A Series of Unfortunate Events season 3 review: Neil Patrick Harris delivers performance of his career
A Series of Unfortunate Events Season 3
Cast - Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, Allison Williams, Max Greenfield, Richard E Grant
Rating - 4/5
It is frankly unacceptable that despite delivering the performance of a lifetime in A Series of Unfortunate Events, Neil Patrick Harris will forever be remembered as Barney Stinson. But such is bittersweet brilliance of Netflix’s three-season adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s series of books, that it will forever remain an oddity, buried under more appealing and less nutty entertainment.
In its final season - also, at just seven episodes, its shortest - A Series of Unfortunate Events has found its footing, as has its sprawling cast. It is noticeably slighter in scope - the first couple of seasons boasted a lavishness that even I, as a fan, couldn’t quite fathom - with each episode being restricted to a contained environment. Part of that is because that’s how the novels are written - they’re very episodic, quick to repeat tropes but never storylines - but also because, maybe, the amount of money being pumped into the show was always unjustifiably large.
Watch the trailer for A Series of Unfortunate Events season 3:
But that’s the beauty of the Netflix model. If a story deserves a grand telling - and A Series of Unfortunate Events certainly does - then no expense shall be spared in creating it. But it has been three years since it debuted (to positive reviews) and yet, it hasn’t quite made the headlines it should have, or even the year-end best-of lists. But with very little to lose and a cult audience already sold, the show goes out in a manner that would be deeply satisfying for fans, old and new.
Now that the groundwork has been laid, creators Barry Sonnenfeld and Mark Hudis can concentrate on expanding the mythology and developing the characters - and for the first time ever, shaking off its goofy exterior to reveal a beating heart.
For decades I’ve enjoyed the strange and wonderful world of the Baudelaire orphans, trapped as they are in a Sisyphean chase with the villainous Count Olaf, without paying much attention to what the point of it all was. I had long since given up on trying to find a deeper meaning to the lunacy - it was a live action cartoon, I told myself; not to be taken seriously. But in the final moments of its final season, alone and scared on a desert island, the show hit home.
The world is a cruel, dark place, with unexpected misfortune and unfairness lurking behind every corner. So how does one justify giving birth to innocent children in this world, knowing with absolute certainty that being born is a life sentence in itself. They will be mistreated and judged, they will be betrayed and hurt; and eventually, they will need to take care of themselves.
The Baudelaires’ parents wanted nothing more than to protect their children from a world that they knew all too well - and they failed. A Series of Unfortunate Events is a coming-of-age story, in which the idealism of childhood is systematically broken by the cynicism of adulthood. The Baudelaires are put in one cruel scenario after another (by an adult, both literally and figuratively), and find that there is no one to listen to their cries of help. The only people who show any kindness towards them are either too stupid to stick around or swiftly removed from the equation. Such are the traumas of growing up.
We are a product of our pasts and the environment we grew up in - this is true both of our reality and that of Lemony Snicket’s. Some of us, like Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire, develop empathy, while others like Count Olaf let the wounds of their youth fester. NPH’s performance here is phenomenal - his over-the-top, scenery chewing shrieking is merely a means to distract from Count Olaf’s real pain. It’s a performance that works on so many levels. Not only does it inject unexpected depth into a what is essentially a clown, but it provides subtle context into what made him one.
And on the other side of the spectrum - ignored, as performances such as this usually are - is Patrick Warburton, stealing virtually every scene he is in as the dry, fourth wall-breaking narrator of his own story, Lemony Snicket. Despite the show’s zany visual style - even more reminiscent of the films of Wes Anderson this season, thanks to two whole episodes set inside a hotel - it often boils down to a tussle between the actors. And season three finds them all, including the many surprise guest stars, in top form.
A Series of Unfortunate Events died a quiet death, but like most cult hits, it will never stop finding new fans. You will read about it here and perhaps agree, enough to recommend it to your friends. One of them might tweet about it, another might share a Snap. Regardless of what streaming device they watch it on - a mobile phone in 2019 or a through a chip implanted in your brain in 2030 - curious, quirky outsiders of all ages will find themselves attracted to the world of Lemony Snicket.
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