Netflix’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events”: The Reptile Room (Review)

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I struggled with the decision to watch this series on Fridays, instead of a binge-watch. But I think Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events planned for breaks in its design. The show, at the beginning of The Reptile Room, takes time to remind the audience about the characters, situations, and general plot surrounding the Baudelaire orphans (I think that was the first time I got “Baudelaire” spelled right on the first try!). Such a recap hinders adults with the license to watch the series all at once, but this program’s a misery-for-all-the-family show, and it’s still a darn good one.

 

This time, Violet, Sunny, and Klaus fall under the care of Dr. Montgomery, a sweet and caring herpetologist who hides several secrets… such as why the trio’s parents never mentioned him before. But before the trio discovers any answers, Count Olaf returns, wearing a disguise that only works on humans above the age of 18. Uncle Monty’s time with the Baudelaires, as soon as his time with everything else, gets cut short. That’s not a spoiler, according to the show.

This series does not recreate the book word-for-word; the children have begun piecing together the clues that will lead them towards a secret organization. And, as a fan of the books, it’s cool to see the hints already set from the beginning. I don’t know if Handler planned out the entire saga in advance, but this show certainly has, and already that creative decision added complexity to one of the most simple and pure characters from the books.

Although the actors still excel in their roles (make no mistake, this dialogue is dastardly difficult to get right), a lot of the show’s runtime stalls the story with repeated jokes. In the books, an adult falling for Count Olaf’s tricks was an annoyance, but the series spent most of the time with the orphans, who shared the reader’s exasperation. Once you suspend your disbelief (a phrase which here means “accept that these adults are unrealistically incompetent and stop complaining”), the show decides to put your suspension to the test every five minutes or so. We know the adults suck. We get it. This series will have plenty of time later to remind us of that. Even a joke well told can get old if it’s repeated often enough, to the point where you’re screaming, “For Crow’s Sake, he jumped out of a waist-high window! Right in front of you! Go after him!” We all know, of course, that writers should never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever let a joke drag on for too long. Never.

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Or steal jokes.

Still, what was good with A Bad Beginning applies here. I’d like the series to expand their comedy targets to its weird world and systems, but to be frank, there isn’t enough entertainment out there that tells kids how awful adults can be. And I did find, watching this segment on January 20th, some relevance in seeing a nonwhite, charismatic, learned, and fatally oblivious guardian get replaced by an old, deceitful, incompetent criminal who mostly wants the position for the money.

On an unrelated note, Happy Inauguration Day.

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