I’m just going to say it: Neil Patrick Harris is the Count Olaf we’ve all been waiting for. Jim Carrey, while iconic, was too goofy for me to take seriously. I never really believed him. If you’re going to be Count Olaf, here is a list of things I need to believe you are capable of:
Putting a baby in a birdcage and dangling said birdcage from a tower
Throwing people into lion pits
Pushing innocent women into leech-infested waters
Poisoning kindly do-gooders with snake venom
Straight-up murdering orphans for money
With Jim Carrey, I just didn’t get that. It’s not his fault. They gave him a human turd of a movie, and they said, “Make it work, Jim.” And he tried. God knows he tried. I think we all remember where we were and what we were doing when we first saw him making that dinosaur noise from the bonus features. (As for myself, I was at home eating half my weight in Milk Duds. To be fair, I was usually doing this.)
In short, Jim Carrey is not the reason the film floundered. They tried shoving three books into a single movie, thereby oversimplifying important plot points (i.e. the marriage certificate) while omitting others entirely (like roughly half of Violet’s inventions). A Series of Unfortunate Events is an absurdist, sort of mock-gothic children’s series. The literary allusions and delightful wordplay make it reminiscent of The Phantom Tollbooth, and the wry, deadpan style of narration (courtesy of author and in-universe character Lemony Snicket) casts a uniquely dark and ominous pallor over the whole crazy parade.
What all of this means is that it’s a difficult story to get right. The 2004 movie, ultimately, did not get it right. I enjoyed Jim Carrey because he was like a bright, shining beacon in a great big sea of terrible—and that, more or less, was the problem. His Count Olaf was more kooky than cruel, more silly than sinister. But who had time to worry about any of that when Klaus’s character was diverting from the original plot so egregiously that he was scaling a tower with his bare hands and setting clutch fires at critical junctures?
The series is coming to Netflix on January 13, 2017. It’s looking like they’ll be condensing the first four novels into eight episodes, which should give this richly told story the space it needs to flourish. The overall aesthetic is both grim and surreal, and you’ll be happy to hear that NPH’s Count Olaf comes across as wicked as well as wily. See for yourself: