Neil Patrick Harris begs everyone to “Look Away” in A Series of Unfortunate Events, but we just can’t comply. The zany tale of Baudelaire orphans continues for a second season, adding quirky new locations and characters. Barry Sonnenfeld’s world of keen children is still enchanting and visually stunning, even if the shtick gets a bit old.
I read A Series of Unfortunate Events as a teen, and basically chewed the books up. I was late to the Lemony Snicket phenomenon: 12 of the 13 books were out by the time I began. Still, I was definitely hooked to the Baudelaires’ tale of woe and the growing mysteries behind each installment. The disappointment that there were no plans for a film sequel was heartbreaking. Needless to say, I was pretty psyched when Netflix announced they would be adapting the books into a show.
I hyped up the story to everyone I knew. My friends were excited to get into this mysterious world I’d sold them on, and even more psyched about NPH. I began watching season 1 in awe, feeling like a 15-year-old nerd again.
And none of my friends seemed to dig it. The consensus was that it was too boring, too childish, too condescending. Most of them didn’t even finish the season.
Flash forward to a year later, as I binge watched season 2 only a couple of days after it became available. About halfway through the season, they comment that the payout has to be amazing.
The thing is that it really isn’t. For all its quirkiness and dry, adult-oriented humor, A Series of Unfortunate Events actually is pretty bleak. And after two seasons of the Baudelaires going from guardian to guardian every two episodes, the structure can get old. The material is pre-teen oriented, and you can easily tell by seeing grown-ups watch it for the first time. Unless you’re very much into digging deep into child-like universes, it might be time to look away.
That said, overall the season is still fairly good, though it does get a little messier around the second half. The art direction continues to be superb, and it’s a joy to watch the care placed on each new setting. The random musical numbers, albeit mostly unnecessary, bring an extra touch of levity to this odd tale. And of course, you can feel Sonnenfeld’s beat throughout the scripts of each episode. This is the same kind of sweet-yet-morbid humor from his ahead-of-its-time Pushing Daisies.
Any slow moment the season might have is saved by a few new additions to the cast, like Sara Rue. Playing a character extended from a brief appearance in the books, Rue turns a sweet librarian into a charming powerhouse. Ella Enchanted actress Lucy Punch is also a joy to watch as fashion-forward mean girl Esmé Squalor. Tony Hale’s short appearance as Jerome Squalor is fantastic, and Veep fans will appreciate it best.
But there’s one new addition to the cast that outshined everyone else, as is often the case whenever he’s on anything. Nathan Fillion plays Jacques Snicket, the brother of narrator/author Lemony, and steals every scene. The Firefly alum is amazing as the debonair and mysterious taxi driver, particularly when sharing scenes with NPH. The two have worked together before, and clearly there’s a great rapport!
Also, how brilliant is it to have Fillion play Patrick Warburton’s brother? Both have the same handsome-yet-hilarious vibe, and it’s hard to remember they’re not actually related.
There’s also a glimpse into what I think is another member of the Snicket family, but I could be wrong. And I’m definitely not going to spoil who plays who!
NPH continues to be the soul of the show, but the children are fantastic as well. As the Baudelaire orphans, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes and Presley Smith are the most charming kids on TV. Let’s hope filming resumes quickly, as they’ve grown considerably since season 1.
In all, remember this is a kids’ show, and a peculiar one at that. Its repetitiveness can get a bit tedious, but there are so many great things happening all over the place. Don’t look away!