Count Olaf: Where’s the roast beef?
Klaus Baudelaire: Roast beef?
Count Olaf: Beef, yes – roast beef. It’s the Swedish term for BEEF that is ROASTED.
Jim Carrey’s enlivened, comical, and at times almost lovable adaptation of Count Olaf at first seems like a far cry from Neil Patrick Harris’s (NHP) stripped down and almost insipid take on the series’ thespian antagonist – but give it a chance, and you’ll thank us for it later.
A 13-part children’s book series written over eight years in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ was always bound for the screen.
In case you’ve been living under the rocks of the Roundhouse construction site, here’s what you need to know:
- In 2004, we were treated to Brad Silberling’s masterfully-executed feature length picture.
- The film, starring screen legends Carrey, Meryl Streep and Billy Connelly, encompasses the first three books.
- It was allegedly planned to be followed by sequels in a Harry Potter-style franchise.
- But due to ongoing corporate restructuring at Paramount, the actors grew too old, and the project was canned.
- While the movie is strong as a stand-alone film, it leaves many questions unanswered. A Series of Unfortunate Events looked dead and buried – until now.
After rewatching the conclusion of the 2004 DreamWorks classic, I decided to give the eight-episode Netflix series a chance, and after some early detestation, it’s become one of my favourite Netflix originals I’ve seen to date.
At first, NPH’s almost uninspired attempt at comedic flair as Olaf himself fails to reach the depth of Carrey’s charisma. However, as the series progresses and Harris is able to delve into Olaf’s countless ruses and disguises, his talent shines through. Although Olaf, according to the novels, isn’t supposed to be particularly funny – both adaptations attempt it, and both get it right.
The most obvious difference between the two is the amount of time afforded to tell the story. The main criticisms of the film surrounded the inaccuracies to the book, and although the film was executed skilfully enough not to feel rushed, it had to take a lot of shortcuts that the series doesn’t have to. In the show, every book is split into two hour-long episodes, and manages to cover most details penned in the novels. The series has more time to cover all bases and take the viewer on more of a journey, than the film was able to do, in 90 minutes.
At the beginning of the series, everything from the Wes Anderson-esque set design, to the call-and-response-style dialogue, to the initially-baffling casting of Patrick Warburton as Lemony Snicket (as opposed to the mysterious and sophisticated eloquent silhouette of Jude Law), seemed out of place and too far removed from their film counterparts. But, I found that these all culminate to contribute to the show’s magnetism and adventurous charm.
Each episode and set reflects the direction of the plot and the visual manner employed by the series complements this perfectly. The show makes you feel like a kid again. It feels like a series should – countless new chapters; a new world to be explored and with each, another unique hurdle from the same dastardly villain to overcome. While the film might be more refined and well-rounded, the quirky innocence of the series shines through.
8/10, would recommend.