He Says, She Says: A Series of Unfortunate Events | The Miserable Mill

The events of “The Miserable Mill” signal this season’s close. The Baudelaires find themselves not in a home, but in Lucky Smells Lumber Mill where–despite child labor laws–they are put to work by Charles and “Sir,” the owners of the lumber mill. Work at the lumber mill is arduous,tedious, and morally objectionable. Instead of salaries, they are paid in coupons; and instead of lunch they are fed chewing gum. The children try to comfort themselves by thinking surely, Count Olaf would not show up here, but alas, he does–and this time, he is joined by an ex-girlfriend, Dr. Georgina Orwell. He and Georgina join forces against the Baudelaires in an attempt to once again snag their fortune. Aided by Dr. Orwell’s talent for hypnosis, she and Olaf come very close to snagging custody of the Baudelaires once again. However, viewers may gain some satisfaction in knowing this time Olaf is run off by an angry mob, and not the witless Mr. Poe.


Of all the conclusions to this chapter of the lives of the Baudelaire orphans, of all the terrible, horrible, painful things I thought would be inflicted upon them, I never once suspected this twist.  The reveal that Mother and Father were not, in fact, that Mother and Father was heartbreaking and perfectly executed.  From their initial introduction in the first episodes, to the introduction of the second set of children during this arc, the show-runners of A Series of Unfortunate Events, show their complete mastery of dramatic convention and knowledge of where exactly to press the audience’s heartstrings to keep them watching.  It was an incredibly bold choice, spending the whole series dragging out this plot line only to rip it out from under us, and then under the characters.  It is entirely fitting within the themes of the show: that there is no happy ending. Not for us, not for the Baudelaires, and not for Mother and Father.

While the audience mourns the loss of the false hope  that the Baudelaires might ever be rescued, the Baudelaires struggled at Lucky Smells Lumbermill.  Caught up in the dastardly schemes of a dastardly businessman, his weak-willed husband, and an even more dangerous foe in the personage of Dr.  Georgina Orwell (Catherine O’Hara), the actually competent ex-lover of Count Olaf.  Faced with a competent opponent for the first time, without any means of escape we see watch as Violet, Klaus, and Sunny learn that even without the shackles of societal expectation upon them, sometimes they just aren’t clever enough to overcome everything.  As the three pontificate on whether or not there’s any lesson learned during their misadventures, they conclude that their mission is and should remain:survive.  Survive Count Olaf’s schemes, survive the incompetence of their guardians, survive the malice of their future enemies.

Unfortunately the Mill plotline itself, and their struggles to clear their parents name, lacked the dramatic weight of their time at Lake Lacrymose.  While I found Sir and his partner Charles very funny, and I enjoyed the ever increasing scope of the conspiracy surrounding Count Olaf and the secret organization, I couldn’t help but feel, following the dramatic reveal about Mother and Father, that whatever information the kids got wouldn’t be meaty.  And it really wasn’t, at least not in terms of plot relevance. Instead, as I sit here thinking about it, what the kids really gained was a peace of mind. Despite all that their parents kept from them, they were ultimately good people.  They were still heroes and that is so important for the children and the audience.  It lets the kids know that no matter what happens, they can be rest assured that their parents loved them, that they were not in any way “like” Count Olaf, and that the kids’ conception of their parents is still valid. For the first time in the series, the absolutely worst possible thing which could happen to the kids doesn’t happen, instead they find some small amount of validation.

It’s an refreshingly hopeful lesson for our group of depressed young orphans to learn.  Yet at the same time the audience is not left without hope during the melancholic musical number which ties up in a dour, dark bow this season of A Series of Unfortunate Events.  The Buadelaires are not alone, they are not the only orphans without parents.  They are not the only victims of Count Olaf’s schemes.  Lemony Snicket is not dead.  The Baudelaires are not as alone as they might feel, and the next season promises to bring together three plotlines at play in what will almost certainly be a tragedy of unimaginable scale.  A Series of Unfortunate Events never compromises on the dark material it portrays, it makes no excuses, nor does it try to blunt the blows, yet at know point does the tragedy overwhelm the audience.  It’s a masterly-crafted tragedy from start to finish and it get’s a hearty recommendation from me.  I can’t wait for next season.



