Adaptation in narrative art is a funny process. Sometimes an “adaptation” ends up meaning “forced change,” like the infamous studio-mandated voice-over in Blade Runner. Other times, an adaptation is natural compromise between text source material and filmed media, like the rational inclusion of more women in the Lord of the Rings movies. But the adaptation of the Lemony Snicket books, A Series of Unfortunate Events, into a Netflix series feels more like a flightless animal spontaneously getting wings: an unexpectedly weird and wild event which adds various elements to the books that are both delightful to look at and functional for storytelling mechanics.
While the the books are wonderful pieces of work — and it could sound blasphemous to say this — there are some notable improvements from a plot perspective which the Netflix show has implemented in adapting these books. And because Daniel Hander (Lemony Snicket IRL) wrote most of these teleplays, none of theses improvements feel intrusive or pandering one bit. Here are eight ways the Snicket story of the Baudelaires zips along better in the new show.
The following unfortunately contains huge spoilers for Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.
8. Sunny’s Speech and Skills
Though she becomes an excellent cook by the end of the book series, the Sunny of the TV show has numerous traits which help to move the plot along more neatly. The subtitles of Sunny’s baby-talks are not only hilarious, they give insight into what Sunny knows and what she’s able to do. In the second episode, she tells the Hook-Handed Man that “she’s a fast learner,” and this results in her schooling him at poker. This, and other skills, allows Sunny to get in on the action easier. It also makes her a super-baby, which while outrageous, isn’t out of place at all in this highly stylized universe.
7. Violet’s Inventions
Possessing an almost steampunk feeling, the inventions of Violet Baudelaire are both more intricate and more specific than those found in the books. For instance, in The Bad Beginning, the book tells us she was thinking of an invention that would retrieve rocks after you’d skipped them on water. But, in the show, Violet has built this invention outright. This makes it easier for the audience to believe Violet can build the grappling hook at the end of the second episode and literally anything else as the series progresses.
6. V.F.D. Introduced Earlier
Threading the existence of the secret organization known as “V.F.D.” from the very first episode is one of the most ingenious alterations form the series. In the books the notion that the Baudelaire parents were part of a complex spy network might have felt like an afterthought (even though it surely wasn’t). Here, by having the organization firmly established to exist in the earlier episodes helps to deepen the intrigue and solidify the allegiances of the various characters. The possible flip side of this is that it perhaps will lead to even more questions that neither the books nor the Netflix show can hope to ever answer.
5. Guardians Are More Competent
In the second and third book in A Series of Unfortunate Events, Uncle Monty and Aunt Josephine are mostly taken in by Count Olaf’s disguises to a point that stretches credibility, or at the very least, makes the children overwhelmingly more competent than any one else in the story. The Netflix series alters this slightly by making it clear that Uncle Monty knows “Stephano” isn’t who he says he is right away. Similarly, though Aunt Josephine in the show is just as fearful as she was in the book version of The Wide Window, her backstory indicates she was perviously “formidable,” a bravery which she regains in the sixth episode. Still, these guardians aren’t galloping to the rescue either. Uncle Monty doesn’t recognize Count Olaf and Aunt Josephine is still trembling about real estate agents.
4. Decorder Spyglasses
One of the coolest additions to the Snicket mythology is easily the spyglasses carried by various characters, including Lemony Snicket, Count Olaf, Jacquelyn, the Quagmires, and of course, Klaus Baudelaire. In addition to being awesome devices that both act as portable telescopes and code-breaking gizmos, the spyglasses provide an excellent shorthand for how certain messages and secret goings-on are both discovered and carried out. Having Klaus grab a collapsed spyglass in the first episode of the show gives the Baudelaire orphans their version of a lightsaber.
3. Mr. Poe’s First Error
Why did Mr. Poe make the terrible mistake of of putting the Baudelaire orphans with Count Olaf in the first place? It’s never explained in the books, but in the second episode of the show, a strong, if not entirely clear explanation is offered. Mr. Poe was talked into giving the Baudelaires Count Olaf by Count Olaf himself while the Count was in disguise. Lemony Snicket makes a big deal of talking to the camera and explaining that this scene is offered so that various people will “finally leave him alone.”
An entirely new character to the Netflix series, the mysterious Jacquelyn is a welcome addition to the complicated Snicket story. Jacquelyn is probably the most helpful addition to the existing text if only because she provides key pieces of information about the complex backstory of Olaf and his connection with the Baudelaire family. But, she’s also a character who brings the fight to Olaf directly, notably in the final scenes of the fourth episode.
1. Snicket’s Prominence and His Connection to Olaf
In the fifth episode, Count Olaf wonders aloud if Lemony Snicket is “dead” or not. While the end of the eight-episode season firmly establishes the two knew each other and were comrades as young men. While these facts aren’t exactly news to fans of the book series, the Netflix show does deepen and make plain Count Olaf’s awareness of Lemony Snicket. When Olaf learns that the Baudelaires are being trained by someone “formidable,” he sneers and asks “Snicket?” which only teases a possible confrontation between Snicket and Olaf, either presented in flashback, or perhaps, flash-forward.
All eight episodes of A Series of Unfortunate Events are streaming on Netflix now.