When a mysterious fire kills their parents, the Baudelaire children are placed into the care of their distant relative Count Olaf, an actor who is determined to claim the family fortune for himself. Following Olaf's failed attempt, the Baudelaires set out to elude Olaf and uncover the mystery behind a secret society from their parents' past.Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf, an actor determined to claim the Baudelaire fortune for himself. He possesses a spyglass with the structure of an eye similar to his tattoo on his left ankle.
Patrick Warburton as Lemony Snicket, the narrator tasked with explaining the events during the lives of the Baudelaires.
Malina Weissman as Violet Baudelaire, the eldest Baudelaire sibling and inventor talented in mechanics.
Louis Hynes as Klaus Baudelaire, the middle child interested in literature and books.
K. Todd Freeman as Arthur Poe, the family banker of the Baudelaire parents, who is in charge of placing the Baudelaires in the care of a suitable guardian.
Presley Smith as Sunny Baudelaire, the infant child of the Baudelaires with unnaturally strong teeth. Tara Strong provides the quasi-nonsensical lines of Sunny.
Will Arnett as Father, who is trying to return home to his three children.
Cobie Smulders as Mother, who is trying to return home to her three children.
Usman Ally as the Hook-Handed Man, a member of Count Olaf's theatre troupe.
Matty Cardarople as the Henchperson Of Indeterminate Gender, another member of Count Olaf's theatre troupe.
Cleo King as Eleanora Poe, Arthur Poe's wife and the editor-in-chief of The Daily Punctilio.
John DeSantis as the Bald Man, another member of Count Olaf's theatre troupe.
Jacqueline and Joyce Robbins as the White-Faced Women, other members of Count Olaf's theatre troupe.
Sara Canning as Jacquelyn Scieszka, Mr. Poe's standoffish assistant and a member of the Baudelaire family's secret society. She possesses a spyglass.
Daniel Handler cameos as a fish head salesperson in Lake Lachrymose.
The first season adapts the first four books of the novel series: The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, The Wide Window and The Miserable Mill.
The thirteen A Series of Unfortunate Events novels, written by Daniel Handler under the pen name Lemony Snicket from 1999 to 2006, achieved success in young adult fiction around the same time as the Harry Potter novels. As such, the Snicket books had been optioned to be filmed before they were published. This led to the development of a 2004 feature film, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, which covered the narratives of the first three novels in the series. Barry Sonnenfeld, who has expressed his love for the series, was originally slated to direct the feature film, and had hired Handler to write the screenplay. About 10 months into production, shortly after the casting of Jim Carrey as Olaf, there was a "big crisis", according to Handler, which caused producer Scott Rudin to walk away and Sonnenfeld left the production under unclear terms. With the film's completion in flux, its producing studios Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks fired Handler. While the film was eventually completed and released, sequels which would adapt the other novels in the series became unlikely due to "corporate shakeups" within DreamWorks, according to Handler, and the child actors that portrayed the Baudelaire children grew too old to star in a sequel.
In November 2014, Netflix, in association with Paramount Television, announced its plans to adapt the novels into an original television series, with the author of the series, Daniel Handler, serving as executive producer.
In September 2015, it was announced that Barry Sonnenfeld and Mark Hudis had agreed to helm the series. Hudis would serve as showrunner, Sonnenfeld as director, and both as executive producers, with Handler writing some of the scripts along with working with the series' writing team. However, in January 2016, Netflix announced that Hudis had left the project, with a replacement showrunner not named at the time.
The first season consists of eight episodes, with two episodes adapting each of the first four books of the series. Handler considered this more in line with how he had written the books in the manner of a serialized melodramas, citing The Perils of Pauline as one of his influences in writing the book series. In January 2017, Handler revealed the series had been renewed for a second season to consist of ten episodes, adapting the fifth through ninth books of the series. A third season would adapt the remaining novels of the series, which Handler hoped "to get the go-ahead to do" since "given how quickly young actors age and change, we're trying to film everything as quickly as possible."
On December 3, 2015, an open casting call was announced for the roles of Violet and Klaus Baudelaire. In January 2016, Netflix announced that Neil Patrick Harris had been cast as Count Olaf and Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes were cast as Violet and Klaus. Handler had first considered Harris for the role of Olaf after seeing him perform the opening number "It's Not Just for Gays Anymore", at the 65th Tony Awards in 2011, noting "I just immediately saw someone who could pull off a million things at once" as was necessary for the character of Olaf, who utilizes various disguises and accents in his quest to steal the Baudelaire fortune.
In March 2016, K. Todd Freeman was cast as Mr. Poe, followed shortly after by the casting of Patrick Warburton as Lemony Snicket, and Aasif Mandvi as Uncle Monty. In September 2016, it was revealed that Dylan Kingwell and Avi Lake were cast as the Quagmire siblings, Duncan and Isadora, respectively. In November 2016, Handler revealed Catherine O'Hara, Don Johnson, and Alfre Woodard had been cast as Dr. Georgina Orwell, Sir, and Aunt Josephine, respectively; O'Hara had previously portrayed Justice Strauss in the 2004 film adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events. It was also revealed that Presley Smith would play Sunny Baudelaire, whose quasi-nonsensical lines are voiced by Tara Strong, and Rhys Darby would play Charles, Sir's partner.
