"A Series of Unfortunate Events" warns you, potential viewer, against watching it. From the trailers where a grave Lemony Snickett (Patrick Warburton) implores you to watch something else, to the theme song's refrain of "look away," it's a pretty clear message. Do not heed these warnings. You'll be missing one of the strangest, funniest shows on Netflix if you do.
Based on the books by Lemony Snickett, the pen name of author Daniel Handler, the newest Netflix Original follows the Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus and Sunny, through a series of unfort -- okay, I'm not going to say it, but you see where this is going. Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris) is the chief architect of the titular misfortunes, driven by his desire for the enormous Baudelaire fortune.
Set aside the forgettable 2004 film starring Jim Carrey and Emily Browning. Under the guidance of Executive Producer and Director Barry Sonnenfeld ("The Addams Family"), the 2017 adaptation is unabashedly odd. Sonnenfeld is at his macabre, surreal best at the helm, weaving pitch black humor, one-liners and winky-nudgy gags together with moments of surprising tenderness and tension.
"Unfortunate Events" never really forgets that it's a family show, though. The underestimated and underappreciated Baudelaire children take centre stage, and as with most kids' shows, it's our intrepid young leads who keep things moving.
Yeah, you adults might want to throw around phrases like "gothic absurdism," and you wouldn't be wrong. But the humor, the setting and the thrills have a crossover appeal that looks at your traditional demographic breakdown and laughs in derision. If you can get on board with the show's many, many eccentricities, it won't matter how old you are.
The young leads have the most difficulty playing the farcical, absurdist notes that underpin the show with a straight face, but they're very ably propped up by the adult supporting cast.
Harris preens and menaces as Count Olaf masterfully, turning from ridiculous to threatening and back in eyeblinks. He's equally at home brandishing a knife or performing elaborately choreographed musical numbers. Olaf's acting troupe-cum-henchpeople walk the same tightrope, but a special mention goes to the hook-handed Usman Ally for teeing up some of the best gags in the show.
The real standout is Warburton as Lemony Snickett. Snickett, the pseudonym used by author Daniel Handler when he wrote the series, is presented here as a biographer of the Baudelaire children. He steps into frame as the fictional writer of the series, waxing lyrical about their poor fortunes and absolutely shattering the fourth wall.
He also hints at a deeper, overarching conspiracy, because if it works for prestige drama, then by God, it'll work here too. It's maddeningly drawn out, with only hints and background elements adding up to something bigger, but it makes it feel like the show is going somewhere, and you're lucky enough to come along with it.
Channeling the morbid weirdness and surprisingly touching family ties of Sonnenfeld's "Addams Family" films, "Unfortunate Events" is highly recommendable to a certain audience. At some point, you'll just need to accept that babies can play poker. If you're not that kind of person, then you should listen to all those warnings I mentioned at the start.