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A Series of Unfortunate Events season 2 review: more marvellous misery

Despite what the theme song says, don’t look away from the Netflix series

Published: Friday, 30th March 2018 at 7:42 am

At the beginning of the new season of A Series of Unfortunate Events, Klaus and Violet Baudelaire (Louis Hynes and Malina Weissman) delivers lines laced with irony.

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“It feels like we’ve been sitting on this bench for months,” complains Violet.

“We’ve been waiting so long Sunny is starting to look less like a baby and more like a toddler,” Klaus agrees, to the consternation of baby sister Sunny herself (Presley Smith).

Sure, it may have been a year-long wait between series, but once you click on the first episode it feels like almost no time has passed in the Netflix series. Season two immediately throws us back into the miserable lives of the Baudelaire children, narrated by fictional author Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton) as they flee from the grasping clutches of the evil Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris).

As before, each of “Snicket’s” books (actually by Daniel Handler, who’s written some scripts for the series) is adapted over two episodes and follow a similar format: the orphans are shunted off to a new guardian by Mr Poe (K. Todd Freeman) and confronted by Count Olaf in disguise before using their special skills to foil his latest plot to steal their fortune.

Their guardian also usually dies, unfortunately, which might explain why this year fewer and fewer suitable adults seem keen to have the Baudelaires on their doorstep...

Sure, there are new enemies for Sunny, Klaus and Violet this year – including a very rich trendsetter played by Lucy Punch, a village of mean-spirited crow-lovers and a manic school principal – and a few new allies (most notably Nathan Fillion as the dashing Jacques Snicket and some sweet schoolfriends called the Quagmires), but for all intents and purposes these new episodes could have just slotted on to the end of the last series.

And to be honest, that’s a great thing. The consistency and quality of this adaptation is wonderful to behold, especially if (like me) you’re a fan of the original book series who never thought its unique tone and vaguely gothic world could be faithfully brought to screen.

From the increasingly absurd scenarios the trio of orphans find themselves in to the endless literary definitions provided by narrator Snicket, everything that made the first series great survives, while a few new elements and small changes to the storyline keep the action fresh.

Happily, one of the first series’ worst aspects – the slightly dodgy CGI used to make Sunny the baby react better to the situations she’s in – seems to have been refined and slightly reined in for the new episodes, making for a much smoother viewing experience.

On the flipside, a few less enjoyable aspects from the first series do remain. While it’s interesting to see the wider conspiracy that claimed the lives of the Baudelaire parents get more of a presence in the Netflix adaptation, a certain amount of mystique feels lost by hinting so heavily at what’s to come, in contrast with the more softly-softly approach of the books.

Similarly, the presence in the series of good-guy characters like Fillion’s Jacques Snicket and Mr Poe’s secretary Jacquelyn (Sara Canning) constantly working to help the Baudelaires in the background slightly undercuts the bleakness and loneliness that characterised the novels.

In the books, the Baudelaires never felt truly safe, and in a strange sort of way that was part of the appeal – a kind of vicarious danger, as well as the satisfaction of seeing the children free themselves from the clutches of evil or incompetent adults with nothing but their wits.

Going into this series, I knew we’d be faced with some of the biggest gut-punch moments of the books – one at the end of the Austere Academy story, another inside a big lift and the other involving a giant red fish. On screen, they really don’t land quite as well as they did in print, where every scrap of happiness found by the Baudelaires is continually snatched away.

Still, these are some minor quibbles, a word which here means some slight objections or criticisms.

In the back half of the series – as the Baudelaires decide to be more proactive in their hunt for answers about the enigmatic VFD organisation – things do start to take a darker, weirder turn that fans of the books will be happy to recognise.

There's no denying this is a brilliantly awful return to form for Snicket and Netflix's disturbing world. Fingers crossed next year’s final series can keep up the quality to give the Baudelaires the grim, strange end we deserve.

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A Series of Unfortunate Events season 2 is streaming on Netflix now

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