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TV Review: A Series of Unfortunate Events (Season 2)

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An Easter treat arrived for us all on Good Friday, in the form of Season 2 of the Baudelaire Orphans' unfortunate adventures on Netflix, and luckily for all of us (if unluckily for the Baudelaires) everything gets darker and grittier from here.

Building on the success of season one, the stakes, intrigue and misery are all much higher in the Baudelaires' sophomore outing and it makes for incredibly gripping viewing.

As a childhood fan of the books, I was excited to see where the writers would take this season, since it was the first where the entire season was material that hadn't been adapted before and I was pleased to see that the adaptation continued to remain very faithful to the books, although this may have been somewhat to it's detriment as even I have to admit, the formulaic nature of the orphans running away from Olaf and being discovered again got on my nerves in the books and I can see why the repetitive nature of this might bother people with the TV series as well.

Still, Patrick Warburton's delightfully dry monologue as Lemony Snicket and the strange, gothic nature of the series, as well as the unending misery and misfortune of the Baudelaire orphans makes for compelling viewing. No matter what the theme song tells you, you just can't look away! I have never seen a book adaptation that is as faithful to its source material as this one; Warburton's monologues are lifted straight from the books and each 'Part 1' begins with the dedication from that particular book - which makes book fans incredibly happy.

The two part format of each episode being devoted to one book, doesn't always work in favour of the series. There are times, like with The Ersatz Elevator or The Carnivorous Carnival episodes, where having two episodes per book works really well, and makes for a very engaging ninety minutes of television, but there are also times where the pace lags a little because there is not really enough source material to make it worth two episodes - The Austere Academy and The Vile Village are prime examples of this. 

This second series introduces several new key supporting players including Lucy Punch as Count Olaf's posh socialite girlfriend, Esme Squalor, who I will admit, after some initial trepidation (she wasn't quite who I pictured - the Esme in my head was always dark haired and a lot more menacing...) did impress me. Nathan Fillion is also impressive in his turn as narrator Lemony's brother, Jacques and his role was expanded on a little from the books, which I appreciated. Olivia Caliban (Sara Rue), who originally only played a role in the ninth book, is also given a meatier role here, and her chemistry with Nathan Fillion makes for some entertaining viewing.

The set designs for this show are incredible. In this series alone, we go from a school, to a fancy apartment complex, to a Western-style village, to a hospital and a carnival and each one has their own wacky, and intricately designed sets. As far as sets and costuming go, the Ersatz Elevator episodes are definitely the standouts of the series, although the Carnival episodes come a close second.

This season delves further into the mysterious organization VFD, which was barely even hinted at in the first season and it is this underlying mystery that certainly helps the show along in its slower moments. If there is one thing this show does well, it is foreshadowing and whilst it can occasionally be a little too on the nose, for the most part, all the VFD foreshadowing works really well here.

Neil Patrick Harris is once again, excellent in his role as Count Olaf and is clearly having the time of his life, playing out all of Olaf's various different disguises throughout the series (a standout being his turn as ringmaster in the Carnival episodes), and the series certainly plays on Harris' musical talents more than once, to great effect. There are times when it feels like the show plays a little too much to the silly side of Count Olaf and less to the evil, but for the most part, the balance is struck well. It's the henchpeople of Count Olaf that suffer - whereas they felt truly evil in the books, for the most part in the series, they are merely buffonish caricatures, which is a shame.

An unfortunate side effect of being surrounded by such a strong cast of characters, is that the Baudelaires occasionally seem to get lost in the shuffle, and sometimes feel as if they are playing a side role in their own story, which is a shame, as child actors Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes do put in excellent performances of their own this season. 

The show deals in some great one liners and the tone straddles the line well between the dark and the ridiculous, just like the source material. Whilst there are definitely uneven moments throughout the ten-episodes of Season 2, especially in The Vile Village episodes, for the most part, the Baudelaires second outing offers more mystery, more intrigue & more misery than ever before. The climax of the season certainly leaves more questions than answers and I for one, cannot wait to see where the Baudelaires' journey of misery and despair takes them next! 

A Series of Unfortunate Events is available to watch on Netflix.




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