This is How The Story Goes
Over the last couple of years Netflix underwent the task of adapting the cult classic books. The books were written by a man with the alias Lemony Snicket (which comes into play quite a bit) and focused on the story of three orphans. Known for the constant tone of pessimism, intrigue, conspiracies and dry humor.
Netflix certainly had their work cut out for them. When the books were most popular, they had a rabid following that didn’t believe a TV series could not do it justice. However, not only did Netflix prove that wrong, they showed how the books and this series are essential viewing/reading.
Bittersweet In the Prose of a Master Story Teller
Writing wise, both the books and much more in the series, ASOUE plays out like a mystery written by Tarantino. Just smooth out the graphic violence and the intensely constant usage of profanity. But, the way that characters dialogue constantly progresses into minute detail keeps you involved.
On top of that, the dialogue and progression keeps the viewer involved by putting the various pieces together. Character’s are constantly referencing past and future events that will stick in your mind.
Take the central theme of the mysterious organization VFD. From the earliest few episodes, you’ll see hints to the name and theme presented from the very beginning. And by the finale, everything becomes wrapped back around and ties in with the earliest teases.
VFD stands for several things, and because of their code words and operatives, everything has a mystery. Mysteries that are presented in lengthy sentences, excellent wordplay and charisma.
But, sometimes that’s not enough to create an engaging story, even if it creates unique and original characters. What separates this style from other YA mystery tales like 13 Reasons or Hunger Games, is the dialogue treats you like you’re intelligent. It does not try to force you to adopt it’s narrative, nor does it lambast you with exposition to make sure you’re following along.
That’s not only rare for a YA series, that’s rare for higher level filmmaking and novelizations.
Writing is the Icing, Humor is the Cherry
Obviously, a story about three orphans that never get a break and constantly have to suffer is not a fun one. Which is why the humor is so on point inside of this series.
Neil Patrick Harris in particular is such a big reason that makes this humor land so effectively. Special shoutout also needs to go to Patrick Warburton, Nathan Fillion and Lucy Punch for the charisma they brought.
See, the humor shares a lot in particular with the way that the writing conveys the story. Dry wit, lengthy complicated sentences and hidden meanings nail the sarcasm and gothic humor of the writing. What makes it even better than the books, is how the series handles it with the characters.
Warburton’s character, Lemony, is consistently describing different phrases and words. But he does so with amusing little anecdotes that he shares with a stone face and his signature silky smooth voice. A combination that makes it seem like you’re listening to the most interesting dictionary in the world.
Nathan Fillion’s character, Jacques, is a charismatic and smooth talking secret agent. He can talk his way into anything with lengthy explanations and detailed contextual biographies.
Lucy Punch’s villainous Esme throws her wealth, looks and occasional verbal intelligence around like a wrecking ball. She’s such a polar opposite to the Snicket’s and the VFD members that she’s impossible to dislike.
Finally, Harris’s Olaf is endlessly entertaining because his dialogue is all based on experience. Whereas Fillion, Warburton and the Beaudelaire’s base dialogue on extensive reading, Olaf is just bitter from the world. He knows how mean and unfair life is, and so he sees no use for libraries, literature etc.
Combining this excellent cast of varied humor and the endlessly engaging writing, you get something truly unique.
Using the Blatantly Obvious to Profound Effect
Lastly, where this series shows just how intelligent it is, is how it combines the different styles of storytelling. Within the writing and the consistent complexity of it, you’d assume this is geared towards adults. Especially when you see just how constantly dark, grim and foreboding the story really is.
Although that is true, the story beats and episodes pride themselves on an easy to follow structure. For the first season it goes: Beaudelaire’s get new guardian, Olaf shows up, Guardian dies or leaves, Olaf escapes. Rinse, repeat. Season two, sees the Beaudelaire’s more on the run as they become accused of crimes and have to live rough. Finally, season 3 see’s all the mysteries and intrigue finally coming full circle as they run out of places to hide.
There’s a natural story progression to the way that the story plays out. Beginning is safe and sets up intrigue, the middle asks more questions and the ending provides answers.
All of this is something that most series fail to do. Usually they fail to provide a logical through line that viewers can notice both in the moment and in retrospect.
Finis, a Word Which Here Means; Ending.
A Series of Unfortunate Events is a masterclass in telligent writing, dry humor and pessimistic intrigue. There’s a bevy of questions that will stick in your mind and an overarching commentary on humanity.
But, this series never wants to try and prove anything to the viewer. It knows the story that it wants to tell, so it tells it as confidently as it wants to.
And, if you think that this series is too full of kiddy moments, people drop like flies in this show. Seriously, this show kills off more characters in one season than Game of Thrones.
Relentlessly entertaining, vocally engaging and stuffed with incredible attention to details. ASOUE is something that every writer and filmmaker should watch, and see how much better they can improve.
Sometimes, simplicity is the best form of writing. If you start simple, you can do nothing but add onto it and increase the complexity.