From the end of “The Wide Window” now throughout “The Miserable Mill” the show has made a number of important changes that do not effect the story of the Baudelaires so much as the interpretation of events.

After Aunt Josephine’s death, rather than wait for Poe to once again fail to capture Count Olaf and find themselves back in either of their care, the Baudelaires make a decision to go “off book” and seek out the Lucky Smells Lumbermill, where they have been led to believe they will find more information on their parents, the mysterious fire that killed them, and why all these supposed family friends were kept a secret from them. This is a significant departure from the books, in which the Baudelaires accept having to travel with Mr. Poe once again and having him assign a new guardian. The show’s choice thus tells us they have developed a different interpretation of the Baudelaire children than the books did. These Baudelaires have become emboldened by their experiences, and they have also become rightly distrustful of the adults occupying their world. They no longer trust Mr. Poe to look out for their interests. In fact I am recalling the end of The Reptile Room when they demanded to go live with their Aunt Josephine that they were already showing a desire to exert control over their lives that finally came to fruition here.

This gift of the Baudelaire’s agency also happens to soften, to a degree, the nature of how the Baudelaires end up at Lucky Smells Lumbermill. In the book, there have been no clues linking the mill to their parents or any dealing with them that the Baudelaires wish to follow; rather, “Sir,” the owner of the mill, has simply put in to have some children work for him. His mill is something I would liken to the poorhouse of Oliver Twist–practically a prison. He does not pay his workers, barely feeds them, and employs children. Consciously. Sought them out. It is much easier to watch children offer to work and have a mostly-despicable, somewhat-idiotic person accept their offer than to fathom for a brief moment we’ve entered a world where child labor laws no longer apply and a banker would hand over a teen, a preteen, and a baby to be put to work in a mill.

Speaking of notable changes, the not-so-subtle change to the text surrounding Sir and Charles’ relationship was rather refreshing. The language of the book never excluded the possibility of a gay relationship, and I have read that the nature of Charles preparing Sir’s omelettes and ironing his clothes, all details present in the book, had suggested to readers of the series that Sir and Charles might be in some sort of romantic partnership. Nonetheless, an explicit and humorous confirmation was much appreciated on my part.

The major thing I want to talk about regarding The Miserable Mill would be the “non-twist” regarding the parents we’ve been following since episode one. As someone who had read the books, I was incredibly perplexed by the introduction of those characters. Zach turned to me at the beginning of the series and said, “Wait. The Baudelaires’ parents are dead, right?” to which I replied, “Well. Maybe. They are definitely dead in the books but it might be different here.”

Because I’d noticed this trend for the series to try and alleviate some of the more painful events of the story, I thought perhaps this would just become a running thing–a light, witty background to give readers hope that the Baudelaires might not be as alone as they feel–that their parents were always just around the corner.

Well, I am happy to say that I was wrong and did not have enough faith in the writing of this series. In fact, their decision to con the audience into believing the Baudelaires and their parents were about to open a door and be reunited was executed brilliantly. But I think something that should not be overlooked in regards to this scene is what that scene so clearly establishes for the world of the Baudelaires–tragedy is not localized to the Baudelaires.

In an earlier scene, the Quagmire children–who begin to play a role in the series beginning in The Austere Academy onwards– are introduced early to contrast the Baudelaire’s current situation. Snicket mentions if you wake up to a butler bringing you fresh orange juice and blueberry pancakes, you’ll probably have a good day. If, however, you wake up in a mill to someone banging pots and pans together, you’re probably going to have a bad day. The Quagmires are the children that wake up to blueberry pancakes and orange juice; they still have it all. And the Baudelaires are the children stuck in a mill. However, it is that same night (or a very short time later) from a day filled with blueberry pancakes and reunions with their parents where the Quagmires’ house burns down in much the same fashion as the Baudelaires’.

These events signal to viewers the tragedy is not just limited to the Baudelaires. Though their tragedy is central to the narrative, it is not exclusive. We will be meeting more children, like the Quagmires, spending more time with those like Snicket who have experienced misfortune, and there will be no end to the number of evil people we encounter–like the person we catch a brief glimpse of responsible for the fire at the Quagmire mansion.

Ending the season on a somewhat cliched sing-song note reminding viewers happiness is “not how the story goes” was a little bit excessive in my opinion and really the only negative thing I have to say about it. The song lasted a little too long, was a little too repetitive, and did not seem to contribute to the story more than wrapping up where each of our characters are ending this season. It’s a callback to the opening of each episode, “Look Away,” sung by Neil Patrick Harris in an Olafian fashion–but I really did not feel like the whole cast needed to be brought in on it. I’m a fan of musicals, but considering there’d been no other occurrence of singing within the show that wasn’t one of Olaf’s performances, it felt very out of place, despite all the show’s best efforts to make it work.

That said, overall the show was exceedingly well done, and I eagerly await the next season, which has already been green-lit by Netflix.

Thanks for reading!



He Says, She Says: A Series of Unfortunate Events | The Wide Window

Episodes 5 and 6 of Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events detail the events of the third book in the series by the same name in which the Baudelaires go to live with their kind but extremely paranoid and omni-phobic Aunt Josephine. Aunt Josephine is described as having once been a “fierce and formidable” woman who lost her edge when her husband, Ike, died. Now she lives at the top of a hill overlooking Lake Lachrymose in constant fear that she will catch a splinter in the door, her phone will electrocute her, or worse–real estate agents. Before the Baudelaires can get settled, Count Olaf and his terrible acting return once again, this time as “Captain Sham.”


At long last both the audience and the Baudelaire orphans get what they’ve wanted for so long.  Some answers.  A whole lot happens in this arc, but I am particularly drawn to the the growing abilities of the Baudelaire orphans and the continued mystery surrounding the secret organization which is responsible for much of the upsetting scenario which the children find themselves in.

As the series has progressed,the Baudelaires have grown less and less confident that anyone around them will be able to help them.  Even the “fierce and formidable” Aunt Josephine proves to be less than capable of helping them or seeing through Olaf’s disguise.  Rather than waiting for Count Olaf to kill their aunt as he did their uncle, the Baudelaires immediately set about attempting to both stop him and learn more about the mysterious, vaguely secret organization which appears to tie together their bizarre guardians with their parents and Count Olaf. Though their attempts are frustrated again by a literal force of nature, that the kids are finally taking their fate into their own hands is a delightful development. Violet in particular takes firm control of the situation as the eldest, working to keep her siblings safe, standing up to her Aunt Josephine, and being their biggest advocate against Count Olaf as he fools Poe for the third time.

I have to admit, Poe’s shtick is getting tired this far in.  I was so relieved when the kids ditched him to head off to the mill.  I doubt they will find the answers they seek there, but at least they’re taking the initiative and refusing to allow themselves to submit to his “care.”  The mill itself was a discovery on Klaus’ part, who spent this arc sifting through Aunt Josephine’s library in an attempt to find information on this vaguely secret organization that they’re just beginning to realize exists– and that just about everyone they’ve been involved with so far was in it.  The kids at last have some purpose, a goal to work towards outside of survival, though they may not like what they find out.

Speaking of learning: Lemony Snicket. Apparently he’s maybe dead?  And also a part of the mysterious, vaguely secret organization?  Our delightfully dreary narrator’s integration into the story raises a whole host of questions, and his relationship with Mother and Father, as well as the apparent scope of Count Olaf’s machinations.  There is more going on here than just a series of unfortunate events, but will the Baudelaire children figure it out before they lose the rest of their allies?  With Mother and Father swiftly converging on the children’s location, next episode is sure to be full of revelations both happy and distressing.


Thus far we’ve seen a very faithful adaptation of the source material from this TV series (excluding the references to VFD, which I will cover with “The Miserable Mill” post). However, with “The Wide Window” comes a very significant departure from the books. I am not someone who insists on complete and blind faithfulness to source text–especially when aspects of the source text can stand to be improved. That said, usually I would prefer a more strict adherence to text. In this case, I am old enough now to accept that the original Series of Unfortunate Events can be repetitive in nature and thus become monotonous for adults to read. As a child, the repetition was somewhat comforting; as an adult, trying to read through the same plot arc 13 times (as there are 13 books in the whole series), I quickly grow tired of: Baudelaires meet new guardian, Count Olaf shows up, no one believes them, Baudelaires foil Olaf’s plans, Mr. Poe takes them away, rinse and repeat. If the show had decided to follow the source text completely, no amount of witticisms from Patrick Warburton would’ve saved it.

