I, for one, was a casual fan of the film adaptation of the same name. Jim Carrey was capably madcap to be a chameleon thespian and the yarn was suitably morose and devilishly dark. The TV series aim to correct the condensation of the first movie by translating the first four books and expanding onto the others in later seasons.
“Just look away” are some of the lyrics to the theme song and it’s definitely apropos with the book’s disclaimer against fairy-tale expectations. Part One: A Bad Beginning is directed by Barry Sonnenfeld who has some dexterity with macabre gallows humor after ‘The Addams Family’. Patrick Warburton is our narrator for this litany of woes. His poker-faced line delivery reminds one of a gumshoe along the lines of Joe Friday.
The trolley system along the storytelling stops is crafted like kaleidoscopic pop-art. in lesser hands, this soft reboot would just be a superfluous renewal of IP but Sonnenfeld makes this newest version vitally antidotal to the felicity of most cross-generational fare. The Baudelaire family, for instance, are much more consolidated here than the 2004 rendition.
The appeal of the books as well as this is their relentlessly pessimistic tone. K. Todd Freeman doesn’t knead the fact that the Baudelaires’ parents “perished in a fire” as he succinctly spits it out with an infectious smile on his face. The gags are also more knee-slapping with the puppet of the newborn filing a sandstone down with her mouth.
Neil Patrick Harris is more malevolent and gorgonized than the impish Jim Carrey who scuttled too close to his rubber-face shtick. It’s unadulterated fun to watch Harris summon his nasty streak (“The stove is a bit like a servant. You have to whack it sometimes to get it to work.”). Weirdly, he was one the asterisk that worried me beforehand but he acquits himself tremendously in the snarling role. He even belts his own musical number (“It’s the Count”) with churlish, hilarious talentlessness.
Whereas the previous attempt was too cramped, Netflix and Sonnenfeld dilate the source material to its fullest potential. It’s a whimsically sorrowful, richly wry expansion of Daniel Handler’s eternally grey world (neighbors such as Justice Strauss (Joan Cusack) were truncated due to that film’s already episodic, disjointed structure).
Rating: 4.25 out of 5