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TV Series Review

Don't watch this show.

Hey, don't look at me. I'm not the curmudgeon telling you that. (For once). Netflix's A Series of Unfortunate Events tells us, quite explicitly, that we all have better uses for our time.

While author/narrator Lemony Snicket tells us that it's his sad, somber duty to unspool the sad, somber tale of the Baudelaire children (14-year-old Violet, 12-year-old Klaus and, of course, the sharp-toothed infant, Sunny), he also reminds us that "you in the audience have no such obligation, and I would advise all our viewers to turn away immediately and watch something more pleasant instead." If you fail to heed Snicket's dire caution, at least listen to the show's theme song.

"Look away, look away/This show will wreck your evening, your homelife and your day/Every single episode is nothing but dismay."

Yes, A Series of Unfortunate Events cautions viewers against itself with the same alacrity that Plugged In reserves for Seth Rogen/James Franco movies. And yet, in spite of these warnings, here you are. Still reading. Still, perhaps, wondering whether this show—in spite its insistence that it's not right for anyone of sound mind—just might be right for you.

We'll Give You One Last Chance.

Aaaand here you are, still reading. All right. Don't say we didn't warn you.

A Series of Unfortunate Events (based on a series of comically gloomy books by "Lemony Snicket") follows the lives of the afore-mentioned Baudelaire children, apparently orphaned when their parents' mansion burns to the ground.

The good news (if one could call it that) is this: The Baudelaires will inherit their parents' considerable fortune once Violet comes of age. The bad news: Violet and her siblings will have to survive the scheming vile wiles of Count Olaf and an assortment of other dastardly villains to claim it.

Olaf is only a distant relation to the Baudelaires, (their third cousin four times removed or perhaps their fourth cousin three times removed, we're told). But by virtue of living just three miles from the Baudelaire's now nonexistent mansion, he's declared the children's closest living relative. Thus he's now been declared their legal guardian. While that arrangement falls apart eventually, Olaf will allow nothing to stand between him and the children's inheritance. Certainly not the children themselves.

But while this setup is, indeed, unfortunate, the children are not without resources. Violet is a mechanical prodigy, capable of MacGyvering together all manner of clever devices with whatever flotsam presents itself. Klaus is a bespectacled trove of knowledge, a boy skilled in the most arcane library arts. And Sunny—well, her teeth are indeed amazingly sharp. That can be of benefit when the children find themselves locked away in their next gloomy dungeon.

Unfortunate But Edifying?

About the same time J.K. Rowling was cranking out Harry Potter books, Lemony Snicket (actually author Daniel Handler) was penning a significant but comparatively understated phenomenon of his own. The Unfortunate Events books attracted countless elementary- and middle-school readers, what with their darkish, absurdist humor and their Gothic creep factor. In an age of very serious "children's" books, Unfortunate Events was a series that smirked at itself.

The books' success led to a truly unfortunate movie (starring Jim Carrey and, oddly, Meryl Streep) and, now, this Netflix television series—a creation much more in keeping with the Edward Gorey-like spirit of the original books. The show feels a bit like a mix of a (clean) Wes Anderson movie with Disney's Haunted Mansion ride: a curious blend of gloom and whimsy with meticulous blocking and, oh, the occasional music number.

Despite the show's own somber warnings, A Series of Unfortunate Events is highly watchable and oddly edifying. Yes, Olaf is the sort of person who, if you called him a louse, would most certainly offend any actual lice in the vicinity. But the children—Violet, Klaus and Sunny—are virtuous, creative and well-mannered, despite being in constant peril. They're good kids caught up in terrible circumstances. And they do their very best to overcome them.

But there are, bluntly, just so many terrible circumstances. Death, both rumored and real, is never far from either the characters' or viewers' minds. And while the children inhabit a world that gives them few pleasures, someone is always threatening to take from them their hope, their future and sometimes their very lives. So it can be difficult to watch it all unfold. It's one thing to read about Count Olaf slapping 12-year-old Klaus across the face in a book; it's quite another to watch it. The show's dark tone and unremitting (albeit tongue-in-cheek) bleakness will likely disturb some younger viewers.

That said, peril is more often threatened than actually meted out. In terms of its actual content, A Series of Unfortunate Events is, fortunately, quite clean. An questionable word may slip from Olaf's oft-disguised mouth a time or two, but this show keeps its young audience in mind. It wants to earn its squirms via plot and tone, not with profanity and titillation.

A Series of Unfortunate Events warns us that it's terrible, that that no one should ever watch it. "It's hard to fathom how the orphans managed to live through it," the intro intones, "And how a decent person like yourself would even want to view it."

But we here at Plugged In … well, we wouldn't go that far.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

A Series of Unfortunate Events: Jan. 13, 2017 "A Bad Beginning: Part One"
We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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