So while I was expecting and–dare I say–hoping for some departures from the source text, I was not expecting to have a character like Aunt Josephine evolved like she was. I suspect part of the motivation for this evolution was an attempt to make the story a little easier to watch, and honestly I completely understand the writers’ motivation. I’ve noted to Zach on several occasions that they seem to be cushioning some blows in the show, like warning the viewer almost immediately that Uncle Monty would die so the audience had time to prepare. The books as they were could be incredibly heartbreaking; it was always one of my theories as a child that Snicket stopped writing sympathetic guardians for the Baudelaires after The Wide Window because watching so many good people die at the hands of Olaf would’ve become unbearable.

That said, Netflix’s series completely rewrote Josephine’s death scene to the point of rewriting Josephine herself, allowing her to die somewhat nobly–really, all anyone in this series can ask for. I’m going to let my English major show a little bit here now and quote the conversation leading up to Josephine’s death from the book so you can see how different it was in the show for yourself.

“Oh no,” she said. Her eyes were wide with fear. “Don’t throw me overboard,” she pleaded. “Please!…I promise not to say anything to Mr. Poe!” Aunt Josephine said desperately. “I’ll go someplace and hide away, and never show my face! You can tell him I’m dead! You can have the fortune! You can have the children! Just don’t throw me to the leeches!”

The Baudelaires looked at their guardian in horror. “You’re supposed to be caring for us,” Violet told Aunt Josephine in astonishment, “not putting us up for grabs!”

Captain Sham paused, and seemed to consider Aunt Josephine’s offer. “You have a point,” he said. “I don’t have to kill you. People just have to think you’re dead.”

“I’ll change my name!” Aunt Josephine said. “I’ll dye my hair! I’ll wear colored contact lenses! And I’ll go very, very far away! Nobody will ever hear from me!”

“But what about us, Aunt Josephine?” Klaus asked in horror. “What about us?”

–Lemony Snicket, The Wide Window p 187-189

Now to contrast this scene with Netflix’s show, Josephine’s life ends not only standing up and defending her newly-adopted children, but standing up for herself to Count Olaf, and saying she was ready to be fierce and formidable again. She manages to reclaim herself, and instead of sniveling and begging, becomes someone the Baudelaires can be proud to have called their guardian. But in rewriting Josephine, Netflix fundamentally rewrites the kind of adults we should expect from this world.

In the books, Josephine was the last “good” guardian–however, as you can tell, she is not even that. She is much too quick to give them up to save herself when, as their guardian, she should be the one protecting them from Olaf, not the other way around. (In the book Sunny, the baby, has positioned herself between Olaf and Josephine in order to protect Josephine. If that ain’t messed up I don’t know what is.) The books thus set the standard for the kind of adults the Baudelaires can encounter and clearly establish that the only ones looking out for them and their safety is themselves, and as such, they develop a very strong bond among themselves as they struggle to survive in a world of adults actively trying to take advantage of them, hurt them, or at best, ignoring them. The show has attempted to alter this worldview by rewriting characters like Josephine and by inserting characters like Mr. Poe’s secretary who assure the children (and more so the audience) that she will actively be seeking to help them from behind the scenes. The children, despite everything, do not feel quite as alone and helpless as they do in the books, and I think this subtle alleviation of bleakness has ultimately made the show more watchable. My only hope is that they do not go overboard and start to write too optimistically. This is a literal series of unfortunate events. Snicket’s warnings of tragedy and sorrow will become cheap if the show tries too hard to comfort its audience.


He Says, She Says: A Series of Unfortunate Events | The Reptile Room

On this edition of He Says, She Says: A Series of Unfortunate Events, “The Reptile Room.” One of the most heartbreaking stories in the habitually horrible tales of the Baudelaire orphans, “The Reptile Room” is another two-part episode detailing the events of the second book of the series by the same name. The Baudelaire children are taken to live with Dr. Montgomery Montgomery, the guardian they would’ve been living with if not for the incompetence of Mr. Poe, the stupid-but-well-meaning banker and executor of their parents’ will. Dr. Montgomery Montgomery, or Uncle Monty for short, is an eccentric herpetologist that was a friend of the Baudelaires’ parents in life. But, alas, Count Olaf has not given up on attaining the Baudelaire’s fortune yet, and disguises himself as a new assistant of Uncle Monty’s named Stephano.


