“Hello, my name is Lemony Snicket and once again I find myself in a dimly lit room talking to a stranger. The stranger is you, and the room belongs to Netflix, the company responsible for filming A Series of Unfortunate Events.
“The story of the Baudelaire orphans is so upsetting and so utterly unnerving, the entire crew is suffering from low morale, a phrase which here means, currently under medical observation for melancholia, ennui, and acute wistfulness.
“So please, don’t make the same mistake that Netflix has, and look away before this dire tale is even filmed, and avoid the cruel whimsy and whimsical cruelty of what’s to come.”
This seems like an unconventional way to introduce a new Netflix original series, but for fans of the A Series of Unfortunate Events books, it will make perfect, nostalgic sense. They are ostensibly written by the concerned, noirish Lemony Snicket (here played by Patrick Warburton), who voices the series’ meta frame narrative (and actually written by Daniel Handler). The first book begins, “If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.”
It seems funny looking back, but I remember a time, when such warnings made me feel genuinely anxious. I was child who both threw myself into works of fiction a little too eagerly, and sometimes read books a little too dark for my age, a combination which could lead to sleepless nights of terror. So I felt apprehensive when a friend encouraged me to read Lemony Snicket’s works, and I read from the blurb:
I’m sorry to say that the book you are holding in your hands is extremely unpleasant. It tells an unhappy tale about three very unlucky children. Even though they are charming and clever, the Baudelaire siblings lead lives filled with misery and woe.
From the very first page of this book when the children are at the beach and receive terrible news, continuing on through the entire story, disaster lurks at their heels. One might say they are magnets for misfortune. In this short book alone, the three youngsters encounter a greedy and repulsive villain, itchy clothing, a disastrous fire, a plot to steal their fortune, and cold porridge for breakfast.
It is my sad duty to write down these unpleasant tales, but there is nothing stopping you from putting this book down at once and reading something happy, if you prefer that sort of thing.
With all due respect,
But it’s this playfully despondent tone, supported by the sheer absurdity of the series’ plots, that makes the books such great fun. This is something that was, for the most part, sorely lacking from the 2004 Brad Silberling film, with Snicket reduced to mostly voicing explanatory plot details – Daniel Handler’s in-character DVD commentary, complete with woeful songs, makes for far funnier and better watching.
This perhaps came about as Handler was removed from the scriptwriting process. As he explains in rambling, Snicket-ish style to IGN, the development of the film went into “crisis” as the original director Barry Sonnenfeld either quit or was fired, “depending on who you ask”, and that afterwards, neither he nor the film company felt confident that he could continue as scriptwriter. In the end, Handler was “disappointed” that “very little of what I wrote is in the film.”
Now Sonnenfeld and Handler are reunited with the Baudelaire orphans, as executive producers on the new adaptation. And if the new trailer (not to the mention fragments of script leaked via Daniel Handler’s Postal Club) is anything to go by, we’re getting an altogether more Lemony affair as a result. Apart from being the series’ narrator, Warburton’s Snicket will play a pivotal role in the lives of the children.
As in the series, the best moments of the trailer are in the seemingly insignificant details — Snicket’s casual mention of “indentured servants”; a box marked “Very Flammable Dandelions”; a clapper board with the title of the book Snicket recommends reading in place of his own tales, “The Littlest Elf”, written on it; Count Olaf’s control over the orphan’s lives, as well as his passion for amateur dramatics, hinted at a director’s chair emblazoned with his name. A taxi sits in a darkened corner – fans of the series will remember many readers’ conviction that a recurring taxi driver was actually Snicket himself.
Taken together, this all seems like a step in the right direction for the new adaptation. Let’s hope the trailer represents what’s to come.
Now listen to a discussion of A Series of Unfortunate Events on the NS pop culture podcast, SRSLY: