The new year isn’t even through its first month, school is back in full swing, all sorts of obligations are beginning to pile up, and I find myself totally incapacitated. I am unable to focus on anything at all.
The truth is, folks, that I have been murdered.
And the murderer (a word which here means “a person who committed a murder”) is none other than…SUNNY BAUDELAIRE.
And pretty much everything else that has to do with that show, actually.
It is entirely possible that I was watching ‘The Slippery Slope’ at one o’clock in the morning on New Year’s Day. Apt, I must say. That’s how this year is going to go.
It has indeed been a slippery slope (a term which here means “AAAAAAAAAAAAAH! I AM FIGURATIVELY SCREAMING BECAUSE OF TAXIS AND SALMON. THIS IS HEALTHY, RIGHT?”). Ever since the first season appeared on Netflix two years ago in January of 2017, I have been falling, and falling hard.
But this was supposed to be a review or something. And it’s spoiler free, which I never do. So let’s do this!
Season 1 (8 episodes)
Based on the first four books of this ghastly series, (The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, The Wide Window, and The Miserable Mill) season 1 captures the wacky yet morbid essence of Lemony Snicket’s account of the Baudelaire orphans as they attempt to evade the wicked Count Olaf. The show follows the books faithfully, with some notable (and often welcome) changes that feel like a natural expansion, rather than an unnecessary add-on, to the story.
Some of these changes include the addition of characters Larry and Jacqueline, (a waiter and Mr. Poe’s secretary respectively) which gives us an early glimpse into a secret organization that isn’t introduced until the very end of book five. We are also introduced to a number of characters that never appear in the books, but are merely mentioned (such as Gustav, and the mysterious parents).
There are a few logistical changes as well, such as the way the climax of The Miserable Mill plays out. Trust me, what happens in the show makes so much more sense than what happens in the book. Not that most of the stuff that happens in this show is entirely believable, but it’s more believable.
Another great thing about television is that you can insert musical numbers!
…Which is spectacular. If you like that sort of thing.
Then there’s casting. How can you go wrong with Patrick Warburton and Joan Cusack? I would not have envisioned Patrick Warburon as Lemony Snicket, but his delivery of the lines is so dry and melancholy that I fell in love with his portrayal almost instantly.
Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf took me longer to warm up to. At first he came across as plain goofy, like Jim Carrey, and I didn’t like that. But by the end I was picking up on some subtler attributes of his characterization. He’s different than the Count Olaf in the book, but he is effective in his own way.
The kids are lovable, if a bit stiff at times. And Klaus is too tall, but I can live with that. Sunny (Presley Smith) takes the cake in most scenes, though sometimes the computer animated baby stood out like a sore thumb. They should have just gotten an infant who could actually shuffle cards, come on.
The overall design of the show is fitting with the books: sort of outlandish and timeless and colorful and macabre, but a lot of it is weirdly similar to the 2004 movie, which encompassed the first three books. Since it felt like we’d seen a lot of this stuff before, I was excited to get to the next season, where we’d be in all new territory.
So of course I waited very patiently.
Season 2 (10 episodes)
Season 2 adapts books five through nine of the series: The Austere Academy, The Ersatz Elevator, The Vile Village, The Hostile Hospital, and The Carnivorous Carnival.
The most terrifying thing, of course, is that the children got old.
There was an awful gap between filming season 1 and seasons 2 and 3, and it really shows. If they’d only taken my advice and frozen the children in carbonite between seasons we wouldn’t have this problem.
But they faced this issue as gracefully as anyone could hope for. I won’t tell you what they did, but it was brilliant.
Season 2 follows the pattern of season 1, keeping pretty much the same flavor, sticking close to the books and not trying to do anything too exciting and “new” because that’s not what bookworms like me want, okay?
Season 2 continues to introduce characters before they appear in the books, so that we get to know them better. One character that is introduced early on has been totally altered from the book, and I love what they did with her. Instead of a wishy-washy spineless human, Olivia Caliban is a kindhearted school librarian with an innate physical dexterity and a love for children.
The show also continues to flesh out secret organization stuff, with Larry and Jacqueline as well as new characters, and it brings in a taxi that isn’t supposed to show up until book twelve, which possibly made me geek out a little bit.
Also there are more musical numbers!
And salmon. Did I mention the salmon? Overall this show has so much food in it, it’s glorious.
Season 3 (7 episodes)
In a way, the last four books of the series (The Slippery Slope, The Grim Grotto, The Penultimate Peril, and The End) are the hardest to adapt. The tone of the last books gets considerably more serious than the first part of the series. Not totally serious of course, but comparatively there are fewer laugh-out-loud witty remarks in books ten though thirteen than there are in previous books. The formula gets broken. There aren’t new guardians. Count Olaf doesn’t have as many new and hilarious disguises.
Also these last books are notably longer than the ones preceding them. The episodes, however, do not get longer. In fact, the final book, The End, which happens to be the longest of them all, is only one episode, instead of the customary two. You can be sure that I was extremely nervous about this.
For me, season 3 was the most “disappointing” as well as the most brilliant. I’m not sure how those two things go together.
Midway through The Grim Grotto episodes I was feeling pretty wonky about the whole thing. There wasn’t enough wit to distract me from the awkward dialogue or the other little mistakes happening. Then in The Penultimate Peril they cut out one of my absolutely favorite scenes. Why.
There wasn’t nearly enough hugging and crying going on. Mushrooms weren’t mushrooms. Characters were randomly falling off the face of the planet (figuratively).
Larry and Jacqueline are hardly present in season 3 at all, which feels like a cheat considering how much time we’ve spent with them thus far. I was kind of starting to panic.
WHAT is going on here? It’s not like this is some OVERLY EXAGGERATED MELODRAMA.
…Okay, so maybe it is.
When it really boils down to it, the problems with most of season 3 are small. I was just expecting absolute perfection. And the way everything got wrapped up in The End overcame all of my apprehensions.
The writers actually drew from another Lemony Snicket book, which was a wonderful and heart wrenching choice. It was really the perfect way to end it and I am so glad they though of it.
Also by this point I completely adore Neil Patrick Harris’ portrayal of Count Olaf and I can’t believe I ever doubted him.
I’ve been talking for a long time now, and I haven’t even said everything that needs to be said. HOW CAN WORDS EXPRESS THIS SHOW?
Overall, it is an excellent, solid adaption of the series. It misses out on some details, particularly later on, but on the whole it creates a more cohesive structure than the books did, and fleshes out details that enhance the story. It is faithful to the books while also supplementing them in such an organic way that you feel like this is the way things were supposed to be all along.
This is how a proper book-to-film adaption is done, folks.
To adapt a series of this magnitude is no small feat. As far as long series adaptions go, this is one of the best ones I’ve seen. I like the Harry Potter adaptions, but the flaws in those are much bigger. The Narnia adaptions were never completed, and neither were the Percy Jackson adaptions (for painfully obvious reasons). Guys, just follow the books, seriously.
Have you seen ASOUE? Have you obsessed over this show as much as I have? (For your own sake, I kind of hope not?) What is a book to movie adaption that you absolutely love? What is one that you can’t stand? What was the first thing you did in 2019? I would love to hear from you!