Recurring Cast: Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, Lucy Punch, K. Todd Freeman, Presley Smith
Repetition can be funny. Shows like Family Guy, How I Met Your Mother, Friends have made the repetition, or recurring gag as they are more commonly known in the comedy trade, to be one of the things we most look out for in a show. The Dr. Cox rants in Scrubs. A catchphrase in the Simpsons. Repetition is something that A Series of Unfortunate Events prides itself on nailing. Last season, the series broke its stride with the same jokes told time and time again, but in more hilarious fashion. Patrick Warburton has his stock dry speeches, often using the same amusing turn of phrase. The inevitability of the plot fuelled the humour of the show with the Baudelaire orphans fleeing from their grim surroundings, yet always being caught up with by Count Olaf, often in ridiculous disguises. The Baudelaires would see through it instantly, yet the townsfolk would be unbelievably fooled each and every time. Every time Neil Patrick Harris’ pantomime villain swaggered onto the screen once again, eyes would amusingly roll as we launched into the same situation again with a fresh lick of paint. Yes, the recurring gags stacked on top of each other was very funny. However, as we roll into a second season – the biggest in terms of the three seasons planned – the repetition is finally starting to drag. Routine, the routine that was the first season’s biggest ally, is now A Series of Unfortunate Events biggest weakness. While the show is still as golden as always, that nagging sensation that little new is actually happening is becoming harder and harder to ignore. K. Todd Freeman is starting to struggle to find relevance in the story, so despite the quality of his comic timing, his role is more problematic than helpful. The guardians in charge of the orphans each episode will only be around for a single episode, so there is no point getting comfortable with having them around. It means that the second season of A Series of Unfortunate Events is a tad heavier than you expect. That balance between a light-hearted comedy and dark drama is becoming harder to maintain, especially as each episode clocks in at an hour, a tough commitment for a comedy. Perhaps it is the fact that there is only one more season possible to wring out of the story that will keep you hooked in for the next helping. This is definitely a story that benefits from a clear finishing line in the distance.
That being said, A Series of Unfortunate Events still works far better than it probably should. Hindered by the format they are invented for themselves, the writers are still eager to do the best they can with each instalment. There are enough shocks to keep you invested in the circumstances. The final episode of the last season shocked with the bleakness of the situation, something no one expected from the comedy. Season Two continues to do that, throwing some neat left-field punches our way. Shock twists aren’t saved for the finale, but almost constantly throughout the season’s run. This also helps make Count Olaf a much more disturbing villain than he was last time around. Season One saw Neil Patrick Harris as a dim-witted bad guy, always eight steps behind everyone else and seemingly only able to be a recurring character in the story out of sheer luck. However, Season Two makes him a much more calculating and terrifying character. He constantly has the upper hand this time around and as each scheme fails, you feel that he is always inches closer to victory. A stint in a hospital puts him in a very controlling position that makes it very difficult to predict how the Baudelaires will manage to escape. The finale in a circus is equally nail-biting. While Olaf never quite wins in the way he expects – murdering the orphans and getting their fortune – arguably he walks away, more times than not, the winner of the confrontation. Neil Patrick Harris is the one routine that we wouldn’t give up for the world. He is also matched with a much more complex and mysterious storyline. Patrick Warburton’s Lemony Snicket always had more to him than met the eye and the confusing secret agency in the background clearly was a big player in the episodes to come. However, here, bricks are added to the structure with the addition of an ever-excellent Nathan Fillion, secret maps and a mysterious sugar bowl that has a surprisingly prominent role in the story. These mysteries make the repetition forgivable and make sure that the viewers are hooked in. However, there is a far simpler reason to keep watching A Series of Unfortunate Events: the shot and set design are stellar. The cinematography is always devilishly clever, either dropping knowing foreshadowing as often as possible or simply conjuring some delightful symmetry to a simple scene. The colouring of the show is wonderful to behold too, some dull palettes that meet the tone of the story brilliantly. If the story isn’t doing it for you, the visuals surely will. Yes, the show is starting to tire, but it has a few punches left in it.
Final Verdict: Repetition might be the downfall of A Series of Unfortunate Events, but for the time being, it remains a cracking piece of entertainment.