Welcome one, welcome all, to a new feature to this blog which I have decided to call: Weekend Watching. This will be a hopefully regular post uploaded on Saturdays or Sundays (hence the “weekend watching”) where I talk about a film, TV show, or maybe even YouTube channel/video that I’ve particularly enjoyed recently. I’m hoping to spotlight at least one thing to watch each week and hopefully someone at least will get a kick out of these posts – I will, if no one else does!
My last Weekend Watching showcased the brilliance that is Marvel’s Jessica Jones, and this week we’re staying with TV shows produced by Netflix and hopping over to A Series of Unfortunate Events! As a huge fan of the book series when I was younger, when I heard ASOUE was getting the Netflix treatment I was extremely excited about the series. Add in Neil Patrick Harris as the villainous Count Olaf and I eagerly awaited the first season with barely disguised impatience, especially since I seemed to be one of the very few people who’d actually enjoyed the film version starring Jim Carey. The Netflix series, however, is leagues above the film, and it’s for this reason that I’m featuring it in this week’s Weekend Watching.
A Series of Unfortunate Events tells the unfortunate tale of the Baudelaire siblings, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, who become orphans after their parents are killed in a terrible fire which destroys their entire home. Left all alone in the world, they are passed from guardian to guardian and attract the attention of the despicable Count Olaf, a horrendous actor who wants guardianship of the orphans purely for the large Baudelaire fortune which will pass to them once Violet comes of age. The siblings end up twisting and turning to try to escape Olaf and his gang with their wicked and dastardly schemes, all in the meantime trying to find a place for them to call home again as they all grapple with a mysterious organisation called V.F.D.
Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes play the eldest Baudelaires to perfection, displaying incredible acting chops considering their young age. I fully believe their dynamic as siblings, and Presley Smith as biting baby Sunny Baudelaire rounds off the trio in a very cute fashion. I think it’s also strangely refreshing to have actual teenagers play the Baudelaire children, something I was thrilled to see. However, the shining star of this show must necessarily be the villainous Count Olaf, played to OTT and arrogant perfection by Neil Patrick Harris – he even goes so far as to have the audacity to sing the show’s theme song, something which I’m sure Olaf himself would be extremely proud of. He seems a little unhinged and narcissistic to a worrying degree, but NPH’s comedic timing also manages to make Olaf a character you weirdly root for despite his trickery. Similarly, season 2 saw the arrival of the antagonist Esmé Squalor, the city’s sixth most important financial adviser and eventual girlfriend of Olaf. Lucy Punch plays her to vain perfection and, on a separate note, I found the Squalors’ lavish art deco penthouse apartment to be so very extra and incredible.
Speaking of which, this show has an impressive number of guest stars and cameos – you will be forever saying ‘oh it’s X from Y!’ with such delight. My favourite one of these moments so far has probably been either Nathan Fillion popping up as Jacques Snicket, Tony Hale as Jerome Squalor, or Rhys Darby as Charles. The calibre of the guest stars really shows how much fun this show must have been to film, since stars from film and TV are clearly lining up to play bit characters in the series. On a deeply shallow note, it’s also completely indecent to let Nathan Fillion have as much fun as he clearly did playing the swashbuckling and charming Jacques Snicket. An original character for the TV show, I also find Mr Poe’s mysterious secretary Jacquelyn to be a wonderful addition to the show, helping to tie together the activities of the secret organisation, V.F.D., which were otherwise kept “off-screen” for so many of the books.
The aesthetic of this show is very deliberate and self-aware, in fact the big advisory note I would make is that you are either going to love or hate the entire ~feel~ of the TV show. It’s somehow colourful as well as bleak, it has a slight steampunk feel at certain points and more of a Wes Anderson-esque colour palette in others. It’s wacky and over-the-top but so very, very stylistic. Furthermore, the show makes constant visual gags and it also is very aware of its status as a streaming show on Netflix; it isn’t afraid to reference other roles its stars have made through a little joke here and there, as well as drawing on the wealth of material in the books to introduce the viewer to the idea of V.F.D. a lot earlier than the orphans learn about it themselves. One of the strongest devices in A Series of Unfortunate Events, for me, is the presence of Patrick Warburton as the book’s author Lemony Snicket. Intrinsic to the narrative, he frequently steps into scenes as an unseen narrator and literally walks around the story of the Baudelaire orphans, breaking the fourth wall to talk directly to the viewers and warn them (many times) to look away from the show if they would rather believe the Baudelaires got a happy ending.
Thus far, the narrative covering the first nine books is available to watch on Netflix worldwide, and I cannot wait for the final season to see how this story turns out. In the meantime, I think I will re-watch my favourite episodes again (specifically The Ersatz Elevator) and I highly suggest you do the same, unless you would rather heed the theme song’s warning to “Just look away / Look away / There’s nothing but horror and inconvenience on the way / Ask any stable person, “Should I watch?” and they will say: Look away.”