Don’t call it a comeback. Netflix’s new A Series of Unfortunate Events seeks to erase that unfortunate 2004 movie and instead give fans of Lemony Snicket’s YA novels a version that hews closer to the books. If you don’t remember, Daniel Handler (aka Snicket) had his work made into a kids movie a decade ago. It was supposed to be the next Harry Potter. It was more like the last Unfortunate Events. There were a bunch of things that went wrong (ironic!), but it was mostly due to the fact Paramount didn’t let Handler take control of his own creation. This time around, Netflix did. So hey everyone — raise your expectations again.
Events centers around the tragic tale of the Baudelaire orphans (Violet, Klaus, and Sunny) whose evil guardian, Count Olaf (played by the man nobody hates, Neil Patrick Harris) who is after their inheritance. As the kids outsmart Olaf’s plans (and disguises), they discover clues to their parents’ mysterious death. If Edward Gory met Barney Stinson, this is the end result.
For Kids: Critics say the show is dark, but not Batman V. Superman Dawn Of Justice bleak. Zack Handlen from The AV Club stresses, “make no mistake: this is sordid, sorry, and significantly sinister.”
But how sinister? Jen Chaney from Vulture warns, “Just like Snicket’s literary works, these episodes of television promise no happy endings, but do teach some worthwhile lessons. The hardest to accept and the most valuable one is this: Bad things happen to good people constantly, even innocent children.”
Considering how this series is a faithful recreation of the books, there are various warnings throughout both to turn away and not continue. The warnings are tongue-in-cheek, but also a bit of real caution. In other words, if your kids can handle the books, they can handle the show.
For You: Critics love it. David Bianculli from NPR says it’s smart and entertaining (just like NPR!). “These stories are cracklingly intelligent, and delightfully droll, and occasionally, surprisingly, laugh-out-loud funny.”
Not only is it funny, but the show tackles some pretty serious issues for older kids. As Entertainment Weekly points out, the show “walks a tightrope of making light of child endangerment and the other serious-minded themes it sweeps up – grief, loneliness, capitalism, class – and creating subversive allegories about those things.”
And not surprising, NPH is a wonder. Collider says Harris, “handily embodies the dastardly villainy of Count Olaf. Preserving his deeply neurotic sensibilities with his laughably grandiose sense of self, Harris prompts laughs as often as deeply shocked squirms.” Seriously, is there anything NPH can’t do?
Common Sense’s Take: Common Sense Media is the leading nonprofit source helping parents make movie and TV choices for their children. Their review calls the show, “Macabre tale of unfortunate orphans’ bad luck is tempered with humor (Harris excels at this) and sweet personalities, but the fact that the story is built on the idea of adults taking advantage of children makes it a better choice for tweens than for younger kids.”
Bottom Line: If you have older kids, this could be a fun introduction to weird children’s content like some of Tim Burton’s best films, or even The Addams Family. As for book readers, this is a no-brainer. But if your child is on the younger side, and unfamiliar with the brand, then it might be safer to avoid. And if you’re looking for something after The OA, nobody is going to stop you from binging.