Addams Family Values: The Creepiest Family in Film Returns – 13 Reviews of Halloween/Amazon Prime Review

One of the few sequels I like better than the original.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Gomez and Morticia Addams (Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston) welcome their third child, Pubert (Kaitlyn and Kristen Hooper). Unfortunately, the older siblings, Wednesday and Pugsley (Christina Ricci and Jimmy Workman), don’t take well to the new child, attempting to murder him, as Addams are wont to do. To help, the Addams parents hire a nanny named Debbie Jellinsky (Joan Cusack) who is, in reality, a serial murdering black widow. She seduces Gomez’s brother, Fester (Christopher Lloyd). When Wednesday becomes suspicious, Debbie has her and Pugsley sent to summer camp under relentlessly chipper Counselors Gary and Beck Granger (Peter MacNicol and Christine Baranski). Fortunately, the Addams family can handle more than a mere serial killer and a summer camp. Also featuring Christopher Hart as Thing, Carel Struycken as Lurch, and Carol Kane as Grandmama.

They don’t usually come out during this time of day.

END SUMMARY 

I am a fan of the original Barry Sonnenfeld Addams Family movie from 1991, but it’s more for the stand-out scenes than the film as a whole. The plot of the original film was pretty incoherent and is wrapped up by one of the strangest series of dei ex machinae in history. Still, the cast was so good that it was still incredibly fun. This film has the same cast, but also comes up with more entertaining things to do with them and a more compelling plot. It doesn’t hurt that the slightly lighter tone here allows for some more varied, but actually ultimately darker, humor.

And some great quips.

I really can’t understate how perfect the casting was for this film. I don’t think I will ever envision Morticia Addams as being anyone other than Anjelica Huston. She was born to play the role. I mean, I loved Carolyn Jones in the live-action series, but Huston nails it as hard as Hopkins nailed Hannibal. Raul Julia and John Astin are both very different but equally good portrayals of the ultimate loving husband, although Julia unfortunately was sick during filming and it does make his performance a little less energetic than the first movie. Christina Ricci proved herself to be an incredible Wednesday in the first film, but in this movie she also has to play Wednesday dealing with both puberty and her captivity within a camp that promotes “normalcy.” Honestly, the scenes of the kids rebelling against the counselors are some of my favorite gags. Christopher Lloyd’s portrayal of Fester always surprises me because it’s so very different from any of his other iconic characters, but he disappears into it just as much. In this, he has to be the lonely man who believes he’s found love and is willing to constantly overlook the obvious red flags. Speaking of red flags, Joan Cusack was a great addition to this cast. Her ability to play a sociopath who is able to put up with the oddities of the Addams family and, in fact, able to manipulate them presents an actual, believable obstacle to the perfect family. 

The best marriage in film.

It also is impressive that this movie can get away with so many of the jokes it does. The older Addams children repeatedly attempt to murder a baby, only to be thwarted in borderline slapstick ways. If it weren’t for the cartoonish nature of their attempts, we might be put off by the infanticide. Similarly, after Wednesday leads a revolt at the summer camp, it’s implied that at least some of the children have been killed and that the counselors are going to be roasted to death on a spit like Saint Lawrence, but it’s mostly offscreen and played for laughs by every character, so you can ignore it. The darker and more dryly humorous tone of the first movie only allowed for dark references to the horrors, this movie gets to show them off. 

Still better for MacNicol than “The Powers That Be.” Remember that 90s kids?

Overall, just a great movie and a fantastic sequel. It’s still my favorite incarnation of the Addams family. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Grosse Pointe Blank: A Perfect Dark Comedy – Amazon Review (Day 22)

The final audience selection happens to be one of my favorite movies. 

SUMMARY

Martin Q. Blank (John Cusack) is a professional hitman whose latest job was botched by a rival killer named Grocer (Dan Aykroyd), who wishes to form a hitman’s union. Martin’s assistant, Marcella (Joan Cusack), lets him know that he’s been invited to his 10 year high school reunion, which he rejects. Martin finds out that his next job is going to be in his hometown of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, at the same time as the reunion. Martin sees his therapist Dr. Oatman (Alan Arkin), who convinces him to go as a way of dealing with his growing apathy towards contract killing. 

Two stone-cold killers.

In Grosse Pointe, Martin meets his old friend Paul (Jeremy Piven) and his ex-girlfriend Debi (Minnie Driver), who is now the local DJ. Martin had left Debi at the Prom their Senior Year because he freaked out and joined the Army. He goes to visit his mother (Barbara Harris), who is suffering from dementia, and finds that his former home has been bulldozed and replaced by a mini-mart. Grocer discovers that his clients have given the Grosse Pointe job to Martin, so Grocer leaks Martin’s whereabouts to two NSA agents (K. Todd Freeman and Hank Azaria). Also, due to Martin accidentally killing a dog during a previous job, a hitman named LaPoubelle (Benny Urquidez) arrives in town to try and kill Blank. Despite all of this, Martin repeatedly postpones the hit, or even opening the folder to learn his target’s identity. Whenever anyone asks what happened to Martin, he tells them that he’s a hitman. They always believe him to be joking.

The old flame still burns hot.

Martin meets up with Debi again and asks her to go with him to the reunion. When he picks her up, he meets with her father, Bart (Mitchell Ryan), who mostly ignores Martin. At the reunion, Martin and Debi meet with some old classmates and exchange fun moments. After the pair have sex in a private room at the school, Martin is attacked by LaPoubelle, whom he kills in self-defense. Debi finds Martin with the body and leaves, but Paul helps Martin dispose of the corpse. Debi later confronts Martin, who reveals that when he joined the Army, they said he had a special “moral flexibility” which made him attractive to the CIA. The CIA then made Martin an assassin until he left. Martin’s attempts to rationalize his work only drive her away.

“I swear, it’s not what it looks like. I just killed him.”

Martin has an emotional breakthrough after talking to Debi and decides to quit, having Marcella destroy the office. He finally opens the target information and is shocked to find that it’s Debi’s father, Bart, who was set to testify against some of Martin’s clients. Grocer tries to kill Martin along with his union assassins, but Martin kills them all, as well as the NSA agents. Martin proposes to Debi, who doesn’t respond. Later, it’s revealed that the two are leaving Grosse Pointe together, trying to give their relationship one last shot.

END SUMMARY

This was narrowly the most nominated film of the final audience poll, which was also the poll with the most nominations (totalling 140, including duplicates). Unfortunately, Grosse Pointe Blank was also, originally, going to be my choice for Best Soundtrack, so I had to replace that day with Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, which worked out fine. This way I got to do two of my favorite films and support democracy in the process. 

Democracy and guns. The American way.

I consider this film to be one of the pinnacles of dark comedy and it sets that tone immediately. The film opens with the song “I Can See Clearly Now” playing while Martin is having a casual conversation with Marcella, only for him to reveal a sniper rifle. It appears that Martin is supposed to kill a person leaving the building, only for him to actually be protecting that person, having him kill another assassin when the song crescendos to “Bright, Bright Sunshine-y Day.” Immediately after this, Martin, confident that the job is done, turns away from the window, only for Dan Aykroyd to come out and murder the target anyway. It’s a series of humorous, albeit dark, subversions that are only elevated by the soundtrack choice. That’s pretty much the entire movie wrapped up in a nutshell, and it works amazingly well. Later, you get the same feeling from a shootout to “Ace of Spades” by Motörhead.

Because of the tone, this film constantly had to walk a fine line. You had to make Martin Blank simultaneously likable enough that we want to root for him, but also the kind of person that would become a contract killer in the first place. That’s what makes Doctor Oatman such a great element to this movie (aside from giving us an excuse to see Alan Arkin), because it allows Blank to try and speak honestly about how he justifies his career to himself. He tries to constantly talk his way around it, including cliches like “what a person does for a living is not a reflection of who he is,” but Oatman always treats Martin’s job like what it is: Killing people. The fact that Martin keeps going back to him shows that Martin is actually trying to force the reality of what he does onto himself in an attempt to quit. With anyone less charming or less able to deliver the lines with sincerity than John Cusack, this movie would fail completely, but Cusack constantly represents both a cold and calculating murderer and also a sad human being who is wracked with regrets that he covers up with quips.

Including this masterpiece.

Minnie Driver’s performance as Debi is almost equally nuanced. She’s the person who has never quite gotten over the one that got away. She’s been hurt, and we find out that she’s even tried to get past it, even being married briefly, but that she never had the connection with anyone else that she had with Martin. When he comes back, she is conflicted between her desire to give him another shot and her undeniable attraction to him. If it weren’t for Driver’s ability to look like she’s always trying to restrain herself throughout the film, it wouldn’t work. Instead, we understand when she gives in and kisses Martin, but also when she’s trying to keep herself from doing so. 

Plus she has great taste in music.

