Fangirlish’s writers and book lovers are speaking; we ADORE Netflix’s adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Read what we think the show did well, our wishes for season two, and why so many of us loved Klaus as a kid in our roundtable discussion. Let us know what you thought about season one in the comments!
Did you read the book series? If so, how old were you when you began the series? How old were you when you finished?
Michaela: I started reading the book series around 4th grade. My Aunt bought them for my cousin; she devoured them and thought I would love the series, too. I became obsessed; we both were. This shared interest sparked a deep bond between my cousin and I–forged digging into the deep history of V.F.D and writing Violet and Quigley fanfic. I finished the series in 2006, I think I was in middle school by that time!
Lizzie: Yes, I did. I think I was probably a teenager, I don’t remember reading the first one when I was a kid, but I wasn’t that old, for I remember when the last book came out, and that was 2006. I read all 12 of them very quickly, and then waited for the 13th. In a way, I think I read them at the perfect age to appreciate the humor and the plot, something which might have been difficult if I’d been too young. I’ve always thought this wasn’t really a book for kids, more a book for teenagers.
Lyra: Nope, never read the books. The title always threw me off and I wanted happy and not a series of unfortunate events full of sadness.
Chloe: I must have been about 7 or 8 when I first started reading the books, because I believe I remember getting them as they came out starting with The Hostile Hospital or The Carnivorous Carnival. From that point, I eagerly read each installment as it was released up until The End. I have only vague memories of some of the earlier books, but overall I was very into the dark humor, eccentricity, plots and schemes, and advanced vocabulary.
Alyssa: As a child I was obsessed with these books. I remember bugging my mom to buy me the next one every time a new one was released. The first book came out when I was 10 years old, and I remember starting to read them when the first two books were already available. I finished reading the series when the final book came out in 2006.
Do you think approaching the adaptation as an adult changes how you view the themes/plot of the series?
Michaela: As a kid, after putting one of the books down at night to go to sleep, I would frequently have nightmares about Count Olaf. He’d be chasing me or trying to kidnap me. Now, no nightmares ensue. I know he’s a fictional character. But, Count Olaf still creeps me out, just for different reasons.
The kidnapping and murder and cult-esque qualities are still horrifying. In the beginning of the series, when Mr. Poe places the orphans in his care, he treats them so poorly it takes my breath away. I can’t believe he invited three children into his guardianship and gave them rocks to play with, one bed to share, and a cardboard box for a closet. Or slapped Klaus across the face and dangled Sunny–a baby–from a tower. He’s frightening because he’s doing evil things to innocent children not just because he’s on a murderous revenge plot. When I was a kid, he was just a “big bad wolf” character. I could put myself into the Baudelaires’ shoes age-wise and feel the child-like terror they felt. As an adult, I can’t think of something more purely evil than terrorizing children. His hatred takes on a new meaning.
On a happier note, after graduating with an English major, I’m able to catch most of the nods to authors/books/pop culture moments!
Lizzie: Yes, I think it does. I think most of the humor in these books and now, in the series, is very adult, and though as a kid, or even a teenager, you catch most of of the obvious hahaha moments, as an adult, there’s a way deeper message there of listening to kids when they tell you something is wrong, of not being too self-involved to look at what’s right there in front of you, and, of course, of persisting even though it seems like life will never get better. The more I think about it, the more I think these are books I’d want any eventual kids I have to read, because the messages are so strong, and though the plot is anything but happy, as Lemony Snicket himself would tell you, not all is what it seems.
Lyra: Approaching this adaptation as an adult absolutely changed how I viewed the series. Was it still sad? Hell, yeah. But I could appreciate that these children were looking on the bright side of things and that the series wanted you to do the same thing. Every episode of the Netflix adaptation, because I still haven’t read the books, was meant as a lesson to keep you going through hard times. Even as an adult I think I can appreciate that lesson over and over again.
Chloe: It’s been awhile since I read the books, so watching the new adaptation was a reminder of just how dark A Series of Unfortunate Events actually is. I’ve even had joking conversations with my mom, who has watched some of the episodes with me, along the lines of, Do you realize what you were letting me read? It’s literally about orphans and a crazy guy who keeps murdering their guardians–and trying to murder them. But at the same point, that line of thinking brings to mind something I read from Neil Gaiman recently. Children find his book Coraline interesting and very good fun–it’s the adults who are terrified by the “other” world it presents. I think you can get something different out of works with this kind of tone at any age, and it’s all valuable.
