One of the running jokes in Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is that everything, including the author, intro song and even the press notes, is telling you not to watch it. Let VODzilla.co now add a caveat to this ongoing gag: definitely do watch this show but do not, under any circumstances, binge-watch it. The second season is the longest of the series’ planned three-season run and watching these episodes in close succession is not recommended.
The problem is inherent in the very nature of the show. Every two episodes, a new plot begins that is almost exactly the same as the last one, give or take a few cosmetic differences. A two-day binge of the entire series will give you a sense of déjà vu, and will actually lead to Lemony Snicket’s dire warnings coming true. It becomes upsetting and frustrating to see the same scenarios played out over and over; you really want to see the Baudelaires catch a break. The show’s mean streak can become difficult to stomach, while the repetition grows tiring. So: do not marathon this show.
Do, however, take your time to linger in the vivid, Gothic and morbidly beautiful world created here. Golden Age TV often shoots hard for realism, even in worlds populated by dragons, zombies or cowboy robots. Not so, Lemony Snicket. Every inch of the production design is gloriously over the top, immersing you in cemetery-shaped schools, hospitals that would make Stephen King blanche and wild west ghost towns with more crows than people. It’s immensely entertaining to see where the Baudelaires will be carted off to next and, although sometimes the exaggeration is a shade too far (the school principal grates), the constant invention and artifice is exhilarating.
At the centre of it are Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes, two extraordinary teen performers with a keen sense of tone and comic timing. It’s a testament to their skill that they hold their own among a cast of showboating adults, selling every comic and tragic beat with increased exasperation. Neil Patrick Harris continues to ham for all he’s worth as Count Olaf, while Nathan Fillion and Lucy Punch are memorable additions to the cast, gelling perfectly with the ridiculousness of it all. The restraint of the kids placed against the stupidity of the adults reflects the key theme of the show – that children deserve to be believed. The adults in Snicket’s world are almost entirely self-obsessed and vain; the children have a strong sense of justice and are unfailingly kind.
There’s so much to enjoy about A Series of Unfortunate Events, from the pompous verbosity to the humour as dark as children’s entertainment will allow. It’s a carnivalesque display of madness, anchored by two immensely sympathetic performances. While the cracks may be beginning to show in the structure of the story, it’s still one of the best Netflix originals, if you’re willing to slow down and take each unfortunate event in smaller chunks.
A Series of Unfortunate Events Season 1 and 2 are now available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.