This Series Ain’t Broke, But Season 3 Fixes It Anyway



“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” is an expression which here means if something is working, there’s no reason to change it. For example, if you’ve got a successful streaming TV series with clever writing, well-developed characters, and elaborate set pieces, there’s no reason to change the creative formula for the last season.

In this series of seven unfortunate episodes, Violet (Malina Weissman), Klaus (Louis Hynes), and Sunny (Presley Smith) Baudelaire travel down an icy mountain, into a squid-like submarine, up an unusual hotel, and across a stormy ocean. They’re out to discover the truth about their parents and the organization V.F.D., but no matter the distance, our compelling villain Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris) is never too far away, bringing a steady stream of jokes and heartbreaking twists with him. His volatile paramour Esmé Squalor (Lucy Punch) and the very definition of a brat Carmelita Spats (Kitana Turnbull) have joined him on his quest to capture the Baudelaire fortune, and more faces begin appearing (and reappearing) for the children. Can they trust the mysterious woman with the taxi (Allison Williams)? The lookalike hotel manager brothers (Max Greenfield)? The Man With a Beard But No Hair or the Woman With Hair But No Beard (Richard E. Grant, Beth Grant)? More mysteries than answers seem to come with all of them.

For the first time, the series asks us just how heroic these orphans really are.

Netflix released the third season of A Series of Unfortunate Events on New Year’s Day, and there’s no reason fans of the first two will be disappointed. With a consistent creative team and the return of every major character (plus cameos from dozens more), there’s no skimping on what viewers have already loved so far.

And yet.

While frequent changes in locale are nothing new for our orphan heroes, their new character growth is. They still function as a group protagonist, but they’ve never been more individualized. Violet takes more risks, Klaus fights with righteous indignation, and even Sunny asserts her independence. They’ve never disagreed more than ever on the next steps they should take to evade Count Olaf and his cronies, and their debates on how much they should dive into their parents’ secret history have never been more painful.

Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, and Presley Smith as Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire in A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS (2018)

And for the first time, the series asks us just how heroic these orphans really are. Have they taken shortcuts? Have they practiced deceit? Well, yes, but it’s complicated. Unlike many stories aimed at children, there’s a moral gray area the Baudelaires and their viewers must wrestle with in this world their orphanhood has thrust them into. Considering that Violot and Klaus have pretty much been making the same disconcerted face for two seasons straight, this new level of depth is impressive.

Not to discredit Weissman and Hynes (two fantastic young actors I hope to see working for a long time), but much of the credit here belongs to the ever-sharp, ever-intricate writing, both in plotting and in wit. The layered secrets and complex riddles may remind you of the later Harry Potter adventures, but this series doesn’t take itself so seriously. Instead of leaning on action, it leans on an idiosyncratic sense of humor that somehow makes toddler Sunny the funniest child character on the show, even letting her deliver (via subtitles) a very good joke about Antonin Scalia.

Of course, her big brown eyes and ability to look adorable in a tiny sailor suit doesn’t hurt either. I still haven’t stopped marveling at how convincingly they pulled off working with an actress of her age (even with clear CGI and dummy assistance) or at the over-the-top production design. Holy bananas, those costumes! Just like the script, this show’s aesthetic never wavers, reaching from the heights of the top story of that hotel down to the depths of the sea.

I remember knocking out single books of A Series of an Unfortunate Events in an afternoon in grade school, even when they teetered over 300 pages. Not surprisingly, this series is just as binge-able for me as an adult, and I suspect the same may be true for you as well.