Netflix A Series of Unfortunate Events Season 2 Review

If anyone knows me at all, they know I like A Series of Unfortunate Events. Obsessively so. I’ve blogged reviews of Snicket’s other series All The Wrong Questions twice on this blog. I once kept my partner up all night telling him all the reasons why A Series of Unfortunate Events is one of the greatest series of childrens literature ever written. I like the absurdism. I like the way Snicket is a character in the series and an unreliable narrator to boot. I like the way Handler depicted grief and hardship. I liked the themes of well-read people turning out OK, of people being a mixture of good and bad like a chef’s salad, of villainy fluid depending on how you look at it. One of my favorite moments, in any book ever, is in The End when The Baudelaire’s stare at a certain grave contemplatively and place wildflowers on another, unsure of what to think and who to forgive. I grew up in a situation that often felt unfair. I liked that Handler acknowledged that life isn’t fair, but that being polite and good and well-read can find you others like yourself. As a young person, I loved the mystery elements woven throughout too; the sugar bowl and VFD and the identity of the mysterious Beatrice.

When Netflix announced a series I was cautiously optimistic. The book series is notoriously difficult to adapt and though I thought the film wasn’t terrible, it didn’t blow me away either. Netflix Season One was everything I could of asked for. A perfect 10/10 season. The art direction was perfect, the humor on point, the actors well cast and the musical numbers both entertaining and tonally fitting.


So what was my verdict on Season 2? Should you…

Look away, look away
Look away, look away
This show will wreck your evening​, your whole life, and your day
Every single episode is nothing but dismay
So, look away
Look away, look away

Absolutely not.

Season 2 is even better than series 1 with stronger books to work with. The addition of both Carmelita Spats and Esme Squalor to the plots breathed new life into a sometimes tired formula of orphans being shunted from guardian to guardian. Choosing to weave additional material from The Unauthorized Autobiography and other supplementary texts also made for interesting viewing for readers familiar with the trajectory of the books. I especially liked Olivia Caliban and Jacques Snicket.

I went into Season 2 with even higher expectations and a very important question indeed: who would play Esme Gigi Geniveive Squalor, the city’s sixth most important financial advisor? I adored this villain in the books. In many ways worse than Olaf, she often had some of the most entertaining moments alongside Carmelita Spats. Played by Lucy Punch in the Netflix show, the show sparkled whenever she turned up (or maybe I’m just very biased). My brother and I grinned like loons at many of her scenes. We’d both forgotten about her tagliatelle grande in The Carniverous Carnival which made for a very entertaining moment. They kept the literal stiletto shoes for stabby-stab times. And they didn’t baulk at Esme faking being on the children’s side before throwing them down an elevator shaft cackling like a deranged Creuella De Ville. I can’t recall seeing Punch in anything but Into The Woods previously (please let her have a singing number with Neil Patrick Harris. Please), but she stole every scene she careened through with her odd mix of insane costumes and hairdos, over the top posturing and bad accents and jealous coveting of both the sugar bowl and Olaf. Casting a bad Esme could have broken the show for me, but Punch was perfect in every possible way.

esme and olaf

The show has the opportunity to showcase humor differently to the books and I think this works strongly in its favour. There are a lot of slapstick moments, tongue in cheek, modern jokes and musical numbers. I know some dislike Patrick Harris as Olaf, but for me he is perfect. He is frighteningly villainous (as is Esme), but very funny at the same time, and towards the end of the season, gives us a glimpse of something deeper and sadder too. The hook-handed man also made a stronger impression this season, with funnier moments and more to do. I can’t wait to see how Netflix moves his character in the next season.

My favourite book adaptations of the season are probably The Ersatz Elevator, The Hostile Hospital and The Carnivorous Carnival because these stories, like the books they’re based on, are darker with more mystery attached. The last two especially, are the point in the series where morality becomes blurred. The Baudelaire’s start to become the people they had started off running from. Story lines become very dark indeed.

Only a couple of things niggled, both in the final two book adaptations of the season. First, I’m not sure narratively why the show chose not to kill off some of Count Olaf’s villains at the end of both The Hostile Hospital and The Carnivorous Carnival given everything else they’d been cool beans depicting. Second, Olivia Caliban as the librarian worked, but I did love that Madame Lulu was so ambiguous in the book. Her motto is give people what they want and when she and The Baudelaire’s face off hungry lions she gives in to Olaf at the last second. She falls to the lions because so many people fight to push her in. In the show, Olaf pushes her in and she remains, to the end, a faithful volunteer. As I said earlier, I like the librarian character turning up as Madame Lulu, but I would have liked her end more if some of the book’s ambiguity had been maintained.

Still, a show to look forward to indeed. Netflix has done what I thought impossible… made a relatively accurate, well-casted, visualised, directed and acted adaptation of the books. It feels a little like torture waiting for Season Three…

Just look away,
Look away—
There’s nothing but horror and inconvenience on the way
Ask any stable person, “Should I watch?” and they will say:
Look away.
Look away, look away.
Look away, look away.
Look away, look away.
Look away, look away.

About InkAshlings

Maureen, Australian, young aspiring writer.
This entry was posted in Genre: Absurdism, Genre: Comedy, Genre: Crime, Genre: Fantasy, Genre: Horror, Genre: Speculative Fiction, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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