The supporting cast is also amazing. Joan Cusack, whose banter with John is colored just a little in just the right way by their real-life familial relationship, plays the perfect assistant, never judging her boss, but always wanting to help him as both a hitman and a person. Dan Aykroyd brings a comic flair to an antagonist, so much that you almost can’t hate him for what he does. The concept of a hitman who wants to unionize the profession seems laughable, but Aykroyd’s off-kilter performance makes you believe that if there was a person who would try it, it’s him. Jeremy Piven’s character almost seems like a predecessor to his role as Ari Gold on Entourage. He’s always trying to make himself seem bigger and more interesting than he is, but when you need someone to help you move a body, he’s there. Hank Azaria and K. Todd Freeman are great as a pair of Federal agents with differing opinions about how the justice system works, and who also just enjoy messing with Blank. Alan Arkin is a treasure as always.

I wouldn’t have thought Aykroyd had it in him if I hadn’t seen this.

The script is amazing. Just like with Cusack’s performance, it has to walk a thin line, but it does it beautifully. It’s filled with great lines that reveal more about our characters while also deepening the portrayal. Most of Blank’s lines are dark jokes referencing his past or present, including making quick threats against Doctor Oatman or trying to tell everyone he meets about the truth of his circumstances. The movie trusts its audience to follow along at a fairly rapid pace, but it gives you just enough time to breathe before the gunfights to catch up.

Such a great source of fun lines.

Then there’s the soundtrack. The soundtrack was composed by Joe Strummer from the Clash and includes a great mix of 1980s and 1990s hits. Pretty much the entire movie has some contemporary song playing either in the background or over the scene, resulting in so many songs being featured that there are two soundtrack albums with a full baker’s dozen left unreleased. Throughout much of the film, the music complements the scene, including an amazing use of “99 Red Balloons” during an almost slapstick-esque body disposal. It both evokes the same nostalgia that the characters are feeling throughout the events and also heightens the ironic tone of many of the scenes.

Overall, this film is just brilliant. I recommend seeing it if you haven’t. It’s worth the $3 rental. Or wait for it to come back on Netflix.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Netflix Review – Klaus: You’ve Seen it Before, but It’s Still Heartwarming

I’m a sucker for a good story of the power of kindness to overcome anything, and that’s what this is.

SUMMARY

Jesper (Jason Schwartzman) is the lazy son of the Postmaster of… I’m guessing Norway. Spoiled and perpetually unproductive, his father sends him to the island of Smeerensberg above the Arctic Circle with the condition that if he doesn’t process 6000 letters in a year, he will be kicked out of his family. Unfortunately, Smeerensberg is populated by two warring families, the Krums (led by Joan Cusack) and the Ellingboes (led by Will Sasso), who don’t send mail. The only other people in the town are the sarcastic and abusive ferryman (Norm Macdonald) and the embittered teacher-turned-fishmonger Alva (Rashida Jones). One day he runs into a woodcutter who lives far from the town named Klaus (J.K. Simmons) who has a massive collection of elaborate toys everywhere. Desperate to fill the letter quota, Jesper convinces Klaus to give toys to any of the kids that write him letters, and a legend is born.

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Aside from when Goldberg played him, this is probably the biggest Santa.

END SUMMARY

I don’t know how to say this aside from just being honest: This movie got to me. It’s cheesy, it’s cliché, it has almost everything in it that we’ve already seen from all of the other “true story of Santa Claus” films, but… it worked on me. I just loved everything about it. 

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Even the unnecessary fish guts.

Part of it has to be attributed to the animation style. The bulk of the character design is put into the expressiveness of the characters, with huge, exaggerated eyes even by most animated standards (aside from Ducktales and any anime derived from the Uncle Scrooge style [which is most of them]). It helps that when emotional moments are to be found, the shot always takes an extra beat to let the characters process. Rather than just having an emotion, we see the feelings start to spring forth from the characters, letting us take that short journey with them. While the adults are done well, the main thing is how well they animate the innocent joy that children get from receiving simple kindness. One of the things that animation will always have an edge on live-action filmmaking is that they can always exaggerate expressions to sell a scene, and this film capitalizes on it perfectly.

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I mean, they somehow nail “hopeful disbelief” and that’s not a normal expression.

Another part is that the story, while it absolutely is cliché, with beats being drawn directly from the guide to screenwriting, is played sincerely. There’s no irony about any of the story elements or any of the archetypes. Seriously, we have the selfish main character who learns the value of kindness, we have the love interest who tells them up front they’re never going to be together, we have the stoic old man who everyone is afraid of that ends up being kindly… This movie could just be called Stock Character: The Movie. But, throughout it, even though the characters are stock and the story is derivative, it still manages to grab you on an emotional level. Yes, you know what’s going to happen at any given part of the story, but when these elements are treated with depth and respect, we remember why these tropes became so used in the first place: They work. 

