A Series Of Unfortunate Events review: wonderfully dismal

The Baudelaire children get more than they bargained for in this witty saga

If you enjoyed the A Series Of Unfortunately Events books, no matter what age you were when you discovered them, Netflix’s new series is like a lucid dream, bringing to life the characters and stories in a way that the disappointing 2004 film version should be jealous of. If you’re not at all familiar with them then you’re still in for a brilliant treat.

The series’ opening song suggests you look away to save yourself the unpleasantness that is waiting on the other side of the title card, but that’s obviously the last thing you should do. Don’t look away, not for a second, because you’re sure to miss something worth seeing.

Every scene in this simultaneously charming and dismal series contains so much detail that it’s sometimes hard to decide what you should be paying attention to. There’s a lot to miss, but in this case that’s a good thing seeing as most viewers are likely to want to revisit the series at least a couple more times anyway. Everything from throwaway phrases to stunning sets and costumes obviously have been carefully considered, and elevates the show from a family adventure to thrilling, binge-worthy TV.

Patrick Warburton narrates the story as Lemony Snicket

The cast is always a delight, with the likes of Joan Cusack, Catherine O’Hara and Alfre Woodard appearing for a couple of episodes each. The lead, Neil Patrick Harris, is both marvellous and vile as Count Olaf, a villain with an interesting back story but is still mainly just a dick, and a funny one at that.

One of the highlights of A Series Of Unfortunate Events (and there are quite a few) is the way in which the story is narrated. Patrick Warburton joins us at the start as Lemony Snicket, the man recounting the misfortunes of the Baudelaire children, and stays with us all the way through, explaining events in a way that is often hilarious and always escorts you fully into the show’s world.

Although the lives of the Baudelaire children are thoroughly depressing, the show is far from it and acts as a perfect antidote to gritty long-form stories we’ve all become used to. Gritty can be wonderful too, but sometimes you just need a break.