FRESH AIR: I don’t want to oversell this new version of A Series of Unfortunate Events, but I don’t know how not to. Everything that the movie version got wrong, this TV adaptation gets right. And not just right, but brilliantly. The difference is as stark, and as significant, as the difference between the movie and TV versions of Buffy the Vampire Slayer — where the writer of that story, Joss Whedon, took the reins and made a television version much truer to his original vision. Daniel Handler, who wrote the original series of Lemony Snicket books, has done the same thing here. And he’s enlisted, as his key co-conspirators, two pitch-perfect collaborators: Barry Sonnenfeld, of Pushing Daisies and The Addams Family fame, as the director of many of the episodes, and an executive producer. And as another producer, and the show’s central star, Neil Patrick Harris.
This new 8-episode Netflix version, which is written by Handler, is inspiringly faithful to the original books, with two episodes devoted to each of the first handful of stories. The look, which comes from Sonnenfeld, is full-out fairy-tale fright mode — occasionally bright colors against oppressively grey backgrounds, aptly reflecting the mood of the stories. And these are sad, sad stories indeed. The narrative begins with three children being told their parents have died in a fire that burned down the family home — and goes downhill from there. These stories are cracklingly intelligent, and delightfully droll, and occasionally, surprisingly, laugh-out-loud funny. They’re also so dark, they come with a warning attached — not just at the start, but throughout.
In the books, these warnings are delivered by the alleged author, Lemony Snicket. He delivers the same deadpan warnings in the TV version, too — but for TV, Lemony Snicket appears throughout as a pessimistic, gloom-and-doom on-screen narrator, sort of a modern-day cross between Rod Serling and Eeyore. And he’s played by Patrick Warburton, whose delivery is as no-nonsense, and as inexplicably charming, as his disclaimers. Though Lemony urges viewers not to watch A Series of Unfortunate Events, I’m begging you to tune in. I haven’t had this much fun watching TV in quite a while. MORE