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Yes, we have the “pessimist who learns to believe again” and it was heartwarming.

That’s the main thing that this movie nails: Sincerity. One of the most repeated lines in the film is that “a true act of goodwill always sparks another.” That’s basically Klaus’s mantra, and it is shown to be true throughout the movie. Even though Jesper is selfish in his desires at the beginning, watching Klaus’s sincerity believably changes him for the better. It’s not all at once, though, nor even in a montage, because he’s still focused on what he wants. It’s only when he is forcibly shown how much joy he’s bringing to others, even if it is inadvertent, that he realizes that spreading happiness is a reward far greater than his own hedonism. While this message would normally ring hollow, it instead comes off as just as powerful as that mantra should be. One small act begets another, which eventually makes the world a better place. All it takes is a little effort. 

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We have the “cynic learning the value of kindness” scene and yes, I was teary-eyed.

It also helps that, in a rarity for this kind of film, nothing in the movie is explicitly magical. Quite the opposite: everything from the Santa Mythos is shown to be derived from mundane misunderstandings that the children have about Klaus. For example, the children see Klaus and Jesper wreck a cart pulled by reindeer, but they misinterpret it as the reindeer flying and landing. Additionally, rather than just being the unflinching paragon of goodwill that Santa usually represents, Klaus is given a more tragic and realistic backstory for why he does what he does. He’s not trying to just do good for the sake of good, although he does believe in it, he’s doing it in memory of someone else. Much as we have idealized Santa, Santa himself was acting based on his ideal vision of another. 

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Bad things happen to even the best people. 

I also have to give credit to the score. Music is always a part of making sure that the audience is experiencing the full emotions of a scene, and this film uses it perfectly.

Overall, I know I’m a sucker, but I love this movie. Everything about it is hopeful and stands for the idea that, no matter how bitter or divided we are, one day we can all come together. It just takes effort and caring.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Toy Story 4: Definitely the Worst Toy Story, but Still a Good Movie (Spoiler-Free)

Pixar makes a mostly unnecessary film, but it’s Pixar, so it’s still better than 90% of the movies out there.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and the rest of the gang from the last movie are still living with Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), the girl who inherited the toys from their former owner Andy (John Morris). However, on her first day in Kindergarten orientation, Bonnie makes a toy out of items found in the trash and names it Forky (Tony Hale). Forky ends up coming to life and having an existential crisis because he was made to be thrown in the trash, not played with. On a road trip with Bonnie, Forky ends up trying to throw himself out and Woody has to rescue him, running into the film’s “villain” Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and his old lost flame Bo Peep (Annie Potts). Stuff happens and you’ll cry at one point, probably. 

END SUMMARY

Okay, first of all, if I seem a little harsh on this movie, it’s only because Pixar has set a bar that is pretty much the highest of any studio out there. Aside from the Cars movies, which I personally didn’t care for much, Pixar’s pretty much churned out magic every time for me, including all three of the previous Toy Story movies. They made Wall-E, half of which is basically the perfect film, Up, which has one of the best openings in cinema, Coco, which is a visual masterpiece, and Inside Out, which has a scene that will reduce me to a broken mass of tears even upon thinking about itohgodBingBongshe’sgoingtothemoonIpromise. So, it is with that in mind that I say this movie was good, but not Pixar good. 

Here’s the good stuff:

The opening to the film is amazing. Really, despite being a flashback, it sets up a lot of layers of the characters of Woody and Bo Peep that they had only alluded to prior to this. It also foreshadows a difference in their internal philosophies that will end up being crucial to the movie. We then head to the present and find Woody’s life is not the same anymore, because he’s not Bonnie’s favorite toy. In fact, when Bonnie plays with the toys, she makes Jessie (Joan Cusack), the cowgirl, the sheriff, leaving Woody in the closet. And, again, we’re at a good point in the narrative set-up at this point, because when Forky comes along, it’s made pretty obvious that Woody is facing an existential crisis of his own and their parallels and differences are set-up to be explored.And then we enter the second act and Forky quickly just moves to accept his place as a toy and from there the movie did kind of start falling apart a little, but more on that in a second.

