Michael Simon ‘19 / Emertainment Monthly TV Staff Writer
With a series as darkly humorous and overwhelmingly macabre as Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, its audience desperately needs a solid gateway into its world. Luckily, in both the book series and the Netflix show, the initial story fills this need perfectly. With “A Bad Beginning,” the audience is quickly and effectively brought into the lives of the Baudelaire orphans, as their story begins on a bizarre—if not somewhat juvenile—path.
One of the first things a viewer will notice upon watching the series is the stunning, overall artistic style. Whether it’s the smoky darkness of Briny Beach, the colorful atmosphere of Justice Strauss’ library, or the creepy discomfort of Count Olaf’s mansion, this world is instantly immersive. For longtime fans of the franchise (such as this reviewer), it is truly incredible to see these locations come to life on the small screen. Every fine detail behind the production design demonstrates that this series was truly a labor of love, as the creators clearly developed a faithful representation of this scary little world.
When it comes to performances, “A Bad Beginning” is good, but not great. All the children fit their roles fairly well, but as the season goes on, need some time to get their bearings before truly excelling with the material. The same could be said for Neil Patrick Harris’ Count Olaf, who is plenty of fun to watch, but does not feel fully formed in the first two episodes. This also goes for side characters like Mr. Poe, Justice Strauss, and Olaf’s henchmen. Everything in the first episode is still pretty good, but just does not feel completely finished—it’ll get there.
Some of this impression is surely due, in part, to the juvenile nature of “A Bad Beginning,” if one takes into consideration that it is the first part of quite a complex story. Since it serves as a starting point, it is, understandably, incredibly simple. Count Olaf is not yet an evil, menacing presence, because he’s still somewhat in control at this point in the series. The more control Olaf has over the children, the less prominent his villainous personality is. This makes him more of a laughable bad guy than a fearsome antagonist. However, viewers quickly see this issue solving itself, specifically in the second half of “A Bad Beginning” when Olaf starts executing more of his evil plan—and a scheming Olaf is a frightening Olaf. Therein, viewers can see the excellence of Harris’ performance; those who know how the series progresses can imagine how it can only get better and better.
There are two final noteworthy things about how the show is playing out so far. One of which is a faithful book adaptation, and the other is a creation made solely for the television series. The former is the excellent inclusion of Patrick Warburton as the ominously all-knowing narrator, Lemony Snicket. His appearances are a true highlight, as he provides either genuine emotion or comic relief using dialogue often pulled directly from the book.
The presence of a narrator throughout the book series made them even more interesting and fun to follow, and it is a quality that transfers flawlessly to television. The latter is the inner workings of the VFD (Volunteer Fire Department) that play out behind the scenes, without the children’s knowledge. With a conspiracy as widespread as this, and with such limited time to tell the full story, it makes sense that the writers came out of the gate swinging to immediately start laying the groundwork. It brings a more mature feeling to these early episodes, for even though the plot may seem simple on the surface, viewers can tell something far more complex is at play.
These elements all tie together to make a truly enjoyable start to what promises to be an excellent and exciting series, full of fun, dark comedy as well as great tragedy. With a slew of great actors and characters to work with, the show is developing a clear path on which to continue. The two parts of “A Bad Beginning” may not be the best episodes of this season, but they certainly do their job well. Viewers can be sure that this Series of Unfortunate Events may be very fortunate indeed.