is the fictional Lemony Snicket’s narration that remains the highlight of this weird tale - but in the show, it’s elevated by a pitch-perfect performance by Patrick Warburton and some well timed visual humour.
The first season adapted the first four books of the series, giving us enough time to acclimatise to the world. We’re now neck deep in the story, having followed the Baudelaires to far-flung corners of their art-deco universe. The sub-plot about VFD, the secret society that connects all the adults, is explored more patiently, and the stage has been set for a whopper of a final season.
A Series of Unfortunate Events is one of the most lavish originals in Netflix’s bottomless catalogue, created by fans, for fans. It might appear to be too obtuse for everyone’s taste, but that’s only because it is. It could very well be the most expensive cult show ever made.