Television has never been quite so entertainingly morose as Netflix’s adaptation of the best-selling book’s enters its second season. Building on the strength of last year’s first season, ‘Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events’ continues to be a unique triumph.
The casting in the show is sublime, with Neil Patrick Harris nailing the character of Count Olaf. I admit that when his casting was first announced, I was incredibly skeptical. Could Barney from ‘How I Met Your Mother’ really live up to the evil of Count Olaf? The answer is a resounding yes! Admittedly the portrayal is sometimes messy, with Olaf treading the line between slapstick stupidity and genuine terror, but Harris’s performance, mixed with an astonishing make up job, more than does justice to the original book character. Alongside him, Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes are outstanding as Violet and Klaus Baudelaire, two of three siblings who were orphaned after their home was destroyed in a fire. Their emotion and comic timing are both fantastic, and makes them very compelling young leads. Not only this, but Patrick Warburton is wonderfully dry as the omniscient narrator, Lemony Snicket himself. Appearing in all manner of locations, dressed in all sorts of outfits, he delivers some brilliant lines of wit and whimsy. Accompanying the great main cast are a series of supporting actors, including the hilarious K. Todd Freeman as Mr. Poe, a banker in charge of the Baudelaire fortune and sporting a horribly annoying cough. Each two episodes deals with the next book in the series, and this allows for a huge array of guest actors to join the fun, including Lucy Punch as the cruel Esme Squalor and Roger Bart as the mad vice-principal Nero Feint.
The show is wonderfully original in its story telling, and revels in the bizarre. The tone balances very well between humour and incredibly dark themes to create a perfect black comedy. Many of the scripts have been adapted by Daniel Handler, author of the original books (Lemony Snicket being his pen-name) and this means the style has been well maintained in the transition from page to screen. Supporting the writing and cast are the most beautiful gothic sets and costumes, and perhaps some of the fakest, most pleasing visuals outside of a Wes Anderson film. It’s clear that the budget from Season One has been massively increased, and this has allowed for huge set pieces and the most colourful of design work. After the film took a very different approach to adapting the novels, this adaptation sticks very faithfully to the source material, with the disguises donned by Olaf being almost identical to Brett Helquist’s illustrations in the books.
While the first season last year was good, I did feel that they were still trying to establish what they wanted to the do with the series. This time however, they fully hit their stride and the second season has been even better than the first. Particular highlights include episodes 7 and 8 (The Hostile Hospital) which often strays into horror film territory, and episode 9 (The Carnivorous Carnival Pt. 1) which offer much needed plot answers, as well as a beautifully designed gothic circus. I personally felt that episodes 3 and 4 (The Ersatz Elevator) lacked slightly, with a particularly awkward song and dance number closing episode 3 that added nothing to the story. Unfortunately, the ending of episode 10 is also a slightly unwhelming one, and while it revels in providing a (literal) cliff hanger for the season finale, it was slightly too abrupt for my liking.
Overall though I have found the second season of the show to be an astounding success. The style and tone of the books have continued to be very well matched, the writing is brilliant and the cast are sublime. It’s a treat for the eyes and, beneath all its morose humour, actually quite heart-warming.