18 January 2017 | triviasponge
The Acceptable Adaptation
I'm sorry to inform you that the review you are reading is not extremely positive. If you would like to read an explanation why ASOUE is greatest television series to ever be released via Netflix, you are better off reading some other review.
It is true that this is a very faithful adaptation of the book series, with additions of its own. Should you choose to watch all eight episodes of this series, you will find yourself exposed to stilted dialogue, Wes Anderson influences, slow pacing, fourth-wall gags, and Neil Patrick Harris in drag.
While the 2004 film did not have enough time to give an unabridged account of the lives of Baudelaire orphans, it managed to tell enough of the story to satisfy without feeling excessive or repetitive. In this new Netflix series, the boundaries of time limits have largely been removed and the series chronicles the Baudelaire's lives in great detail, which should please many ASOUE fans and upset fans of pleasant entertainment. With the lives of the Baudelaires on the screen in plentiful detail, I regret to say that many moments in the series tend to seem rather excessive and repetitive.
The series uses its extended runtime retells with great detail everything in the books, plus extra plot elements fitting with the spirit of the series. Some scenes add a great deal (anything with Olaf's theater troupe, for example), but some scenes' only purpose is to serve as padding, a word which here means "whatever the authors could think of to fill a few minutes on screen before advancing the plot."
Patrick Warburton portrays author Lemony Snicket, reimagined as a Rod Serling-esque narrator. Several times an episode, Snicket will interrupt to deliver his thoughts on the dreadful events. Warburton is a fantastic choice for this role, and many expository gags from the books come to life with his dry narration. You will, however, be seeing and hearing quite a lot of him.
As I'm sure you know, a book series releases each installment one at a time, usually over the course of several years, meaning newcomers to the series may choose to pick up the most recent book before they decide whether to commit to reading more. However, a Netflix series releases all episodes in a season at the same time. The vast majority of viewers begin with the first episode and continue viewing the rest sequentially, a word with here means "after the autoplay feature automatically moves them on to the next episode."
In the context of a novel, Snicket's interruptions are often short, clever, and essential to the book's tone. In the form of a Netflix series, Warburton's monologues (however talented the writing and delivery may be), become quite repetitive, halting the story for minutes at a time. Worse, much of the information he dispenses is already known to the audience, making them feel somewhat pointless. After the fifth or sixth interruption, I found myself unable to answer the question, "What does this bring to the storyline?"
The other starring adult role belongs to Neil Patrick Harris, who has the unenviable task of portraying Count Olaf. Though I was initially worried, he disappears into the role even deeper with every moment. It isn't as original as Jim Carrey's reinvention of the character, but it doesn't need to be for Harris to carry the show. Harris and the writers work very hard on stressing what Olaf is: a vile murderer, a serious menace, and a terrible actor. It pays off. There's hardly a dull moment when he's on screen.
The three Baudelaires are played quite capably and adequately by Malania Weissman, Louis Hynes, and Presley Smith, three very pleasant child actors. They do a satisfactory job of portraying Baudelaire children. However, the Baudelaire children are static characters, a phrase which here means "youngsters who mostly remain the same throughout the series". More dynamic supporting characters are necessary, most of whom are hit and miss.
Joan Cusack is an inspired choice as Justice Strauss, bringing genuinely tender moments; Aasif Mandvi as Uncle Monty is terrific. Alfre Woodward as Aunt Josephine is a missed opportunity; if only she toned it down several dozen notches.
Mr. Poe's role has been greatly expanded from the book series; he has a significant role in nearly every episode. Sadly, the way his character was handled is one of the most frustrating elements in this series. I understand that Mr. Poe is well-intentioned but inept. The Mr. Poe of this adaptation, however, is so inept that I find it difficult to believe that any reasonable person could behave like Poe does. It isn't helped that his cough is even more interminable, a word which here means "constantly grating, to the point you begin to dread every moment he is on screen."
If I were somehow able to communicate with the creators of this series, whether via internet post, coded message, or carrier pigeon, I would ask them to remember that "less is more". Perhaps this would result in arcane details being trimmed, overacted performances being dialed back, and the pace tightened to one book per episode. But, alas, that opportunity has gone and passed, so I am only able warn others of these flaws.
If you are a very fierce devotee of the book series, you no doubt have already begun watching. But, dear viewer, if you are simply looking for an entertaining use of eight hours of your time, dear viewer, I regret to inform you that this might be a bit too uneven for you.
While I have taken a solemn oath to honestly critique all eight episodes of this series, you, dear reader, are under no such obligation. There is nothing stopping you from reading some other review.