"A Series of Unfortunate Events" on Netflix: better than the books?

Netflix has tapped into the way the world is feeling about 2017, releasing a television adaptation of Lemony Snicket's beloved "A Series of Unfortunate Events" this month.

LPL's resident Snicket fans Sarah and Fisher sat down to sort out their feelings about it — the good, the bad, and the unfortunate.

Fisher: What were your initial impressions after finishing the show? Did it make you happy as a book reader?

Sarah: Overall, yes. There were some changes made that, at first, I was unsure I would like, but I accepted as the episodes played out. Without getting into spoilers, there were characters who had more presence in the show than in the books. But their addition made sense, so I’m OK with it now. I'm sure Lemony Snicket will be happy to know I'm not mad about it.

Fisher: What’s interesting is that Lemony Snicket wrote most of the scripts for the show, so you know it’s canon. Part of what made the Netflix series so much fun was that it got rid of the tedium of the early books by breaking up the repetitive plot points with new storylines. I was genuinely surprised by some of the twists added to the story.

Sarah: Although, the books are darker, which I prefer. There were times when I thought Neil Patrick Harris should have played Olaf a little more diabolically and a little less dumb. Don't get me wrong, Olaf is dumb, but he's more eviI than anything. The combination is flipped in the Netflix series.

Fisher: So true. Like the later "Harry Potter" films, I think they will crank up the darkness as they move into the last few books while still retaining Snicket’s impeccable witticisms (at least, I hope).

Well, if you haven’t already guessed, I’m a massive fan of a good book adaptation, so there are a couple of things I try to keep in mind when evaluating whether or not it’s successful. First, I like to see if the adaptation conveys the true essence of the source material. Second, if they do make significant changes, the changes need to make sense in the transition from print to visual media. Some of the best book adaptations like "Game of Thrones" understand how important these aspects are to fans.

Sarah: Absolutely. Sometimes it can get tricky, though, when the author of the story also finds themselves in a screenwriting position. I think JK Rowling struggles a bit because she wants to flush out the characters more and more and her audience is like, “But maybe I didn't need to know the genealogy of that wizard’s owl.” Stephen King is another one who comes to mind (and, for the record, I adore JK Rowling and Stephen King). But, remember when he made "The Shining" into a miniseries because he was unhappy with the Stanley Kubrick film? That didn't go so well.

Fisher: Haha. However, you know there are some "Harry Potter" fans who would totally read a 1,000 page tome on owl genealogy if JK Rowling wrote it. Overall, do you feel Netflix succeeded in creating a series that is better than the books?

Sarah: No, I think I still like the books more. What about you?

Fisher: As far as the earlier books go, I think that the show improved upon them by the addition of new material like we discussed before. I do like the show better in that regard. That being said, my opinion may change once they adapt some of my favorites in the series because I want them to play out just as I imagined. As a final aside, why do you think this series is so important for people to read or watch today?

Sarah: Dealing with struggles in an obviously make-believe way can help kids confront their own problems in real life. Obviously the situations are exaggerated, but Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are great role models. I love that the kids are the most intelligent people in the stories. Children can recognize when they’re being minimized. That's hard for adults to understand, but Lemony Snicket gets it. Also, it’s just fantastic escapism. Everyone, regardless of age, can use more of that in their lives.

Fisher: I also think that this series helps bring a new perspective to situations. I got into "A Series of Unfortunate Events" when my life was in a bit of an upheaval. In a way, it was therapeutic to read about the perseverance of the Baudelaire orphans. No matter what terrible circumstances life threw at them, they were able to keep moving forward because they had each other for support. And, if you can think to yourself: at least there isn’t a murderous count who will stop at nothing to steal your enormous fortune, it helps you stay positive even when the world appears to be a bleak, dire, and oppressive place.

-Sarah Matthews and Fisher Adwell are reader's service assistants at the Lawrence Public Library.

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