‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ Takes Its Heroes to Hellish School in Wild Second Season
As children we subconsciously love children’s literature because it knows very well who the enemy is- the adults. The same goes for movies and television shows where the heroes are kids trapped in a world where the adults are pure villainy, or pure stupidity. Netflix’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” continues the wildly creative, wickedly fun adaptation of the classic series by Daniel Handler A.K.A. Lemony Snicket. After a first season in which the orphaned Baudelaire siblings found themselves moving from one colorful adoptive family to another, the new season sees them sent off to a boarding school straight from hell, figuratively speaking.
Picking up right where the last season left off, the three Baudelaire orphans, Violet (Malina Weissman), Klaus (Louis Hynes) and infant Sunny (Presley Smith), are shipped off to Prufrock Preparatory School which features as its slogan “Memento Mor” (Memory of Death) and a dead horse for a mascot. As expected at such a school the Vice Principal is named Nero (Roger Bart) and he fiddles and fiddles all day, convinced of his own genius. The Baudelaires also meet the most spoiled, demented denizen at the school, the tap-dancing Carmelita Spats (Kitana Turnbull). On the trail of the siblings is the evil Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris), who is still obsessed with getting to their inheritance. Olaf and his minions make their way to Prufrock with some evil scheme being planned. But all is not lost, the Baudelaires meet two new siblings at the school, the Quagmires, Duncan (Dyland Kingwell) and Isadora (Avi Lake). They all realize there is a connection between the deaths of their parents, which could answer some deep questions while raising new ones.
Fans of both the first season and the original Lemony Snicket books can rejoice. This new season is just as faithful to the source material and just as deliriously fun. The show drips with atmosphere and memorable set design. Prufrock is designed like every kid’s nightmarish vision of that torture wheel known as school. The hallways are draped in shadow, doors and walls seem conquered by rust, spider webs drape over books. Nero’s office is a terrifying clutter of portraits and paper. And of course the cafeteria food looks like toxic sludge. There is a wonderful anti-authority, anti-adult streak in the whole vision of the series as the bullies at the school are framed as collaborators with the adults. This is especially true of Carmelita Spats, who sings songs about herself and annoys everyone to no end, but gets presents and special treatment from Nero, who adores her for bowing to his every whim (and he to hers). Of course Count Olaf will eventually recruit her for his nefarious schemes. There is a great pep rally scene where our narrator, Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton) gives quite the enlightening observation about the nature of crowd control and the whole sheepish nature of pro sports. It’s written in a way where smart kids will grin and nod.
One of the great joys of “A Series of Unfortunate Events” is its wit and wordplay. As the Baudelaires try to survive their time at Prufrock references are made to everything from Voltaire to the history of engineering. Adults can bask in the trivia, kids will benefit from the injected educational value. A new character, the caring and sweet school Librarian (Sara Rue), adds new suspense to the show’s plot as she tries to help our heroes escape, but she’s also there to promote the joys and importance of reading. We just love seeing her make her way down the hall, popping a wheelie with a book cart.
Yet the defining word of this series is “fun.” There are gags galore, and as always Neil Patrick Harris steals the show as Olaf, snickering, scheming and luring in new clueless fools for his plans. Roger Bart is great as Nero, with pure madness in his eyes. His best moments come when he’s alone in his office, dictating letters to figures such as Mozart, wondering why they never write back when he himself has written “over 4,000 symphonies.” You can also never get enough of baby Baudelaire Sunny, who has his baby talk subtitled to reveal quick, perceptive observations (“Misinformation,” “Tedious”). Sunny has the uncanny ability to weld metal into fantastic artifacts and even type for Nero when he needs to openly dictate yet another letter. This is the kind of series where kids giggle and adults chuckle at the goofy charm of it all.
“A Series of Unfortunate Events” is great fun and an enlightening time for younger viewers. It is just dark enough and funny enough to be both suspenseful and wildly entertaining. Anyone can enjoy it, but for the full effect bring along a small companion to binge.
“A Series of Unfortunate Events” Season 2 premieres March 30 on Netflix.