Alyssa: Most definitely. That’s one of the cool things about this series is that you can enjoy the books as a child and as an adult and both are incredibly different experiences. As a child, depending on how old you were when you read them, it might be more difficult to pick up on some of the themes and the darkness of the series. I remember as a child reading these books and rooting for the Baudelaires to defeat this vile man. I don’t think I realized just how dark this series was until I revisited it as an adult. But the great thing about this series is that you can enjoy them as both a child and an adult, which has surely made the Netflix series so viable.
Who was your favorite character in the original series and why? Were they your favorite character in the Netflix adaptation? If not, who won you over?
Michaela: Klaus all the way. He was one of my first fictional crushes (beside Peter Pan) and the first (and only) character I’ve ever cosplayed. I enjoy his portrayal in the series and I’m going to love to see him grow as a character and a person as the series plays out.
As for characters that won me over, Lemony Snicket and the Hook Handed Man have a special place in my heart!
Lizzie: Klaus was always my favorite when I was younger, because I really related to the kid finding all the answers in a book, because I was that kid, and because I liked that these characters (much like why I related to Hermione Granger) made me feel like it was okay to be who I was. On the Netflix adaptation, though, I found a newfound appreciation for Violet. She’s carrying a heavy burden, and she does it with a sense of optimism that I have struggled to find in myself in moments that are not even as bad as the ones these kids are going through, and she never quite loses her inventiveness and her spark.
Lyra: Since I’ve only watched the Netflix adaptation, I’m going to have to say Sunny. She was the only one that called people out when they were being ridiculous in a world of sensible people. Also she was a certifiable badass with those teeth. She’s not a normal baby by any measure and I can’t even imagine how badass she would be as an adult. Uncle Monty was a close second. He was the right kind of weird, eccentric, and caring. They could’ve lived a full and happy life with him.
Chloe: I was always a big fan of Violet in the original series. I’m also an oldest child, so I could relate to the feeling of responsibility towards one’s siblings and taking the lead in a sense. A bright, determined girl who’s an incredible inventor and always has a cool hair ribbon? You can’t ask for a much better character to read about for a girl growing up. The kids all had their share of dangerous scenarios over the course of the series, but I also felt like Violet ended up in some of the most deadly (*cough* The Hostile Hospital *cough*). That’s pretty badass.
As far as the Netflix series, I thought the casting was strong across the board, but I really fell in love with Sunny. You can’t typically qualify a baby as a “character” in movies or TV, but Sunny can’t be described any other way. She can’t speak, but she’s unbelievably sassy and resourceful. I’m so here for it.
Alyssa: Klaus has and will always be my favorite character in this series. He was one of my first book boyfriends when I was a kid. I had the biggest crush on him. But I’ve always admired and related to the angle he was coming from. I loved that he found comfort and solace in books. I loved that he used his knowledge as a weapon of sorts. He’s always been the one with the fire that was hard to control, which I related to, as well. I’ve always really loved Lemony Snicket, as well, so getting to see him fully fleshed out as a character in this series has definitely won me over!
Which block of episodes was your favorite? Why?
Michaela: The Reptile Room: Part 1 & 2. I loved Aasif Mandvi’s portrayal of Uncle Monty.
The switch from the cat and mouse game of the first episode to the murder-mystery-like unraveling of the second episode was divine. I LOVE the sets (including the maze, the actual reptile room, and the cinema.) And I loved the introduction of Zombies! In the Snow and all the complete quirky and random things V.F.D does to communicate with its members.
Lizzie: The Reptile Room: Part 1 & 2, which is not surprising, as Uncle Monty was always one of my favorite characters in the books and I really enjoyed book 3. I think the acting was superb, the visuals were out of this world, and, of course, Olaf was as ridiculous and creepy as ever, but there was this sense that maybe, just maybe, he wouldn’t win, which I know is absurd, but it was there and it made the episodes more enjoyable.
Lyra: The Reptile Room: Part 1 & 2. Uncle Monty was my favorite and I wish they would’ve stayed with him. A life with him would’ve been one of discovery, adventure, and tons of crazy reptiles. The addition of Olaf as the deadly assistant made these two episodes funny with an edge of murder mystery that surprised me. The children solving the murder of Uncle Monty showed me for the first time how truly bright the Baudelaire children were in the face of such dastardly and obtuse adversity.
Chloe: I’m going to join the party here with “The Reptile Room” love. Uncle Monty was such a fun, eccentric, adventurous character, played to perfection by Aasif Mandvi. I love seeing the children with a guardian who actually means well for them, and how they learn new things and grow under those circumstances. This block of episodes also introduced viewers to the first of Count Olaf’s alternate identities, which is where Neil Patrick Harris really came into his own in the character. The scenery was gorgeous and rich with detail, and details like the Incredibly Deadly Viper and Zombies in the Snow added to the unique tone and esoterica of the show. (See what I did there?)
