Review: Weird, woeful ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ is still unlike anything else on TV

Neil Patrick Harris and Lucy Punch in the second season of A Series of Unfortunate Events. (Netflix)
Neil Patrick Harris and Lucy Punch in the second season of A Series of Unfortunate Events. (Netflix)
Published March 29 2018

How fortunate we are that a show like A Series of Unfortunate Events exists.

No matter how bleak, sad and downright dreadful the lives of the Baudelaire orphans get, the Netflix series inspired by Lemony Snicket's children's novels remains one of the most delightful binges.

The second season, dropping Friday, continues the story of the Baudelaire children through a seemingly unending series of misfortunes after their parents died in a mysterious fire.

If the first season was all about setup and bringing to life Snicket's beloved whimsical world of woe, then the second expands the intricate web of mysteries surrounding the three children.

Previous coverage: 'A Series of Unfortunate Events' is a delightful tale of whimsy and woe

And it definitely benefits from a plot shakeup. Each book in the series gets two episodes still — this season, The Austere Academy, The Ersatz Elevator, The Vile Village, The Hostile Hospital and The Carnivorous Carnival — but the new season bends the main Baudelaire arc by bringing in characters earlier than in the books, adding new ones and being a bit more generous with the V.F.D. clues.

The Austere Academy — Prufrock Preparatory School, with the morbid slogan Memento Mori and a dead horse as a mascot — serves as a breakthrough for Violet (Malina Weissman), Klaus (Louis Hynes) and Sunny (Presley Smith) in their search for reasoning behind their parents' deaths.

It's there they're introduced to the Quagmire triplets, Duncan (Dylan Kingwell) and Isadora (Avi Lake). The third Quagmire died in a similar mysterious fire. The two sets of siblings perfectly complement one another in intellect, unfortunate events and broken spy glasses.

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The series picks up the pace considerably in the second episode, even with the vile pink tutu-wearing student Carmelita Spats (Kitana Turnbull) prancing and scream-singing every chance she gets.

And, of course, the evil Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris) continues to steal every scene in and out of ridiculous disguises. It's hard to root against the fortune-stealing villain when he often provides the most memorable lines and irony. It's also hard to take him and his henchmen seriously since they're all more bumbling than they are brutish.

Through the five episodes sent to critics — watching the orphans go through grimy Prufrock Prep, the glitzy penthouse of 667 Dark Ave. and Part 1 of a classic western town of The Vile Village — the stakes rise, the overarching conspiracy gets teeth and more useless and evil adults surround the Baudelaires.

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Sara Rue's arrival as the caring, knowledgeable librarian at Prufrock also shows viewers early on that there are people trying to help the Baudelaires in any way they can, even if they're fairly incompetent.

Nathan Fillion's Jacques Snicket (Lemony's brother) gets an early introduction and larger role in the series. He even gets to share several scenes with Count Olaf, which allude to an intriguing history between the two.

The Squalors Esme (Lucy Punch) and Jerome (Tony Hale) get an art deco makeover to fit their affluent, trend-driven lifestyle in the penthouse. Their time in The Ersatz Elevator serves as dark commentary on materialism and excess. It's also one of the first times we see all the small number of well-meaning adults get close to capturing Count Olaf.

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The new season is absurd and often laugh-out-loud hilarious. It mashes thoughtful lunacy with mindful melancholy against even more stunning backdrops. It exists not in an particular time period or country, but rather as a dark comedic fairy tale but with any happy ending in sight.

Snicket's books have always been dark, and somehow the Netflix series made them even darker. But A Series of Unfortunate Events still strikes that perfect balance between comedy and gloom.

Contact Chelsea Tatham at [email protected] Follow @chelseatatham.

Watch

A Series of Unfortunate Events Season 2

3 a.m. Friday, Netflix

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