Production began in May 2016, and in August 2016 several cast members expressed through social media that filming had finished.
One aspect of the series of books that the production team wanted to be captured in the series was the notion of a lack of specific time period or geography for the settings; Handler stated that he wrote enough for establishing set pieces, but purposely left more specific details vague "in order for young readers to fill in the blanks themselves". Sonnenfeld wanted to capture that same sense of ambiguous time and place, and he and his team worked to try to define a set of subjective rules of what elements could be included. Sonnenfeld brought on Bo Welch, production designer for Edward Scissorhands, which Handler considered to capture the same sense of a "familiar but completely imaginary" suburban setting he had in mind for his books. While the production team used computer-generated imagery where needed, they attempted to avoid this use where possible, such as by using large painted backdrops, by key scenic artist John E. Wilcox, rather than employing green screen filming.
In April 2016, Nick Urata was initially reported to be composing music for the series. Once the series was released, it was revealed that Urata collaborated with Daniel Handler to compose the main title theme, as well as various original songs that appear throughout the series, with Handler contributing the lyrics. The original score was composed by James Newton Howard, with his frequent collaborators Sven Faulconer and Chris Bacon filling in to score certain episodes.
Zoic Studios created visual effects for the series, including the effects for many of Sunny Baudelaire's actions.
All eight episodes of A Series of Unfortunate Events were released worldwide on Netflix on January 13, 2017, in Ultra HD 4K.
On July 5, 2015 a video titled "An Unfortunate Teaser" was uploaded to YouTube by a user named "Eleanora Poe". Netflix quickly released a statement saying "This was not released from Netflix." Media outlets were almost unanimous in agreement that the trailer was fan-made. However, Caitlin Petrakovitz of CNET argued that the trailer may be real and that Netflix's carefully worded denial was a marketing campaign, noting the user name "Eleanora Poe" being the same as a character from the series, and that a vinyl record seen in the trailer was of The Gothic Archies, a band who provided the theme music for the audio books of A Series of Unfortunate Events. The trailer was later revealed to be a spec promo, similar to a spec script, by an independent commercial director, whom Netflix contracted to make a title sequence for the series after the video's popularity, though they did not go ahead with the concept.
In October 2016, Netflix released the first teaser trailer for A Series of Unfortunate Events, where Warburton narrates the events of the series as Lemony Snicket. A trailer, featuring footage from the series and Neil Patrick Harris's character, Count Olaf, was released by Netflix in November 2016, followed shortly by the first full trailer. The second trailer was released in December 2016, followed by a "holiday-themed" trailer from Count Olaf leading fans to a viral marketing website for the fictional Valorous Farms Dairy, which featured four holiday e-cards for download.
As Netflix does not reveal subscriber viewership numbers for any of their original series, Symphony Technology Group compiled data for the first season based on people using software on their devices that measure television viewing by detecting a program's sound. According to Symphony, 3.755 million viewers age 18-49 were watching an episode of A Series of Unfortunate Events over the average minute in its first weekend of release.
The first season of A Series of Unfortunate Events received critical acclaim. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the season an approval rating of 93% based on 45 reviews, with an average rating of 8.2/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Enjoyably dark, A Series of Unfortunate Events matches the source material's narrative as well as its tone, leaving viewers with a wonderfully weird, dry, gothic comedy." On Metacritic the season has a score of 81 out of 100, based on 23 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".
Erik Adams of The A.V. Club awarded the season a B and praised it for treating "mature themes like grief, loss, and disappointment with sardonic honesty." Adams compared the program positively to the Adam West Batman series, calling it "kids stuff with adult sophistication, driven by two-part stories, outrageous visuals, and the scenery-chewing of big-name guest stars". Ben Travers of Indiewire gave the series an A-, saying that it "proves as inspirational and endearing as it claims to be forlorn and heartbreaking". Brian Lowry of CNN praised the showrunners for "infusing the show with a lemony-fresh feel, conjuring a series similar to the fantastical tone of Pushing Daisies. Lowry wrote that "the show proves a good deal of fun" and that "Harris dives into his over-the-top character with considerable gusto". He also argued that the series improved upon the 2004 film.
Several critics praised the television series as a better adaptation of the books than the 2004 feature film, which starred Jim Carrey as Count Olaf. Kelly Lawler of USA Today felt the television format gave the stories more room to develop, the addition of Warburton as the fourth wall-breaking Snicket helped to convey some of the wordplay humor used in the books, and Harris' portrayal of Olaf was "much more dynamic, and creepier" than Carrey's version. The Verge's Chaim Gartenburg said that the show follows the books much more faithfully than the film, and "nails down the tone that made the stories so special". Los Angeles Times writer Robert Lloyd felt that the backgrounds of Sonnenfeld and Welch made them "the right people for this job, set in a milieu that is hard to fix in time, except to say it is not now", in capturing the tones of the book compared to the feature film.
Nick Allen of RogerEbert.com, on the other hand, gave the series a negative review, calling it "an unfunny parody of sadness" that is "never as clever as it wants to be" and would only appeal to fans of the books. Caroline Framke of Vox Media praised the series' for its unique and weird visuals, but found the show's tone, pacing and performances to be haphazard and considered the show to be "literally, a series of unfortunate events".