Alyssa: I’m going to be the odd one out here and go with “The Miserable Mill: Part 1 & 2.” I think this mostly had to do with having seen the other three books come to life from the original film. It was just really exciting to get to see “The Miserable Mill” come to life on screen for the first time. I also really enjoyed “The Miserable Mill” because this was the first instance where the Baudelaires were really on their own. They weren’t placed with a guardian by Mr. Poe. They had gone off on their own and were really forced to grow up in a new way. I also really enjoyed County Olaf teaming up with Dr. Orwell and watching those two play off of each other. The second part of “The MIserable Mill” also did a nice job of setting up “The Austere Academy,” which is one of my favorite books in the series. We finally got answers about whose parents those were and we got a glimpse of the Quagmire Triplets (minus one).
Did you enjoy Neil Patrick Harris’s portrayal of Count Olaf?
Michaela: I love Neil Parick Harris as Count Olaf. When the casting decision was announced I was a little hesitant to cheer him on–mostly because I hoped the tone would not be as “gothic-lite” as Nickeloden’s adaptation is. I love Jim Carrey, don’t get me wrong, but it is hard to take him as an actor, with certain mannerisms, out of the role and take Count Olaf seriously as a villain and a murderer. (I love the movie, so I’m not bashing here!) Sometimes, during the show, I forgot it was NPH under the eyebrows and the grey hair and false nose. He blends quirk and treachery perfectly. He’s an outlandish actor who also leads a mish-mashed community theater troupe to commit felony crimes. It is a perfect fit!
Lizzie: Very much so. I hated him, and that’s exactly the way it should be, but in a way that Jim Carrey never managed in the movie adaptation, I also found him scary in a real way, not in a cartoonish kinda way? I think NPH did a great job of showing us not just the ridiculous side of Count Olaf – and this whole series borders on the ridiculous, so that’s hard – but a more insidious, real side that just want these kids to suffer. It was a fine line and he balanced both sides of Olaf’s personality perfectly.
Lyra: Yes! I’ve never hated a character so much but applauded him for his drive and craftiness in getting to their intended victim(s). I didn’t think NPH could pull this off and he did in every single episode with a balance of humor and true maliciousness. Additionally, I could watch this with my siblings and not be afraid that this villain was going to take things to a place that I wouldn’t want them to see or that they wouldn’t understand. This Count Olaf was a form of evil that was funny, determined, and understandable to them. NPH killed it.
Chloe: YES. I can’t think of anyone who could have done it better. Count Olaf is so many roles in one, between his many disguises and moods. Anyone playing him has to be a master of comedy and characters – without going over the top – while adding in a very real sense of menace and danger underneath it all. Olaf may be entertaining at times, but he’s also a murderer on a mission. NPH committed to the role and brought out all of these layers of nuance in what could easily become a ridiculous character. He really did justice to the role.
Alyssa: It was an absolute joy to watch Neil Patrick Harris’ portrayal of Count Olaf. Obviously there was going to be a comparison to Jim Carrey’s version in the original film, but I never looked at it that way. I wanted to focus on NPH’s portrayal of the character, which was as wicked as it was hilarious. He was able to really balance both sides of Count Olaf well. He had to be that hilarious actor, but he also had to be convincing in the threat that he posed to the Baudelaires; he had to be a dastardly villain. And he was able to accomplish that quite well.
Who do you think Jacquelyn is and what do you think her purpose is in the series? Do you enjoy the hyped V.F.D tie-in the show brings?
Michaela: Like Lyra, I looked at some spoilers concerning Jacquelyn’s identity. I love hearing what other people are speculating about the series–but one thing is for sure, no matter Jacquelyn’s identity, she’s a part of V.F.D. And most likely on the same side of the schism that the Baudelaire parents were on.
I am a huge fan of the way Daniel Handler et. al. tied in V.F.D’s sub-plot into the early episodes. I feel, while the characters were there, the first novels didn’t allude much to the larger, secret society, narrative. The show does a great job of tying the pieces together and giving die-hard fans some clues to hunt for.
Lizzie: I liked that she was there from the start, because in the books I always sort of felt like that wasn’t really explored till at least the halfway point, and there was so much more that they could have added if the V.F.D presence had been bigger from the start. This IS A Series of Unfortunate Events, though, so we all know Jacquelyn isn’t going to SAVE the day, but just knowing that she’s there helps this whole ridiculous thing make much more sense. Not all adults can be oblivious and stupid, right? Right?
Now, as for who she is, I don’t think we have enough to go on – and I’ve read the books! Might she end up being Kit Snicket or someone like that in disguise? Ooh, now that I said that, I kind of hope so, though I think it’s safer to assume she’s just a random V.F.D operative there to give us that part of the story.
Lyra: Not gonna lie, I had to look up who Jacquelyn was an might of spoiled myself when I looked up the V.F.D. aka the Volunteer Fire Department. Her presence in the Netflix adaptation showed that there were adult forces, aka the V.F.D., trying to counter Count Olaf and that everything wasn’t just left for the kids to solve, as many stories like this do. Additionally, she wasn’t overwhelming or took focus away from the main stars of this story, the Baudelaires.
Chloe: I don’t have the clearest memories of V.F.D.’s full story from the books, but I remember it being very important and interesting. I love how the show is sprinkled in the acronym throughout, so that once you pick up on it, you’re definitely aware of something bigger going on in the background. I don’t have too many theories about Jacquelyn at this point, but I liked how her role broadens the story and brings the readers in on the bigger conspiracies, even if we aren’t sure of all the details just yet. She’s also a reassuring presence as an adult who actually pays attention and recognizes Count Olaf for the villain he is.
Alyssa: Adaptations don’t always have to be word for word. But I loved that this Netflix adaptation was able to be the books without fully being the books and allowing for a new character like Jacquelyn to exist. I love that she represents an agent of the V.F.D. in a way that is a nice Easter Egg for the book fans, as well as keeps the newer fans wondering about this secret organization. I’m all for strong female characters kicking ass and taking names.
I want to piggyback off of what Lizzie said about Jacquelyn actually turning out to be Kit Snicket. Now that I would absolutely love. That’s the really cool thing about Jacquelyn. She’s a mystery. But she’s also a character that has so much potential moving forward.
What are you most excited to see in the second season?
Michaela: A lot of our answers are going to be about the Quagmire-triplets but I can’t help myself; I’m cannot wait to meet the poet, the journalist, and the cartographer (briefly!) The Austere Academy is my favorite ASOUE novel and it packs in so many odd-ball characters. Vice Principal Nero will be hilarious (dream cast is Lin-Manuel Miranda, I think he could really sell those 6-hour violin recitals.) Beyond the fifth book, I’m excited to meet Esme Squalor (dream cast would be Ellie Kemper.)
Lizzie: I always liked the Quagmire triplets and with the twist the Netflix adaptation threw at us I’m even more excited to see the first two episodes of the new season. Book 5 is one of my favorites, because I remember it as not being as miserable as the others, because at least these kids were all together and sort of had each other? So I’m excited to see that, a little bit of good in the middle of all the misery.
Lyra: I’m most excited to learn about the Quagmire triplets. After having my heart broken that the mother and father weren’t the Baudelaire’s parents, I dismissed these children as another unfortunate loss to evil forces I could not understand yet. I was surprised to see them end up in the same place as the Baudelaire’s and can’t wait to see how they differ from Violet, Klaus, and Sunny.
Chloe: The Quagmire triplets, because they play such a significant role and are some of the few people actually on the Baudelaires’ side. I also think the Squalors have the potential to be very entertaining and over the top. But that said, what I’m most looking forward to seeing would fall in the third season (fingers crossed!). The Grim Grotto, in particular, always stuck with me.
Alyssa: Most definitely the Quagmire triplets because they really play such a significant role in this series moving forward. I’ve always loved “The Austere Academy” because it united the Baudelaires and the Quagmires in their similar grief-stricken lives. For a moment they had found some other children that were going through something similar to their own situation. It was a brief moment of reprieve for the children in what we knew was never going to be a happy ending. Remember, there are no happy beginnings, happy middles, or happy endings in this series. But as far as coming as close to happy as possible, the Baudelaires finding the Quagmires was one of those moments.
What was your favorite moment of season one?
Michaela: I said it in my review and I’ll say it again: Count Olaf as Stephano describing to Uncle Monty how to pronounce the title of the herpetologist’s society he belongs to (it’s a long string of snake-like SsssSSsssssSSS’s.)
Lizzie: Probably the beginning, because it set the tone, and because I was so excited to be watching this, and to feel like, maybe, this time, they would do it justice.
Lyra: My favorite moment was Aunt Josephine screaming at seeing her own reflection. It was one of the first times I laughed in the series. She was a different kind of eccentric in that the tiniest things made her jump out of her skin but she had no fear jumping out of a window. Absolutely bonkers, that one.
