Screen contributor James McCann examines the Netflix adaptation of Daniel Handler's (pseudonym Lemony Snicket) fictional saga following the hapless Baudelaire children.

If there is anything that can be expected of Neil Patrick Harris, it’s theatricality and showmanship.
So, with apologies to Jim Carrey (your T-Rex impression is still on point) A Series of Unfortunate Event’s Count Olaf, a character with the mishmash mannerisms of every stage villain ever and a wardrobe full of devious disguises, seems the perfect Harris role. . Unfortunately, though, the series relies somewhat on this enigmatic silver bullet to keep you watching.

The general plot of each episode is formulaic fun, and when paired with this perfectly cast villain the experience is entertaining, but the series doesn’t go much further. The overarching mystery of the series fails to fully draw you in and fails to form a fully cohesive series.

Although the repetitive misfortunes of the children are constantly finding new ways to manifest, the melancholy starts to border on the tedious. Despite this, the young trio playing the Baudelaire orphans do a charming job with roles and scripts that hold the strong potential of becoming irritating and obnoxious. The biting baby Baudelaire Sunny (Presley Smith) provides some much needed light relief from the understandably gloomy duo of Violet (Malina Weissman) and Klaus (Louis Hynes). Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton) succeeds too, as he delivers his deadpan narration brilliantly and manages to make exposition entertaining

But there still seems to be something missing. Most likely it is that the 13 book source material has been stretched a little too thin, with only four books being covered over the eight episode series and so the narrative naturally leaves the audience with more questions than answers.

All in all it feels a bit like a student-led school play. It’s camp and raucous and perhaps a little too over the top – but it’s a laugh. The self-aware style adopted mixed with the caricatured characters make for a few fun episodes. The problem is that there is too heavy an emphasis on this being a part of a larger series, and so it leaves the audience a bit unfulfilled.

Each part is played brilliantly, but a lot of the series focusses too much on this being the beginning of a long story, and there’s only so much misfortune an audience can take. It will be interesting to see if viewers will return for its almost certain sequel series.

James McCann