*This review is Spoiler Free*
Netflix’s second series of A Series of Unfortunate Events is a peculiar mix of tone and visuality. The adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s (Daniel Handler’s pen name and invented narrator) best selling novels has had substantial hype after the first series streamed in 2017. The next ten episodes, covering the next five books of the series, follow the same two part structure for each novel of the first series. Starring Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton and Melina Weissman this second series shares both a number of pitfalls and great successes.
“So full of red herrings, clues and intricate plot devices, the series seems to rush through Snicket’s incredibly well-crafted over-arching narrative.”
As far as plot goes, don’t worry there are no spoilers here, the series stumbles somewhat as each episode follows nigh on the same protocol as the episode before. Whilst this makes the show incredibly easy to watch, as far as binge watching goes, I found myself becoming really quite numb to the unfortunate events suffered by the Beaudelaire triplets. As it is so full of red herrings, clues and intricate plot devices, the series seems to rush through Snicket’s incredibly well-crafted over-arching narrative. Warburton in his narrator role of Lemony Snicket does provide enough exposition throughout but even so, it does seem to only further emphasise the tone and reflect the vocabulary of the books rather than draw the viewer into the over-arching narrative. Clearly this adaptation is provided with enough room to breathe with each episode running at roughly 50 minutes and that does allow for significant exploration of the content provided in books 5-9. Yet even so, it seems that rather than delving into the plot of each novel (though not complex when stripped to basics) Netflix prefers to revel in the aesthetic of Handler’s macabre world. Avid readers of the series might have expected a more well developed coverage of the novels but this is a series of events that becomes, unfortunately, more and more predictable.
What makes up for the repetitive structuring of this series are both the visuals and performances. Patrick-Harris returns to the extroverted role of Count Olaf once again appearing in a number of ludicrous yet equally hilarious guises, maintaining a light hearted approach yet becoming equally terrifying as the dark villain when he needs to be. Even so, the odd musical numbers struck me as jarring and only justified by Patrick-Harris’ musical capabilities. The supporting cast that make up Olaf’s acting troupe provide excellent comic relief which surpasses their role in the first series, something I think we should all be glad of. Weissman, Hynes and youngster Presley Smith all fulfill their roles as the Beaudelaire triplets, yet there is little more to say here. They are all believable enough to continue watching just not particularly exciting. Patrick Warbuton’s Lemony Snicket appears and re-appears creating some bleakly comic moments and really provides the glue between Handler’s literary style and the transposition of that to the small screen. Arguably the stand out performance of the series is Lucy Punch’s Esme Squalor. Without saying too much, she matches Harris’ Olaf with aplomb and provides a refreshing addition to what could have become a series that dragged by the end of the tenth episode. As per the previous season, this series is well filled with some excellent cameos including Tony Hale of Arrested Development who seems like the perfect fit for Handler’s imagined world.
“A visual marvel filled with intricate details and things to look out for”
As a reader of Handler’s literary series throughout my childhood and into my early teen years, I’ve always had a very clear picture of what the Beaudelaire orphans’ world looks like, mostly informed by Handler’s writing and the distinctive cover art of Brett Hilquist. Netflix has created this world almost perfectly, making the entire series a visual marvel filled with intricate details and things to look out for all whilst matching the bizarre tone created by Handler. Occasionally let down by some sub-par CGI, the art direction of this show alone is reason enough to watch.
Fans of the novel and previous series won’t be disappointed here but those looking for something with slightly more substance might be. There’s plenty to look at and some highly engaging performances that keep this show successfully trucking along, if only the poor Beaudelaires could find the same consistency.