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Netflix's A Series of Unfortunate Events Season 2 Review
Over a year ago the Netflix’s first season of the adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s (a.k.a. Daniel Hadler) book series A Series of Unfortunate Events (made up of two parters of the first 4 books) was released. The story revolved around the three Baudelaire children Violet, Klaus, and Sunny who lose their parents and home in a fire and are sent from place to place and guardian to guardian by their family’s absent-minded banker Mr. Poe. All the while they are stalked by the nefarious Count Olaf under various guises to steal the fortune their parents left behind. Despite being a great series with Neil Patrick Harris’ outstanding performance as Count Olaf, top-notch humor from his theater troupe, effective leads, a catchy theme song (sung by Harris), and its greater attention to the source material than the movie it was not without its faults. The child actors for Klaus and Violet (Louis Hynes and Malina Weismann respectively) delivered mixed performances, the CGI on baby Sunny looked somewhat awkward at times, and while not all most of the show’s devastating moments were outshined by the good but often overused humor. Nevertheless, it was strong enough to continue and over a period of three months there was a great deal of hype surrounding the show’s second season. Would over a year of waiting pay off or would watching the be as unfortunate as the Baudelaire’s fate? Well having seen the full season on the day of its release on March 30 I can safely say it is the former. This season not only turned out as good as its predecessor but also even better improving both on its good qualities and its average ones.
In the new season the Baudelaire children find themselves traveling through several locales including a boarding school where they befriend a set of twins whose family suffered a similar fate to theirs named Isadora and Duncan Quagmire, a rich couple named Esme and Jerome Squalor the former of whom has a dark secret, the Village of Fowl Devotees where the children find themselves in a devastating situation, a sinister hospital, and a carnival. Once again they are pursued by Count Olaf who is in search of not only the Baudelaire’s fortune but the Quagmire’s as well.
This season succeeds in blending in both humor and sadness. While the humor is there it is not overused nor is it the prime force of the plot. Almost every scene in each episode follows devastating moment after devastating moment to the point that you really feel bad that these kids can’t catch a break. It particularly gets depressing when by the end of The Vile Village Part 2 the Baudelaire’s are framed for Olaf’s murder resulting not only in them being forced to go on the run without any sort of guidance from Mr. Poe but also Olaf being presumed dead is free to pursue them without the need for much of a disguise in the later episodes.
Whereas in the first season Patrick Warburton as the narrator Lemony Snicket often seemed intrusive during certain moments here he provides much more weight. There is a greater deal of melancholy in his voice which further ads to the grimness of the various situations. Even the flashback as brief as it was which is the only moment where he actively plays a part outside of the narrator in the show when he simply cries out for Beatrice as he sees her fall from the balcony is nothing short of a tearjerker.
This season is not without its heartwarming moments either and with there being so many depressing moments it makes the former even more prominent. In the season opener the Baudelaires meet up with the Quagmires and from the Austere Academy to Ersatz Elevator to Vile Village the actors genuinely make their friendship genuine making every time they’re separated all the more depressing. The same applies when they meet Archivist Hal in The Hostile Hospital. He seems like a genuinely nice man towards the children even considering them friends and giving them food while in hiding from Olaf. This makes it only sadder when they have to take advantage of his near-sightedness to steal his keys and break into the library. You also have multiple members of the VFD who are time and again trying to look after the Baudelaires.
Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf is still every bit as funny as he was in the first season and he delivers comedy on all fronts. From the various silly voices in his disguises, to his overall attitude and delivery when not in disguise, and his overall dialogue. But it doesn’t shy away from how evil Olaf can get. In Carnivorous Carnival Part 2 he puts on a show of feeding any of the carnival members to a pack of hungry lions. In Hostile Hospital part 2 he forces a disguised Klaus to perform a surgery of removing his sister’s head. In the same episode upon learning that another Baudelaire may still be alive he drops the comedy as he almost goes nuts trying to figure it out.
The theatre troupe also returns this season and while they haven’t changed they like Olaf still deliver comedic performances particularly from the person of indeterminate gender, the two women with powdered white faces, and the hook handed person. The show also adds a new character amongst the troupe this season named Esme Squalor. I was particularly worried about how they were going to adapt her character since she was downright despicable in the books. However, Lucy Punch takes delight in just how evil her character can be such as trapping the children at the bottom of an elevator shaft in the Ersatz Elevator and pushing down the library shelves in order to capture them in the Hostile Hospital or her shooting down the mobile home the children are trying to get to in Vile Village.
The CGI on baby Sunny is another improvement. In the first season it was quite distracting during certain moments especially when she had to bite something. but here her actions blend in perfectly with the rest of the show. In regards to the performances by Hynes and Weismann they have also improved vastly. Their expressions and delivery make you truly feel for them. An example of this is in Vile Village Part 2 when while they are in jail Klaus realizes that it is his birthday almost resulting in him breaking into tears.
Another element that sticks out are the members of VFD. We get the returns Jacqueline and Larry-your-waiter from the previous season and while they get their fair share of shining moments of humor they play less of a role in the long run. However, the show makes up for that by adding two new characters: Jacques Snicket and Olivia Caliban. Even though I knew of Jacques in the books I was unsure of him at first. Thankfully my concerns were put to rest as the series went along as the show makes him incredibly fun. Even though you never see how things fell apart between them you truly believe by the way he describes it that him and Olaf were in fact good friends making his death that much sadder when Olaf refuses to join forces with him. And seeing him tell off Carmelita is just so tame yet awesome. The character of Olivia Caliban was a deviation from the books which was honestly better. In the books she only appeared in Carnivorous Carnival and was traitor to both VFD and Count Olaf. Here however she starts off as a librarian in Austere Academy and feeling bored with her mundane life at the school meets up with Snicket and the two join forces to help the Baudelaires wherever they can. And over the course of Ersatz Elevator and Vile Village both deliver energetic and unforgettable performances. In the season finale we see Caliban disguised as a fortune teller and it’s quite amazing to see how far she’s come since the beginning of the season and the lengths she goes to protect the children resulting in her getting devoured by lions.
The visuals are on a whole new level rivaling that of the movie. The lighting and backdrops of Prufrock Prepatory blend in well with the Baudelaire's sense of feeling there. The escape from Esme in the hospital is quite terrifying in her pursuit of the children. When the Baudelaires are pushed down the elevator even when we know they aren't going to die it still is frightening.
Carmelita Spats is one of the secondary antagonists in the Austere Academy episodes and much like Esme she takes so much enjoyment in causing misery in both the lives of the Baudelaires and Quagmires that it’s honestly hard to not have fun hating her.
If there was one problem I had with the season it was that it quite literally ends on a cliffhanger. Klaus and Violet still in disguise are in a trolley tied to Olaf’s car while Sunny is with him along with the rest of the carnival members and the troupe. Olaf communicates with the two via walkie-talkie reveals that he figured out their disguise and has the other members cut off the rope sending the trolley backwards to the edge of a cliff. It was devastating to know that we’d have to wait another year to figure out what’s going to happen next.
This season of a Series of Unfortunate Events was well worth over a year wait. It has improved on both production value and acting value alike and honors it source material to an extent that is far greater than anything the movies could have given. If you’re a fan of the books this will definitely not let you down. If you simply liked the show, then this is also perfectly serviceable. I not only would watch this season again but also eagerly anticipate the final one.