Starring Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton, Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes
I loved the Series of Unfortunate Events books as a kid. Like many, I was slightly disappointed by the film adaptation starring Jim Carrey as Count Olaf, which lacked the soul of the original. While Series 1 of the more successful Netflix adaptation was undoubtedly a step up, it still wasn’t quite on par with the standard of the books. However, as books 1-4 weren’t exactly the best in the series, I was curious to see if the TV show would improve when adapting better material frim books 5-9. Has it? Sort of.
As with series 1, my main praise would have to go to the show’s cast and production. It looks amazing and you can’t really pick out a weak link in the cast. Neil Patrick Harris excels with most of his various guises (only Detective Dupin from a Vile Village is disappointing, and I’d blame that firmly on how poorly he’s written rather than Harris) and the Baudelaire’s actors keep the children easy to root for. The new additions to the supporting cast are generally great. Lucy Punch in some ways overshadows Harris as Esme Squalor, while Carmelita Spats is done absolutely perfectly in Austere Academy. Fellow newcomer Nathan Fillion also makes Jacques Snicket one of the best things in the first half of the season.
Unfortunately the writing isn’t always as spot on as the casting. While the series gets a strong start with Austere Academy and Ersatz Elevator, the Vile Village adaptation is resolutely dull. Hostile Hospital is watchable despite being based on one of the weakest books, while Carnivorous Carnival is a game of two halves (the first episode is great, the second not so much). I feel like one problem the series has is that the two episode per book structure is hamstringing some of the more slow-paced books, like Vile Village, as the increased focus on the Volunteers and the Villains forces the show to condense a lot of what the children got up to in the books. Books fans might also be perplexed by one or two changes from the novels (for example, two of Olaf’s henchmen who died in books 8 and 9 are inexplicably still alive at the end of series 2, for no apparent reason).
While there’s a lot of fun to be had from the performances, I still feel like this show doesn’t know exactly what it wants to be. It isn’t funny enough for a dark-humoured comedy and its tone isn’t dark enough (despite the subject matter) for it to be a great drama. Sure, it’s entertaining, but Olaf is still nowhere near as menacing as in the books, and you don’t feel tension anywhere near as often as the show seems to want you to.
In short, this is slightly better that series one, but only because it’s based off some of the better books, not because they’ve drastically improved things. So if you liked the first series, the second will happily give you more of the same. If the first series left you sceptical, the second won’t change your mind. Hopefully Series 3 can end this adaptation on a high, but I’ll be watching it for completionists’ sake, not because I consider it essential viewing.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Next up, I finally get around to reviewing Black Panther…