The Baudelaire orphans return for another round of maudlin misadventures, ready to be devoured by nostalgia-hungry millennials despite the show’s repeated pleas for you not to watch it. A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS takes pride in its low self-esteem, and maintains the same whimsically negative attitude that Daniel Handler brought to his books. This slightly longer middle season takes us up to book nine, setting the stage for an eight-episode final season. Consistent above all else, UNFORTUNATE EVENTS delivers dread and delights, making use of a myriad of methods to appease audiences of all ages.

The second season begins again with the audience locking eyes with Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton), who resumes his solemn duty of chronicling the Baudelaires’ increasingly unfortunate lives. Lemony’s narration remains an instrumental tool in maintaining the essence of the novels, and sets up a number of wacky visual gags designed to juxtapose Warburton’s deadpan delivery. We’re also now in the part of the series where we first glimpse VFD, the mysterious acronym that the audience understands slightly better than the Baudelaires thanks to the delightful additions of Jacques Snicket (Nathan Fillion) and Olivia Caliban (Sara Rue). Both of them provide role models for the Baudelaires to look to in a world overpopulated with stupid, evil adults in addition to some goofy spy antics and pointed praise for people who read books.

A Series of Unfortunate Events Scholastic

The Scholastic Book Fair is the guardian the Baudelaires deserve

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Those stupid, evil adults bring some of the strongest performances of the series, led by an unstoppable Neil Patrick Harris as the epitome of evil, Count Olaf. The levels of nefariousness are off the charts this season, and Olaf’s antics this time around range from laughably zany (arm wrestling the Baudelaires for their fortune) to oddly clever (recruiting misguided carnival freaks into his troupe) to downright horrifying (murder). The troupe’s other members get a little more time to shine this season, with the Hook Handed Man’s (Usman Ally) constant ploys for Olaf’s affection and the Henchperson of Indeterminate Gender (Matty Cardarople) adding slyly progressive quips about Olaf’s binary-reinforcing comments.

The Baudelaire orphans themselves face greater danger than ever before. While their non-Olaf guardians in the first season ranged from pleasant but naive to standoffish, the first two guardians this time actively hate our precocious orphan heroes. Vice Principal Nero (Roger Bart) assigns them to live in a scorpion-filled shed and run laps through the night, an orphan-specific fitness plan concocted by Olaf’s McConaughey-esque alter ego, Coach Genghis. Jerome Squalor and his penthouse are initially inviting, but his wife Esme turns out to be Olaf’s sleeper agent/girlfriend. The Village of Fowl Devotees demands the orphans do the chores of the entire village, and puts them on trial for murder after they’re framed by Olaf’s jazz-scatting Detective Dupin character. After being forced to flee the village, the Baudelaires lose the flawed, flimsy protection of Mr. Poe. This liberates them from his impossibly poor guardian selection skills and by extension, the civilized society which has failed repeatedly to protect them. Just as in the books, Poe’s reduced role brings about a strained sense of freedom.

A Series of Unfortunate Events Mad Max

Mad Max: Orphan Road (2018)

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The lawless wastelands prove to be equally treacherous, however, leaving the Baudelaires few options for shelter. They first hide out in a hospital located hundreds of miles from any population center, but Olaf quickly catches up. After infiltrating the hospital as Dr. Mattathias Medicalschool, Olaf commits his signature crime for the second time in the series: arson. Fire represents a lot in UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, and as the mystery surrounding VFD begins to unravel, so does the mystery surrounding the death (disappearance?) of Bertrand and Beatrice Baudelaire. If the series uses literature as a means of encouraging the pursuit of knowledge and education, fire represents the destruction of that knowledge. And as the main villain is an arsonist, the Baudelaire’s main ally is Olivia Caliban, a librarian. They first meet at Prufrock Preparatory School in the first episode, and she returns to save them in the finale. On a happier TV show, Ms. Caliban would have driven the Baudelaires safely into the Mortmain Mountains, and Count Olaf would have been eaten by a pack of starving lions. This is not a happy TV show.

A deeply satisfying sophomore effort, A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS continues to recapture the magic of a high quality YA novel series while embracing the increasingly common meta humor and binge-friendly pacing of its new format. This series succeeds at delivering a warm nostalgia that simultaneously inspires hope for the future. A meticulous, magnificent masterwork that mustn’t be missed.

Verdict: Recommend

Dan Blomquist is a guest contributor for Crossfader and writes about important things sometimes, but mostly about television. He believes that memes are the future and that free will is an illusion.

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