The animation in the film is so damned good. It’s just… so damned good. I just re-watched Toy Story because I’m trying to watch the AFI top 100 along with the podcast “Unspooled,” and it’s unbelievably amazing how much they’ve improved the graphics without having to re-do the character models. The eyes of all of the characters are probably the best representation, because in this film all of the eyes are clearly made out of different materials based on the nature of the toy. Also, the materials that make up everything are so detailed now, as opposed to the patterned surfaces from the original. Now, this isn’t to say that the surfaces in the original weren’t amazing, hell, they’re more impressive than most CGI movies that come out now, but the technology has advanced and Pixar has advanced with it and I want to celebrate that.

The antagonist is Gabby Gabby, a Talky Tina/Chatty Cathy surrogate, who lives in an antique store and never gets played with, something that breaks her heart. I will say, this movie did a great job with her because, even though she’s the villain, her motivations aren’t nearly as evil as Al from Toy Story 2 or Lotso from Toy Story 3. She never had a chance to do the one thing toys are supposed to do, play with children, so she’s spent her entire life trying to find a way to do that and, admittedly, has gone too far. Still, you definitely sympathize with her by the end.

Bo Peep’s character has changed and grown a lot since Toy Story 2 and I really appreciate how they’ve evolved her in the interim. Without a child to play with, she has had to find her own purpose and fulfillment and it’s really a great character arc, even if it mostly happened off-screen. 

Keanu Reeves is in the movie and while his character is only okay, he does deliver a trademark “whoa” and everything was right in the world for just a second. 

Lastly, small SPOILER WARNING here, the end of the film has Woody completing an entirely new arc for his character that somehow feels believable, even though it marks a major change. I have to give credit to Pixar for being willing to change a main character’s motivations in a believable way. Also, they never explain how toys come to life, and they even seem to flat-out tell us that they’re not going to explain it, and that’s awesome, because suck it Midi-chlorians.

Now to the Bad things:

This movie was completely unnecessary. There was nothing at the end of the third movie that suggested they needed to keep telling the story. I mean, technically at the end of Toy Story, everything seemed complete, but the nature of the premise of living toys always set the idea in the back of our minds of “what happens when the kid gets older.” At the end of Toy Story 3, we see multiple ways that toys deal with it, from going to schools for communal play to just finding a new kid. It answered the last question we really had. From the trailers, they seemed like they were going to answer the question that we probably shouldn’t have answered “how are the toys alive” and “when are things toys as opposed to something else,” but the movie makes a point of not answering that, so why did we need to have this film? The themes of the movie are pretty much the same as the themes in almost every other Toy Story, or even Pixar, film, so it’s not for those.

The plot goes in like 5 different directions at once and they don’t exactly mesh as well as they should. They also have characters change a little bit too easily when they need to get to the next stage in the film. The most blatant example is Forky who resolves his inner conflict the literal second that they find something else to move on to and it doesn’t feel natural.

The big thing here is that the humor isn’t as good as it was in some of the other films. One running gag is that Buzz Lightyear is trying to listen to his “inner voice,” which just results in him pushing his own buttons and following their orders. Sometimes it’s funny, but most of the time it just makes me go “Buzz, why are you suddenly an idiot?” I mean, in each movie Buzz has some weird thing, like believing he’s not a toy or meeting a duplicate Buzz or being reset to Spanish, but he’s never been actually portrayed as this type of idiot and it just doesn’t feel real. He eventually meets Ducky and Bunny (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele), who actually are funny at times, but most of the time just seem to be pointless. I’m not saying there aren’t laughs, I’m saying that they weren’t quite as good as in the other films. 

The same is true of the sincere moments. There are moments in the movie that are touching and emotional, but several of them fall flat, partially because they’re just re-treads of other, better, scenes Pixar has done before. I do admit there are two scenes with Gabby Gabby that will give you some feels in your heart-holes, but aside from that it’s still lacking.

The last thing is that the movie REALLY REALLY REALLY REEEEEEEEEAAAAAAALLLY has to suspend disbelief in exactly how much people are oblivious. I mean, the toys do so much in the open in this film and it’s so obvious at times that you just can’t imagine that nobody notices. 

Overall, it’s still a good movie, but it’s definitely the bottom of the Toy Story hierarchy. And for those of you who are saying “isn’t that Toy Story 2?” I say “DID YOU EVEN HEAR WHEN SHE LOVED ME?” Still, if you liked the first three, you’ll like this. Heck, little kids might even like it more than the others, since it’s very kinetic and colorful. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Netflix Review – A Series of Unfortunate Events (Spoiler-Free)

Netflix spent three seasons adapting one of the most dark and interesting children’s series ever written.

