OK, so, this is the second adaptation of author Lemony Snicket’s (real name Daniel Handler) A Series of Unfortunate Events. And nothing against Jim Carrey, but he ain’t Neil Patrick Harris, and Neil Patrick Harris makes the central role of the greedy Count Olaf his own even under all the make-up.
Yes, he does a song and dance number in the first episode. Why do you ask?
I’ve never actually read the books this series is based on, but my understanding is that much of the narration is done by “Lemony Snicket” the author, who spends a good deal of time discussing how down and depressing the action is. That idea carries over to the series, where Snicket is here played as a flesh-and-blood man on the set by actor Patrick Warburton. I find Warburton to be quite the effective comedic actor, and his time on Seinfeld certainly showed he is a master of the deadpan delivery. He doesn’t quite do that here, but it’s close.
Apparently, the first two episodes adapt the first book of the series, but that’s not too important. Much of the script comes down to word play as three children find their lives turning miserable. Violet Baudelaire, the oldest, is an inventor with a gift for machines. Klaus, the middle child and only son, is a brainy kid with a ton of book smarts. Sunny, an infant daughter, is also fairly bright but is best known for her razor-sharp teeth, capable of filing down rocks when necessary.
During a day at the beach (it was raining, the only time the Baudelaires go to the beach since there’s no crowd), the children receive word from the family’s banker Mr. Poe that their parents died in a horrible fire that burned their house and all their possessions to ash. Looking around the house afterwards, the kids manage to find what looks like a spyglass, and after a night spent in a less-than-friendly Poe household are sent to live with their closest relative as stipulated in their parents’ will.
Though, we should note, Mr. Poe takes “closest relative” rather literally, taking the kids to see a third cousin four times removed or a fourth cousin three times removed because he was geographically the closest. That would be failed actor Count Olaf, living in a giant dilapidated mansion and looking to get his hands on his rich cousins’ money. It seems the Baudelaire parents were loaded and left all the money in an untouchable trust until Violent turns 18. That’s four years away.
So begins the misery that is the Baudelaire’s new life. Olaf has them doing chores even Dickens would find comically excessive. They might have an ally in the kindly judge across the street (Joan Cusack), but Olaf puts her off without too much effort with a series of lies that only work in children’s entertainment, but are awfully fun for an adult in the right frame of mind.
Handler wrote this script for this episode himself, along with a number of others, while direction was handled by Barry Sonnenfeld, director of the Adams Family and Men in Black films, giving the series a unique look that sets it out from a lot of other work. This looks to be a bit of fun, and there’s even a mystery involved as the Baudelaire parents (played by Will Arnett and Colby Smulders) are alive and (maybe) well, being held by people unknown for purposes unknown. That may be a change from the source material, so we’ll see how it turns out.