TV Review: ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ is Fortunately Good

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The hour-long comedy series is not a common thing in the modern TV landscape. Most of the genre has tended to turn towards the half hour to tell their stories. In the case of “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” the black comedy is somewhere between adult black comedy and a children’s adventure series. It’s an odd place for any show to inhabit, but if you’re looking for an extremely captivating, yet odd show, “A Series of Unfortunate Events” is for you. After all, Barry Sonnenfeld directs and executive produces the show. While the show carries Sonnenfeld’s weird and quirky aesthetic, the show hits some narrative bumps this season. Still, it is an above average show, that has several key performances that make the show well worth watching.

This season, “A Series of Unfortunate Events” covers five of the novels in the series. Like last season, each novel is broken into two episodes, which provides easy breaks for the viewer at home. We follow the Baudelaire Orphans (Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, and Presley Smith) as they continue to run from Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris). As the season progresses, each finds additional allies on the way. The Baudelaire’s begin to learn more about their parent’s involvement in a secret society, the VFD.

The series really revolves around the performances of the Baudelaires and Harris. We see a performance bump form the kids, who have begun to come into their own. Weissman is given a few more moments to shine, especially when she’s coming up with new ideas and schemes. Hynes is also a solid performer for what he is asked to do. Both are surprisingly strong comedic actors and have the tools to deliver some great deadpan jokes to match the tone of the show.

However, the star is undeniably Harris, who absolutely dominates the show from beginning to end. He is given even more room to vary up his performance. He plays everything from a scatting 1970s-style Cajun detective to a “foreign” auctioneer named Gunther. Harris is having so much fun in the role that he’s infectious. It’s another strong season for Harris, which should draw some awards consideration. We get more Patrick Warburton as the author, Lemony Snicket, which is always welcome. Warburton’s deadpan is the perfect framing device that sells the aesthetic from the word go. It’s a welcome performance from Warburton. Another addition to the cast this season is Lucy Punch. She exudes charisma and movie star appeal from her first moments on screen. Punch is excellent this season and adds an extra element to the show that was unexpected, yet extremely necessary.

The real positive this season is the expansion of the world. The diverse locations the Baudelaires visit gives us some very strong work on the production design and costuming front. Designer Bo Welch (“Edward Scissorhands” & “Men in Black”) is so integral to the series, he is even given the opportunity to direct a couple episodes. The characters travel to a rundown school, an haute couture city, a western town, a scary hospital, and a creepy circus. The diverse location changes give him plenty of opportunities to stretch, which results in wildly inventive sets.

Another who benefits greatly from the ever-changing settings is Cynthia Summers, who gets to dress up Count Olaf and the orphans in even more absurd costumes than the first season. As the aesthetics change, so do the costumes. The timelessness of their costumes adds to the fantasy element at play. There’s nothing distinct to any one era, but instead, we get several decades worth of style shown.

The expansion also helps with the writing as well. We get some extremely ridiculous jokes that cater to adults watching this season. We also get surprisingly strong misdirection throughout the season. It’s a solid comedy in its own right, which gives characters many ridiculous moments throughout the season. One of the benefits of the series is that Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) gets to adapt his own novels. Doing so gives the show an extra level to further explore the world while keeping in tune with the books. The show has much stronger writing than one might have expected, and that’s always a good thing.

Despite the positives, the show suffers from being a little longer this season. Some of the books suffer from being broken into two episodes, even though the choice allows for additional world building. The world building is a positive, but the elongated episode count can be a bit of a drag at times. It does not help that the guest stars simply don’t get as much room to shine. While Tony Hale, Nathan Fillion, and David Alan Grier each provide sparks for the show, the middle of the season’s setting and cast slows momentum significantly.   Last season’s eight-episode count was the perfect length, but the extra two episodes might have been pushing it. With each episode falling between 40 minutes an hour, the process of watching this season is a little more difficult.

Years after the film “A Series of Unfortunate Events” made its way to theaters, Netflix continues to show why this was the correct landing place for the property. Netflix should continue to greenlight more shows in this vein. The series not only strikes the perfect tone for the source material, but the cast continues to show why they’ve been perfectly cast. As “A Series of Unfortunate Events” moves towards the final season, it’s clear that Netflix can take gambles on high production value shows with low season counts.

What do you think of “A Series of Unfortunate Events” Season 2? Does it live up to the first season? Let us hear in the comments below!

Season 2 of “A Series of Unfortunate Events” is streaming now on Netflix. Season 1 is also available for streaming.

GRADE: (★★★)