There’s a lot I appreciated about this arc, but a lot that indicates there may be future frustration on the horizon for A Series of Unfortunate Events.  Aasif Mandvi was a delight as Doctor Montgomery Montgomery, and his particular brand of guardianship was a welcome change of pace from the benign neglect we saw in the previous arc by Judge Strauss. Uncle Monty is well portrayed as a well-meaning, if a little eccentric, guardian for the Baudelaires, who is honestly intent on showing them how to navigate this strange and tragic world they now inhabit.  In particular it was nice for another adult to acknowledge immediately how awful Count Olaf’s acting is, which means Monty acts as a nice reprieve from the tragedy which always inevitably follows.

My only complaint about Uncle Monty is that he is only with us for a such a short time before dramatic irony intervenes and threatens to reset the status quo once again.  It’s a harsh lesson, but an important one as it firmly establishes to the orphans and the audience that the only ones they can rely on are one another.  The other focus of this arc involves Mother and Father escaping from whatever dastardly trap Count Olaf set for them and setting off to find and rescue their children, with the other members of their organization attempting to alert Monty and enlist his aid.  As someone who was worried that the show would get repetitive in regards to the children’s frustrated attempts at working their way out of this situation, I am happy to see that there is a larger plot at play here beyond Olaf’s greed.

It is only frustrating that, halfway through the series, the Baudelaire orphans still know as little about the secret organizations and conspiracies as they do.  I worry that the payoff for these sequences might be something Sonnenfield and co. are holding off for next season, which would be supremely frustrating. It is disheartening to watch the children be continually frustrated by their age and continually be put in danger because of the idiocy of the adult community.  I understand that this is done so purposefully, both because unfortunate things ought to happen in a show called A Series of Unfortunate Events, and also because its a key part of the series critique on the ways in which “polite society” is complicit in the horror and abuse inflicted upon the most neglected members of our communities.

Men like Mr. Poe are not evil, in fact they likely see themselves as good men.  Yet his refusal to take the children seriously, to always believe the adult in the room, is repeatedly a tacit acceptance of the abuse and violence inflicted on the children.  Mr. Poe stands in for every adult who has ever turned a blind eye to injustice and violence because it’s “none of their business.”  It’s an excellently written criticism, and the audience feels the anger and frustration the Baudelaire’s feel at their own lack of agency in a world that is willing to look the other way to Count Olaf’s schemes if it gets them back before banking hours.  It is because of that frustration that I hope this does not become a recurring a scenario. We have seen Poe fail before, in this exact same way.   While the appeal of the show lies in the unfortunate events, I hope that the latter half of the season has a little more variety in how these events transpire.


Before we began watching A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix, I told Zach one thing that I thought he needed to know about the story of the Baudelaires. Though our dear narrator Lemony Snicket often warns his viewers to “Look away” and stop watching the series–something which I might call a clever bit of reverse psychology if I believed in it–Mr. Snicket directs our attention towards the wrong cause of the sadness and misfortune that the Baudelaire children experience and that we, as viewers, react to.

The true tragedy in this series is not the despicable Count Olaf. He does terrible things; you cringe and curse whenever his ugly mug shows up in proximity to the Baudelaires. But the true sadness, the heartbreak, always derives from the fact that the people in the Baudelaires lives–those who could, those who should protect them–do not. It should not be the Baudelaires always figuring their way out of their terrible situations with inventions, research, and the occasional bite from Sunny. It should not fall on the Baudelaires to protect their guardian from the murderous plans of Count Olaf. But it always is, because the one rule of the universe the Baudelaires occupy is that adults never listen to children, even if they’re right, because of the simple fact that they are children.

Mr. Poe is the worst perpetrator of this pattern, because he and Olaf are the only constants in the children’s lives. I recall that by the end of reading the series as a child I had lost all respect or sympathy for Mr. Poe. Despite the fact the children were always right about Count Olaf’s disguises, his actions, his plans, Mr. Poe always ignored them because of the simple fact they were children. And his stubborn adherence to these ideals put the children’s lives in danger countless times. One of the saddest things I believe we have to watch in this series is not the children’s interactions with a murderer, but watching them plead and beg Mr. Poe to listen, only to be dismissed in the most nonchalant and callous manner imaginable–with a smile, a cough, a ridiculously scathing “Now Baudelaires you’re being rude little children. You’re obviously just hysterical,” and being sent up to their room. As if they are not terrified, nearly crying, begging, pleading. Go to your room.

Uncle Monty, though he is kind and well-meaning to a fault, is also guilty of this crime. Not nearly to the extreme degree that Mr. Poe is, but he believes that his own assumptions of Stephano’s true identity as a “spy” from the Herpetological Society, and not Count Olaf. It’s pure vanity, in fact. Instead of believing for one second this man was after his new wards, Monty believes it’s all about him. His reputation, his genius. I think his conceit even shows in the naming of The Incredibly Deadly Viper. It is a misnomer, he says, meant to pull a prank on those at the herpetological society who made fun of his double name Montgomery Montgomery. But Monty shows an awareness of the stigma against snakes; in attempting to seek a small bit of revenge for a largely harmless amount of teasing, he puts the life of The Incredibly Deadly Viper in danger because the adults are so willing to believe his misnomer, believe that it was The Incredibly Deadly Viper that killed him, not Count Olaf. It is Monty’s disbelief of the Baudelaire’s that costs Monty his life, and the viewers are left not just cursing Olaf, but cursing Monty for his vanity, his stupidity, his refusal to believe the Baudelaires just like Poe.

In A Series of Unfortunate Events, the relief of temporarily thwarting Count Olaf’s schemes never quite matches the cost. And I think something that this show has proved particularly adept at is explaining how in very few words. With Uncle Monty’s death, not only are the orphans once again homeless, but so are all the reptiles that Monty loved and cared for in The Reptile Room. One by one they are all carried out of the house and loaded into a van. And when Snicket comes on screen at the end of the episode to give one of his final monologues, the once-sunny and lively reptile room is empty. The cages gone, the bookshelves empty, and the dim light of the moon show

He Says, She Says: A Series of Unfortunate Events | The Bad Beginning

On this momentous first edition of “He Says, She Says”–which is, in short, our way of doing a joint reflection on the things we watch, we will be discussing Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, which premiered (quite fittingly) on Friday 13th. Though the whole series is available to watch on Netflix now, we have decided to break our discussion down into parts corresponding to the show, starting with “The Bad Beginning,” which encapsulates episodes one and two. These episodes introduce us to the Baudelaire children Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, their unique talents for invention, research, and biting respectively, and their habitually tragicomic lives. On top of that, we are also introduced to Count Olaf: the children’s first guardian (of many) after having been orphaned.


Overall I was really impressed with the introductory episodes.  As someone who only has vague memories of the Jim Carey movie and no prior knowledge of the series I was very surprised at how well the show balances itself between tragedy and comedy.  A Series of Unfortunate Events embraces the horrible and terrifying as mundane.  From the way the world is presented to the way characters interact, the whole production approaches the tragedy taking place with a detached sense of humor.    It was a surprising choice and more than a little bold considering how dark the material gets at times, and the series doesn’t shy away from any of it.  The opening is bold, and the whole production feels as if it revels in the tragedy befalling the Baudelaire children. Yet at the same time it manages to avoid feeling depressing or mean-spirited.

Part of that is owed to how freely it cribs from director Barry Sonnenfield’s previous work on the Addams Family movies (personal favorites of mine). The Baudelaire children Violet, Klaus, and Sunny sit comfortably in that same mix of intelligent but “off” that the Addams children do.  The introduction to Count Olaf’s house in particular felt like a callback to those introductory sequences, and the contrast between Olaf’s obviously unsafe, decidedly horrific home and the surrounding neighborhood, which is steeped in the imagery of classical 50s Americana calls attention to and heightens the unreality of the more “unfortunate” set-pieces of this series.

The set design is fantastic.  I’m not entirely certain if the series was filmed on a green screen or not, but much of the shot composition is meant to mimic the way films were blocked out in the Golden Age. The houses and yards are carefully manicured, with lots of bright yellows and blues popping throughout the suburbia the children are forced to inhabit.   All the backgrounds, even in Count Olaf’s despicable mansion appear fake.  It gives the whole from feeling real at times, when the insane tragedies occur. The unreality of the world around them makes the awful things which befell the Baudelaire children during this episode makes it easier to stomach, which will keep the show from getting too hopeless as it continues.

