“Look away, look away.” Audiences are continuously requested this throughout the Netflix series, based on the popular children’s book series, A Series of Unfortunate Events. The events, as author of the series and reporter of the terrible events which surround the Baudelaire children, Lemony Snicket (played by Patrick Warburton) explains, are so terrible nobody should watch. There are so many better things on television than the horrible stories here. And yet, doesn’t telling somebody this make them want to watch more? Obviously, given the 13 books, autobiography, and prequels in the Gothic book series that charmed millions.
The Netflix series opens with the children, Violet, Klaus, and baby Sunny, being informed by Mr. Poe, a banker in charge of their estate, that their home has burned up with their parents inside. According to their parents’ will, the children are to be placed with their nearest living relative until the oldest, Violet, turns 18 and can inherit the family fortune. To their dismay, Mr. Poe is not the brightest banker at the bank, and takes “nearest living relative” to mean the relative who lives nearest, which leads the children to be taken in by the dastardly Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris). A terrible actor and better con man, Olaf takes the children in order to gain their inheritance, but when he realizes this will be impossible, works with his lackeys on schemes to gain the money.
When his first plan fails in front of a live audience, the children are placed in several other relatives’ homes, all of whom they have never heard of before. From the herpetologist Uncle Montgomery Montgomery, to formerly courageous but now terrified Aunt Jacqueline, the regular travels introduce the trio to new clues about their parents’ lives which they were unaware of, all starting with a partial spyglass hidden away in a drawer in the ruins of their home. Unfortunately, Count Olaf is also following the children wherever they go. It seems Olaf has his own history tied to what they find, and wanting their fortune may not be the only problem they have to worry about with him.
While I had seen the Jim Carrey movie that focuses on the first three books, I have yet to read the books from which this is based. Nonetheless I watched, being a fan of Neil Patrick Harris. The series is written carefully for children and tweens, incorporating Snicket’s translations of words children (other than the Baudelaires) don’t often use, while keeping the Gothic and dark and gritty noir style murder from the books. The additional mystery of Lemony Snicket’s past helps string along audiences not as concerned with what happens to the children, as he regularly talks about his past and mysterious death many believe to have happened. Explaining his and the Baudelaire’s stories as a Rod Serling-type character rather than an omnipotent narrator adds a familiar humor to the tale as well. In addition, Cobie Smulders and Will Arnett make guest appearances throughout, though I will leave their characters absent for those who have not watched yet.