As a teen I fangirled all over A Series of Unfortunate Events. (Author Daniel Handler spoke to my dark humour and love for the absurd.) Eventually I passed the stories onto my sister but the tale of the Baudelaire children stayed with me.
So I had high expectations when I tuned into the Netflix adaptation, “A Bad Beginning, Part One”.
Episode one opens on morbid narrator, Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton) whose commentary is in part a description of events, in part a warning to viewers to turn away. As the story unfolds we meet the ingenious Baudelaire siblings Violet (Malina Weissman), Klaus (Louis Hynes) and Sunny (Presley Smith). The children, who’ve recently lost their parents in a mysterious fire, are placed under the care of a distant relative, Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris). Living in Olaf’s derelict mansion the Baudelaire’s are forced to perform unimaginable chores, the final of which is to make dinner for the Count’s acting troupe. As dinner of Puttanesca Spaghetti is served, Olaf grows irate when the children fail to read his mind and cook Roast Beef. Losing his temper Olaf slaps Klaus across the face.
Harris has made a concerted effort to create a character who is fun to watch but the result is, at times, a villain who seems closer to, ‘Barney Stinson trying to lure a girl home’, than ‘a tyrant capable of physical and emotional abuse’ .
Despite my #fangirlqualms there is much about the adaptation to like. Handler has taken the script under his wing and gives each book the airtime it deserves. His writing translates beautifully to screen.
One of the many small but significant changes, adding to the style and structure of the story, is having Lemony Snicket as an embodied character rather than merely a narrator. Another is the stunning visuals. Episode one sets a distinctive look for the eight part series: the use of colour is striking and mixes beautifully with a Wes Anderson-esque symmetry.
By the end of the first episode I felt moved but I wasn’t deeply invested in the world of the Baudelaire’s. I’m still hopeful episode two will fill me with despair.