The adults in A Series of Unfortunate Events are dumb.  Almost unbelievably dumb.  This is contrasted with the unusual Baudelaire children, who are are so much more intelligent than everyone else yet are constantly ignored.  Were it not for how exceedingly dumb the adults are, the tragedy would be such that it would render the show depressing to the point of unwatchable.  The children’s guardian Count Olaf is an exceptionally bad actor, and manages to take in all the adults in the show with his poorly thought out plans.  The children, by contrast, see through his schemes as soon as he shows up, much like the audience.  It is perhaps the only solace in this unfortunate tale of woe that the children, when not restrained by societal norms and expectations, are able to outmaneuver their despicable guardian so easily.  I look forward to seeing how the continue to escape one tragic happening to another and to see if the show can keep up the pace of tragedy without exhausting the audience.



Netflix has rarely disappointed me. When I first heard A Series of Unfortunate Events had been picked up, I was very hopeful that they would find a way to do it justice. Every piece of marketing I saw leading up to the show’s release only cemented that feeling–from the endorsement of the author “Lemony Snicket” himself, the first glimpses of footage, and learning that the man producing it was the same man who had done The Addams Family, I felt that one of my favorite series as a kid was in capable hands.

One of the best things about the books that has been gloriously translated onto the screen is the books’ use of language. The books are almost Dickensian in nature (if Dickens had had a drier, more bitter sense of humor) with its long sentences and fondness for commas, semicolons, and dashes. This series is faithful to its source text to a degree I have only seen maybe once or twice before, and as a literature buff, it makes me practically giddy to see a show not just pay homage to its source text, but actively try to incorporate it into as many scenes as possible. Utilizing the character of the narrator as heavily as the show does allows for the kind of verbosity that the books had without seeming awkward or out of place.

In the books the bitter, sardonic, morbid, constantly-in-a-state-of-peril narrator is left unnamed. For the purposes of the show, though, the narrator’s name becomes the pseudonym that the author of the books wrote under, Lemony Snicket. The execution of the narrator is much better than I’d ever hoped for–basically pristine. What I was expecting to happen was Patrick Warburton would narrate over some scenes to give context and be witty. Instead, the show has decided to insert Patrick Warburton himself on-screen to narrate. This allows him to occupy two spaces in the narrative, both within and without. In the scenes where he appears with the other characters of the story alongside him, he often gives vital context or foreshadowing. In the scenes he appears alone, he usually occupies spaces we’ve already seen, but at the time of Snicket’s narration, have long been abandoned by the Baudelaires and everyone else, lending those scenes a very solemn quality.

Patrick Warburton’s performance itself is spot-on. He’s able to stone-face the most hilarious or morbid narration of the series with perfect enunciation and inflection. He was, quite honestly, a perfect choice for that character. And I am so glad he is being treated as the character he always was and deserves to be. However, I do hope that we see more scenes of him in the midst of peril. I distinctly remember many scenes from the book that were quite ridiculous for the narrator, and I believe they could bring much-needed levity to the show which is, as it advertises, quite bleak at times.

On the subject of casting choices, I thought Neil Patrick Harris was an interesting choice for Count Olaf. I wasn’t put off by it, but I also wasn’t thinking to myself, “Oh yes. Of course. An obvious choice.” I mean, Neil Patrick Harris is supposed to be attractive first of all. Which, if you have any experience with the series, Count Olaf is definitely not. Not just that, but the only other Count Olaf ever attempted was Jim Carey’s. This is not to say that I think Jim Carey did a bad job portraying Olaf (which might be a controversial opinion in itself, but I stick by it nonetheless. The biggest problems with that movie were not his acting.) That said, I think that Neil Patrick Harris (who henceforth I will type as NPH because I’m lazy) is doing Olaf much, much better.

The reason I say this is because NPH is able to pull back on the eccentricity a bit (which Jim Carey never attempts and thus is the reason so many people just hate his acting style) and deliver a performance that is both comical (as when Count Olaf is in disguise) and sinister–which is exactly what Count Olaf should be. Initially, I thought NPH might be pulling a bit from Carey’s original performance, but upon further reflection, I believe he’s pulling more from previous performances like Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog. With the help of the smarter writing this series has, Count Olaf has achieved the blend of ridiculous/ dastardly/ sinister/ intelligent that he was meant to have in the hands of NPH.