I’m going to assume that if you’ve made it past the title of this post without immediately clicking away — calling me a shallow, ignorant moron with no taste — that you probably also share this unpopular opinion. Or perhaps you really loved Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and you’ve come to find out how it was possible someone didn’t like it. Either way, I hope you bear with me while I explain why I think this beloved book series has had some rather, well, unfortunate adaptations.
I would like to preface all of this by saying that there were a lot of things that I thought Netflix’s ASOUE did very well. The show was absolutely stunning to look at, with some of the most interesting set design and cinematography I’ve seen in a while. The writing was also very clever, and there were lots of little jokes that made me laugh. I thought the show captured the absurdity of the Baudelaire’s situations, and did a good job expressing how utterly incompetent the adults in this series tend to be. I even thought that Neil Patrick Harris played a fine Count Olaf, which was the hot-button debate surrounding the series. I didn’t feel like it was the show itself that was poorly done, but I think when you add context of the books, the show just falls a little flat.
Perhaps this is another unpopular opinion: I really enjoyed the 2004 Nickelodeon-produced movie, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. I have always thought that the main problem with this film was that is was Nickelodeon-produced. Even with a huge star in a lead role, the movie just couldn’t carry itself at the box office. That, and the movie took several liberties in deviating from the books. But on the whole this version was both visually and narratively compelling, and what it got right (or at least, more right) was the tone.
The main issue I have with Netflix’s ASOUE, is that the tone just feels all wrong. It’s ironically light-hearted, and while I understand what they were trying to do here, it takes away from the utter eeriness that I loved so much in the books. In just the first season (which goes up though book 4), I can tell that the show will not expand on its level of ‘darkness’. Again, the series’ dark and dismal tone was what I loved about the books, and truthfully, as the series goes on there are some seriously gruesome deaths. For example, if you haven’t read book 4: The Miserable Mill and you’ve only watched the Netflix version, you would believe that Dr. Orwell died by falling into a furnace, but in fact, Dr. Orwell dies by falling onto a freaking bandsaw. Ya. I’m talking GRUESOME deaths. And that’s only the beginning — I won’t spoil some of the other deaths, but none are clean and blood-free as portrayed in the Netflix version.
Which brings me to my next point — who exactly is Netflix’s target audience on this show? I can understand if Netflix doesn’t want gorey deaths in their children’s programing, but are they really marketing this show to kids? I didn’t get that impression. Netflix seemed to be offering the series up to newspaper and entertainment sites as a family show, one everyone could watch, but I can’t help feeling the show would be a lot better if it had gone darker and aimed at older audiences. Besides, all the people that read the books as kids are adults now, and what we really wanted was a true-to-text adaptation of this frankly brilliant book series.
Speaking of adapting — I think the kids in the 2004 movie version were much better portrayals of these characters than the Netflix kids. For one, there was no visible age different between Klaus and Violet, which really irked me. Upon googling the actors, I found out that the kid who plays Klaus is actually older than the kid who plays Violet. That fact is like an itch in my brain that I will never be able to ignore. I don’t think they were terrible, but I thought they were quite bland. These are the central characters! We’re supposed to feel sympathy for them! PLEASE give them some personality. And this really shouldn’t be too difficult considering there’s 13 books filled with them.
Finally, I have my qualms about the early introduction of the VFD secret society. What made the book series so interesting is that for at least the first 5 or 6 books you were thinking “Man, these kids are just unlucky. What did they do to deserve this?” You had a nagging feeling that more was going to be revealed about their unusual and unfortunate circumstances, but what made it so gruesome in the beginning was that there seemed to be no rhyme or reason for their hardship. I felt like the introduction of VFD robbed series newcomers of that “Ah Ha!” moment that occurs (much) later on in the books.
Overall, was the show terrible? Absolutely not. Netflix obviously put a lot of time and effort and thought into how they wanted to do this show, and it really worked for a lot of people. The show itself is very well done. I think I would have enjoyed this show much more had I not been such a devoted fan of the books. It’s just that, for me, this was not the “perfect adaptation” that headlines were calling it.
But anyways, that’s just my opinion, and it seems to be the unpopular one for sure! What did you guys think of Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events? What did you like/dislike about it? Do you like Neil Patrick Harris made a good Count Olaf?