Unfortunately, Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is gloriously entertaining. Its warnings that viewers should “look away” from its unpleasant story will likely not be heeded as it meets the book nostalgia head-on, giving the series a worthy adaptation while simultaneously fleshing out the holes in its original narrative.
If you’re a newcomer who missed the era of the books — which came out between 1999 and 2006 — you’ll still find plenty to like in the show, as it feels like somebody let Wes Anderson, old-school Tim Burton circa Edward Scissorhands, and Yorgos Lanthimos make a TV show together. It’s darkly funny, absurd, and creates an alternate version of our world full of bizarre characters, mass conspiracies, and MC Escher style-architecture.
Since the eight-episode first season is going to tackle the first four books, here’s a non-spoiler rundown on the unfortunate events that await.
The Bad Beginning
The first two episodes tackle the first novel in the series, The Bad Beginning. The inciting unfortunate event here is the death of the Baudelaire parents. Their house burns and they perish in a fire, leaving their three plucky children — Violet, Klaus, and Sunny — as homeless orphans.
Unfortunately, the children are then given to Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris), who is either their fourth cousin three times removed or their third cousin four times removed. “He’s removed,” the banker Mr. Poe says, waving his hand dismissively. Count Olaf’s house is, unfortunately, ramshackle and hardly welcoming, and he treats the children cruelly. He doesn’t care about their well-being but merely wants their fortune, which they will inherit when the fourteen-year-old Violet turns eighteen. In order to get that money, he has no qualms about murdering, blackmailing, or marrying an underage girl.
The Reptile Room
Unfortunately, the children’s next guardian, a kindly herpetologist (played in the Netflix series by Aasif Mandvi) dies, and Count Olaf finds the kids soon after. Their happiness, spent in a majestic house filled with reptiles, is brief.
The Wide Window
Unfortunately, the children’s next guardian is an agoraphobic and grammar-obsessed widow who lives in a house atop a cliff. She did know their parents, but every time they try to glean information out of her, she cringes away in fear. Count Olaf disguises himself as a sailor and dates her, and the children’s time with her is also short-lived as she mysteriously disappears. Unfortunately, again, the lake below her house is filled with unusually vicious leaches, and unfortunately, this is exactly as relevant to the plot as it sounds.
The Miserable Mill
After their ordeal at the lake, the children escape to Lucky Smells Lumbermill in an effort to elude Count Olaf and find out more information regarding their parents’ secrets. They instead become child laborers working tedious jobs, and unfortunately, the depressed town is also home to a nefarious ophthalmologist. Count Olaf unfortunately finds them again, and they become entangled in a brain-washing hypnosis scheme.
The children learn to become more self-reliant through their trials and tribulations, but unfortunately, it’s because all the adults around them are incompetent or oblivious. Most unfortunate of all, it’s a rip-roaringly good story, so get ready to feel guilty for mining joy from their misery.
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events comes to Netflix on Friday the 13th, which is of course quite unfortunate for us all.