After the loss of their parents in a mysterious fire, the three Baudelaire children face trials and tribulations attempting to uncover dark family secrets.
Picking up precisely where the previous season left off—with the characters remarking that they feel as if they’ve been waiting for a year—season two of A Series of Unfortunate Events continues the misadventures of the Baudelaire orphans Violet (Malina Weissman), Klaus (Louis Hynes), and Sonny (Presley Smith) as they try to escape the relentless pursuit of Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris) while trying to uncover the mysterious past of their parents. Based on a book series of the same name, this season adapts books five through nine, each book split into two episodes for a total of ten episodes this season.
I come away from this season with strangely conflicting feelings. On the one hand, the series has grown on me a lot more. While I liked the tone and presentation of season one, I feel like a lot of the kinks in the writing and execution were worked out this time around. While still a dark comedy drama, the world these kids have the misfortune to inhabit is above all else a complete farce and I love the show’s commitment to that fact. The adults behave in ridiculously gullible, buffoonish, mean-spirited, over-the-top, and/or obsessive ways that pokes fun at the absurdities of everyday life and how the world of adults must appear to children who are constantly let down by it. This approach does get a little cheesy sometimes, but they hit the mark enough that it’s not a turn off.
Something I’ve considerably turned around on is Count Olaf. With season one I complained that though Harris gave a good performance he is such a youthful and distinct performer that it distracted from the character. It may just be that it took getting used to, but I did not have these problems with Olaf this season. I saw him most as the character, his performance nicely balanced menace and buffoonery, aided in no small part by the addition of his lover Esmé Squalor (Lucy Punch), who plays a wonderfully vain, devious, occasionally corny villainess in ways that compliment and conflict with Olaf, giving them a compelling dynamic.
The problem I had with this season is the episodes began to feel too formulaic as it went further along. The mystery deepens regarding their parents’ secrets, which was consistently interesting, but I began to find the structure of the orphans moving in with a new guardian a strange place, with Olaf close behind, very tiring. There were some small changes to this technically, but on the surface it remained pretty much the same. You can expect that the Baudelaires’ new home/situation will have them doing something unusual or have them adhering to bizarre, frustrating rules that they have to reckon with or work around. When Olaf appears they will know it’s him right away, but most all of the adults around them will completely buy into his ridiculous new persona. I was still invested and there were some good evocative moments throughout, but this my fatigue started during the third couplet of episodes and persisted until the end.
The second season had its problems, but I still enjoyed it a lot. Violet and Klaus Baudelaire continue to be great characters who really make it easy to sympathize with their plight. Patrick Warburton returns as the narrator Lemony Snicket as well, his informative presence continuing to add a lot to the suspense as well as some dry humour. The farcical nature gets to be a bit much sometimes, but it’s still a lot of fun and surprisingly dark when it wants to be, which I appreciate in a show aimed at a younger audience. If you enjoyed the first season I definitely recommend watching the Baudelaires’ continued descent into woe—if you’re unstable to avoid looking away.