Hollywood is no stranger to taking a much-loved children’s book franchise and turning it into a box office hit.
But cast your mind back to 2004, when the film adaption of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events starring Jim Carrey aired, and the same cannot be said.
The film adaption only managed to encapsulate three of the thirteen books before the story got discontinued on the big screen.
Critics at the time gave mixed reviews, but pre-teens loved it.
However, just like the story itself, the adults were listened to over the children, even though the latter were the target audience.
But now those children are in their 20s and 30s and A Series of Unfortunate Events has hit the small screen.
Netflix has adapted the children’s classic into an original series that they can add to their ever growing list.
There is finally a binge-worthy show that caters for both adults and children – not only does it introduce a new generation to the wonderfully tragic world of the Baudelaire children, but in the process, it does not alienate the group of children-turned-adults who grew up on the books and one-off movie.
There’s something hypnotic about watching someone else’s misery
It is natural to be sceptic when a production company decides to recreate a childhood favourite, but with Daniel Handler (the man behind the Lemony Snicket pseudonym) writing the teleplay, it gives the series a sense of authenticity.
In the middle of dealing with incompetent adults who are patronising at their best and ignorant at their worst, the story follows the aftermath of three recently-orphaned children who are continuously forced to escape the clutches of murderous villain, Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris), whose sole mission in life is to get his hands on their fortune.
To play Olaf, you must be utterly ridiculous while simultaneously shivers-down-your-spine creepy and frightening.
You need to balance the fact that he is a complete joke but also someone who you would cross the road to avoid – he does, after all, kidnap children and tries to marry a 14-year-old.
It is hard to picture Harris as anyone other than Barney Stinson from the sitcom How I Met Your Mother, but by the end of the eight episodes, you warm to him – but Olaf? Not so much.
While he manages to capture the wickedness of the character, the real stars are the eldest children, Violet (Malina Weissman) and Klaus (Louis Hynes) who are nothing short of being on par with their more experienced co-stars.
The production value, however, is lacking. The green screens are so obvious that I don’t think they were even trying to hide it. It is the combination of the cast and story that carries you to the very end.
Perhaps what makes the Netflix take on the franchise a cut above the movie is the fact that they break the fourth wall by talking directly to the audience on many occasions.
Not only do they do this through Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton), who is more than a narrator and becomes a character in his own right, but also through the dialogue of Count Olaf.
“In all honesty, I prefer long-form television to the movies. It’s so much more convenient to consume entertainment from the comfort of your own home,” Olaf says as he grins directly at the camera; and then again when he says: “Poor little orphan, haven’t you learned anything this year? Week? Season?”
It is these subtle hints of genius that gives the series personality and reinforces why A Series of Unfortunate Events was always destined to be on a streaming service.
Add to this the lack of a specific time frame which means that even though they take old trains and there’s not a touch screen in sight, they also make a nod to Uber and streaming services and through their exploration of modern ideas – a gay couple run the Mill, newsreaders Veronica and Vincent are male and female respectively – and you have the formula which takes an old classic that oozes contemporary brilliance.
The real stars are the eldest children, Violet (Malina Weissman) and Klaus (Louis Hynes) who are nothing short of being on par with their more experienced co-stars
A Series of Unfortunate Events has never claimed to be about happy endings and it hasn’t decided to start now.
Even at the start of the dark tale when you get a glimmer of hope, which you choose to believe over and over again, you are repeatedly told to look away in the opening theme tune and Snicket’s monologues.
It is only by the seventh episode that the hope is shattered and you accept the unfortunate circumstances of the orphans.
Their story is far from a fairytale.
On its own it is a story that mixes dark humour and innocence. But peel the layers and it is a challenging narrative for children – they are exposed to bad things happening to good people, where greed and corruption prevail at the expense of truth and where murder is not the only thing bad people get away with.
All while that is happening, however, there is a sense of nostalgia for the young adults of today to relive the story and understand what they may have overlooked 13 years ago.
And every time you’re told to look away, you inevitably keep on watching.
Because there’s something hypnotic about watching someone else’s misery, something that Snicket figured out a long time ago.
A Series of Unfortunate Events is available now on Netflix.
Featured image by Netflix