The Horror Honeys: "A Series of Unfortunate Events" is a Dark Delight

"A Series of Unfortunate Events" is a Dark Delight

A Horror TV Honey recap with Addison

On the appropriately chosen date of Friday, January 13th, Netflix released the first season of an adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s beloved children’s series A Series of Unfortunate Events. The series, which follows the mishaps of a trio of orphans as they are shuffled from one ill-equipped guardian to another, has reached something of a cult status among readers who wanted a little more darkness with their children’s literature.

The popularity of the books led to a film adaptation starring Jim Carrey, and the fans never quite recovered. Understandably, these same fans were apprehensive about another attempt to transfer the story of the Baudelaire orphans to the screen. However, they needn’t have worried, as the story was placed in the capable hands of executive producer Daniel Handler (aka the series creator Lemony Snicket)’and director Barry Sonnenfeld (Pushing Daisies, The Addams Family).

Cheer up, kids. Patrick Warburton is RIGHT THERE.
You may be wondering why your Horror TV Honey is covering this series at all. Sure, it’s dark, bleak, and has a bigger body count than most HBO dramas, but is it really “horror”? Strictly speaking, you might say no. However, it dips its toe into the world of the horrifying enough to be considered. Death, darkness, murder, mayhem, carnivorous leeches and babies held hostage are just a few of the more disturbing elements of the show. There is plenty more where that came from. Follow along with this recap (spoiler-free!) and you’ll see what I mean.

The Bad Beginning (Episodes One and Two)

And that over there? That's Tr*mp Tower. 
This initial pair of episodes, based on the first book of the series, follows the discovery of the Baudelaire parents’ death and the subsequent placement of their children with Count Olaf. The stars of this first story are Neil Patrick Harris and Patrick Warburton.

Patrick Warburton’s Lemony Snicket is sardonic and likeable in equal measure, acting as both a narrator and a puzzle piece in the story itself.

Neil Patrick Harris was an unlikely choice for the infamous villain Count Olaf, but during The Bad Beginning he proves himself to be the best pick for the role. While Jim Carrey’s Olaf was a clown with just a hint of menace and madness, Neil Patrick Harris manages to walk the fine line of the character.

The true terror of Count Olaf lies in his ability to manipulate: he plays the fool up until he is absolutely certain that everyone around him is disarmed, and snatches the rug from beneath them. Yes, he is ridiculous, with cartoonish mannerisms and a Disney villain haircut, but his cruelty is very real. While stunning, these performances are not the only thing about this first episode that draws the viewer’s attention. The child actors playing Violet and Klaus are beautifully cast, and approach their roles with a combination of Wes Anderson whimsy and Tim Burton darkness. Other standout performances include Joan Cusack’s sweetly sad Justice Strauss and K. Todd Freeman’s hilarious take on bumbling bureaucrat Mr. Poe.

The Reptile Room (Episodes 3 and 4)

I don't recall this scene from The Grand Budapest Hotel...
After their temporary, extremely clever defeat of Count Olaf in The Bad Beginning, the Baudelaire children are shuffled off to their next guardian, Dr. Montgomery Montgomery and his Reptile Room.

While it is a casting choice that I never would have predicted, I will never accept or picture anyone other than Aasif Mandvi as the eccentric herpetologist ever again.

His performance is delightful to watch; he is dynamic, absurd, loveable, and the eccentric family friend we all wish we could have had to teach us about snakes and the world. Uncle Monty is everything that Count Olaf was not: kind, generous, academic, and beyond excited to welcome the children into his life. So, naturally, everything works out perfectly and the series ends here.

If you want to believe that, stop reading now, as this may not be the show for you. Of course, things go south for Uncle Monty and the children rather quickly, but the story of The Reptile Room still manages to be a great deal of fun, albeit with a bit of a depressing twist in the middle.

There are several distinctly creepy and intense moments, largely revolving around the Reptile Room itself, though it is the human capacity for cruelty rather than the dangers posed by said reptiles that makes it scary. These two episodes feature the first of Count Olaf’s many iconic disguises as he poses as Uncle Monty’s new assistant. This begins one of the most familiar patterns in A Series of Unfortunate Events: adults refusing to see what is so incredibly plain to children. This story arc further establishes the celebration of sharp minds and clever children that fans so enjoy about the original book series. In this world, the mind is not only the greatest weapon, it is the only resource left for children that have lost everything they once held dear.

Looking back at 2016 like...
No, this series is not technically horror. It is, however, a distinctly enjoyable and gothic portrayal of misery, danger, and the human capacity for cruelty. Never before has a piece of entertainment so insistent on you not watching it been so captivating. From the opening theme song, which repeats the lyrics “Look away!” the show knows just what it’s doing, and perfectly captures the depressing fun of the original books.

A Series of Unfortunate Events is a macabre little love letter to fans of the series, and it more than makes up for the controversial 2004 movie. Many fans, myself included, found the film (which crammed the first three books in the series into a single chaotic story) reductive and unable to capture the nuance of the source material. If you are a fan of the books, or if you like your upsetting material with snappy dialogue, strange inventions, and the air of an eerie modern fairytale, this show is well worth your time.

Horror TV Honey Rating: 3/3 Orphans

Check it out on Netflix and 
let me know what you think on Twitter @Addison_Peacock

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