SUMMARY

A Series of Unfortunate Events follows the lives of the three Baudelaire Orphans: Violet, Klaus, and Sunny (Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, Presley Smith/Tara Strong). Violet is a brilliant inventor and engineer, Klaus is a polymath with a love of reading, and Sunny… is a baby that bites things hard. After their parents are killed in a fire, the three are sent to live with their distant relative, the evil Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris), a terrible actor who would never have been allowed to play Doogie Howser. Throughout the series, the Baudelaires try to find a place to hide safely from Count Olaf and his troupe of evil actors while making their way through the macabre world in which the series is set. All of the events are narrated from the future by Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton).

asoue - 1cast
Real talk: Why is it so hard to get cast photos lately?

END SUMMARY

The series is basically divided into two types of adventures: Either the children are taken in by an eccentric/flat-out insane caretaker and attacked by a disguised Olaf or they’re on the run from Olaf and forced to hide in some insane location. The key is that nothing in this world quite operates on real logic, instead operating on the principle that basically everyone is off-kilter and, in most cases, anachronistic. The main characters are often the only sane people within any situation, pointing out that what most of the supporting characters are doing is either stupid or crazy, but, being children, they’re constantly ignored.

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Running gag is that these disguises actually fool people.

The setting for the series is intensely gothic, much in the style of Tim Burton or Barry Sonnenfeld… but more the latter because he’s the one that produces the show. Colors are largely muted, buildings tend to be in the gothic style, and the music often is best described as “eerie as hell.” The time-period for the series is completely nonsensical, with black-and-white movies and telegraph lines being commonplace, while also having jokes about streaming internet services.

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Every building in the show was designed by Edgar Allen Poe.

The tone is one of the darkest forms of comedy that you can put in a show ostensibly for children. People die frequently in this show, often in horrifying ways, and yet the spin on their deaths is usually very comical, because most of the characters refuse to react to death rationally. It also helps that Lemony Snicket is constantly adding levity and sarcasm into the series by addressing the audience directly with some off-the-cuff and off-the-wall observation. Since Snicket’s observations were one of the signature elements of the book series, it’s nice that they managed to work it into the show fairly organically.

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He’s basically riffing on his own show.

The acting in the show is phenomenal, although the way that the dialogue is presented will turn some people off. Neil Patrick Harris is a standout, matching Jim Carrey’s fabulous performance from the film adaptation, while still managing not to duplicate it too much. Harris sings the great theme song to the series “Look Away” which he sings in a different voice whenever he portrays a character in the episode, with the lyrics changing from book to book. They also find some excuses for Harris to let out his broadway side, something that, while it does make it harder to believe Olaf is a terrible actor, is too entertaining to pass up.

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Out-of-Character? A little. Out-Freaking-Standing? Definitely.

The downsides, if they are downsides, of the show are that, because of the nature of the medium, there are fewer of the wonderful ambiguities and hidden messages that permeated the books. Things that in the book series were left up to the reader to deduce are almost all made explicit. Additionally, some of the added scenes and characters are actually more positive than the rest of the tone of the show, possibly because it’s just so depressing to watch something that’s absurdist and, largely, hopeless. Frankly, it didn’t bother me, but I have heard a few fans of the books complaining.

However, there are two things this show does differently than most series that I really hope lead to its success. First, the villains are the ones shunning knowledge, while the heroes are the ones who seek it. A problem with the recurring trope of a criminal mastermind is that you have to make the villain the smart one, which often results in them making the hero a brawny dumbass. Think Lex Luthor versus Superman or Loki versus Thor (though neither Superman nor Thor are stupid, they’re not as smart as their opponents). This show 100% goes the other way, saying that the act of reading, learning, and exploring inherently makes someone more empathetic and therefore more ethical. Btw, studies suggest that this is generally true, reading makes you more empathetic (though not always as everyone thinks).

asoue - 6sivana
Scientist bad. Big Muscled Guy good. 

Second, the show ends up pointing out one of the most difficult truths in the world: People aren’t all good or all bad. People are almost all morally ambiguous, falling somewhere on the scale between “hero” and “villain” or, within the series, between “volunteer” and “villain.” Everyone tends to think they’re a hero of their own story, but that’s likely the product of their own moral relativism: we define good as what we do, rather than defining good as good and then doing it. The show does a great job of exploring this concept.

Overall, I loved this series and I’m sad that it’s over. It’s only 25 episodes, total, so you should take a weekend or a week to watch it.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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