Chloe: Captain Sham (Count Olaf’s disguise during “The Wide Window” episodes) never stopped being funny to me. From the peg leg to the eyepatch to the voice, imagining not only Count Olaf but NPH committing so thoroughly to that character was hilarious. I give everyone else in those episodes props for getting through their scenes with him without laughing.
Alyssa: I’m going to have to say the opening sequence of “The Bad Beginning” as it really, like Lizzie said, established the tone of this series and instantly made me fall in love. You always hope going into these adaptations that you’re going to see the books that you fell in love with. And more often than not, that is not the case. So watching as Lemony Snicket walked on screen and began narrating the beginning of this tale, I knew immediately that this adaptation was going to be beyond satisfying. It was giving me the closest thing — next to the books — that I could’ve hoped for.
What about the adaptation do you think Netflix did right? Why? And, if anything, what did the adaptation get wrong?
Michaela: The portrayal of Lemony Snicket is SPOT. ON. I wasn’t sure how his character would interact with the series but it’s perfect. His costume changes. His all-knowing, emotionless tone, his way of pointing out Easter Eggs matter-of-factly. A+ work, Patrick Wharburton. I also have to give it up for the theme song. It never gets old. It only gets better!
Lizzie: I think they could never truly hope to capture the humor of the books, because Lemony Snicket can’t be there ALL the time as he is in the books, but I think they did the best they could under the circumstances, and they captured some of his dry humor. I do think that, with an adaptation, since he’s not there all the time, and the story is so ….well ….sad, that the whole thing was way more depressing than the books were, but that was impossible to avoid. This is what their lives are. All in all, I think they did as good a job as could be expected. I enjoyed it.
Lyra: From what I could tell from what Lizzie, aka my reliable source on all things Lemony Snicket, told me, they got the narrator right. He was the calm voice guiding you through the tale of the Baudelaire’s while showing true sadness for their plight and sadness for the loss of his beloved. Also, he managed to teach you a great many definitions along the way. That’s that sneaky kind of learning that you don’t see as a child.
Chloe: I think they absolutely nailed the tone–a “conundrum of esoterica,” to borrow from Klaus. Much like Count Olaf himself, the show needed to be whimsical, effortlessly combining light and dark. It really reminded me of Pushing Daisies, which is another show that does this so well, right down to the storybook feeling of the cinematography. I was very pleased with the casting across the board, not to mention the set design and level of detail. The only thing that kind of bothered me was kind of inevitable because it’s a key part of the story, but you can only take so much of the adults discounting the Baudelaires’ insight when it came to Count Olaf. Believe them already!
Alyssa: The Netflix series definitely nailed Lemony Snicket’s narration. Getting to see Lemony Snicket walk on screen and explain the story and situations at hand really drove home the concept that Lemony Snicket is as much a character in the books as Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. The Netflix series was also able to capture the humor of these books in a way that wasn’t too much and balanced the serious nature of this series. The series didn’t focus on the depressing nature of the series too much but was able to balance that with the humor much like the books were able to do. That was something I really appreciated.
And, just for fun, did you grow up an ASOUE kid, a Harry Potter kid, or both?
Michaela: Definitely an ASOUE kid. When I got older, I gave into my Hufflepuff side but when I was in elementary, my mom wouldn’t let me read the HP series. It wasn’t until I found solace and secrecy in the middle school library that I could pick up a copy of The Sorcerer’s Stone. Oddly enough, I got the a-okay to read a series about a evil man terrorizing three orphan children. I grew up loving ASOUE first but not only!
Lizzie: I’m pretty sure I read HP first, but I’m still going to say both, because even though I got way more into HP and was way more involved in the fandom and stuff like that, I have my Lemony Snicket memorabilia, my hardcover books are on a shelf next to the Harry Potter ones and I will tell anyone who listens to read BOTH.
Lyra: I was a Harry Potter kid fur sure. The titles of ASOUE always threw me off. It’s only now as an adult, that I can appreciate and understand what they could’ve brought to me as a child.
Chloe: Both! Harry Potter took on a much bigger role for me, in terms of my level of obsession and my involvement in the fandom, but I was also very invested in ASOUE. I need to do a re-read, but I am so glad that it’s reentering the pop culture conversation with this Netflix adaptation.
Alyssa: I grew up a fan as both! Who says you can’t read two amazing series and like them for what they are as individual series. While “Harry Potter” was definitely my number one obsession as a kid, “ASOUE” was a close second. Much like “Harry Potter” left me an obsessed reader as a child, “ASOUE” also left me clamoring for more and helped shape my book obsession. I’m so glad “ASOUE” is getting its chance to shine — finally — after it wasn’t given its full due with the film several years ago.