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).

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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).

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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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23) Right Place, Right Time (How I Met Your Mother)

When I was compiling this list, most of the entries were on some other lists of top episodes, which is how I narrowed down the candidates from “everything on television ever” to “stuff I can reasonably watch within 4 months of hospitalization.” Gonna be honest, I still overshot and ended up with a ludicrous amount of TV to watch. But, this episode probably is the least critically acclaimed on the list. Not only is this not usually a highly rated show, this episode isn’t even particularly high within rankings of How I Met Your Mother episodes. The critical reviews of this episode average about a B+. Why then do I think this episode is worthy of this spot on the list? Because it’s telling us something that everyone desperately needs to hear.

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No, not the Bro Code
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Pictured: So. Much. Talent.

How I Met Your Mother had some weaknesses as a show, and it definitely dragged at a few points. If the cast hadn’t been amazing, it probably would have died earlier. However, because of the premise of the show, that it’s a dad telling his children a story, they were also able to experiment sometimes with narrative structure in interesting ways. Sometimes they worked. Sometimes they didn’t. This one did, but I honestly don’t know if the show even knew how much it did when they made it.

The overarching theme of the show of How I Met Your Mother is usually secondary to the humor, but it’s still there: You cannot control most of what happens to you in your life, even your own choices, but you can control who you are when things happen to you. And nowhere in the show is this more brilliantly shown than in this episode.

SUMMARY

Right_place_right_timeThe episode starts by showing the main character, Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor, future voice Bob Saget), leaving his apartment with a yellow umbrella (which the audience knows is a big part of the story of him meeting his wife), stopping at a newsstand, giving cash to a homeless man, and then stopping to wait at a crosswalk before an unseen person touches him on the shoulder. At this point, the narrator, future Ted, takes us back to explain why exactly he did everything the way he did on that walk.

First, he explains that he left the apartment because his roommate and on-again-off-again romantic interest Robin Scherbatsky (Cobie Smulders) tells him that he needs to HowIMetYourMotherPukeclear his head after having difficulties with his solo architect work. He decides to get a bagel. She also tells him to take an umbrella.

Once Ted goes outside, he turns right for a moment, then instead goes left. This is explained as being because his favorite bagel place had given Robin food poisoning, so he goes left to his second-favorite bagel place.

Next, Ted stops at a newsstand to look at a magazine. This magazine is revealed to be a copy of “Muscle Sexxy” which he feels compelled to read because his friend Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) slept with the cover girl due to a misunderstanding. The audience sees that this delays Ted for a minute.

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This still makes me laugh, though.

Next, he crosses the street to give money to a homeless person. This is revealed to be because, a few weeks prior, his friend Marshall (Jason Segel) had become addicted to making graphs at his new job, to the point that his wife Lilly (Alyson Hannigan) asked the gang to hold an intervention. After Marshall proved hesitant to change, Ted threw all of Marshall’s graphs out, including the ones he needed for a huge presentation. Ultimately, Ted had to offer to pay a homeless person who had taken the graphs $1 million at a rate of $1 per day.

And that’s what brings Ted to that particular street corner at that exact time. Future Ted then tells his kids that if he hadn’t been there at that time, then they wouldn’t have been born. He says that, if he had known then what all of those circumstances would have led HowIMetYourMotherStella2to, there’s something he would have done differently.

The show then breaks into a montage of Ted hugging every person involved in his life, from the homeless man, to his friends, to the bagel place that poisoned his friend, all set perfectly to the song “Glad Girls” by Guided by Voices. It’s then revealed that the hand touching him belongs to the woman who just left him at the altar 4 months prior, Stella (Sarah Chalke).

END SUMMARY

howimetyourmotherquote.jpgPart of the human experience is understanding that control is, for the most part, an illusion (this is not to be confused with the Ellen Langer “Illusion of Control“). People will say that choice is an illusion (mostly the Matrix), but that’s never going to be my take on it. You have choice, but you only have choice within a larger series of events that are dependent not only upon random chance, but also upon the choices of others. Sure, you can say “I’m choosing to order pizza,” or “I’m choosing to watch Netflix,” but you had almost nothing to do with those options even being available to you. You’re just pretending that the small control you get over some things compensates for the fact that the majority of the universe will just move indifferent to you. That can be scary sometimes. But, it can be freeing, too.

You only get one life, as far as you know. You may believe there’s more, but you can only be certain of this one. And anything you get out of it, good or bad, contributes to the unique experience of living. When you manage to get something good, take a second to realize that even the bad things in your life contributed to you being in the place to get something good now. They may have hurt, they may have even crippled you in ways that keep you from ever being the person you once were, but they haven’t kept you from ever feeling good again. I’m not saying go hug the homeless guy who mugged you, I’m saying that maybe you can let go of all of those bad things. They can’t be changed, they can’t be undone, but they can be learned from and appreciated as part of existence, for your own sake. It doesn’t change that bad things happened, but you don’t have to let them change you for the worse. And, hopefully, you can learn this lesson in montage form.

PREVIOUS – 24: House

NEXT – 22: Breaking Bad

Here’s the Montage:

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

Here’s the Episode: