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‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ Author on Casting Neil Patrick Harris and Writing for All Ages

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Daniel Handler attends 2014 National Book Awards on November 19, 2014 in New York City. (Robin Marchant/Getty Images)
Daniel Handler attends 2014 National Book Awards on November 19, 2014 in New York City. (Robin Marchant/Getty Images)

 

Daniel Handler, better known by his nom de plume Lemony Snicket, crafted a rare book series that did what Pixar does for films—bridge the divide between a child’s and an adult’s imagination.

In 2004, a star-studded adaption of the eerie extremely popular children’s books A Series of Unfortunate Events fizzled at the box office. (It earned over $200 million worldwide, which becomes less impressive when the budget was $140 million, not including advertising.) Despite featuring the talents of Jim Carrey, Jude Law, and Meryl Streep, the film, which condensed the series’ first three books, featured a convoluted plot that never seemed sure of its audience. Though the series comprised thirteen novels, the rest of the books were left untouched until Netflix came knocking.

A scene from the Netflix adaptation of 'A Series Of Unfortunate Events' (Netflix)
A scene from the Netflix adaptation of ‘A Series Of Unfortunate Events’ (Netflix)

 

Adapted for the screen (once again), the first season of the series debuted on Netflix on January 13th. So far, it has been more warmly received by critics than its cinematic ancestor. Variety’s Sonia Saraiya spoke for many when she wrote:

“Tonally, ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ is a weird, wonderful masterpiece — a self-consciously droll gothic dramedy that might be what would happen if Wes Anderson and Tim Burton decided to make a television series about children together.”

Vulture sat down with Handler, in the midst of writing the show’s second season, to discuss his adaptation. In the interview, the author reveals it was his idea to cast Neil Patrick Harris as the series’ antagonist Count Olaf after watching Harris host the 2011 Tony Awards. He was particularly impressed with the opening number, “It’s Not Just for Gays Anymore.” “It’s such a beautiful tribute to musical theater while mocking it with some of the cheapest jokes imaginable,” Handler told Jackson McHenry. “I thought, ‘This is exactly what we want to do. This would be perfect.'”

Neil Patrick Harris Stars as 'Count Olaf' in the Netflix adaptation of 'A Series Of Unfortunate Events' (Netflix)
Neil Patrick Harris Stars as ‘Count Olaf’ in the Netflix adaptation of ‘A Series Of Unfortunate Events’ (Netflix)

 

A Series of Unfortunate Events gained a following because it was something parents could enjoy just as much as their children, a challenging feat to manage. Much of the content targeted to kids today is painful for adults, which Handler readily admits. “As a parent myself, I know that I get very tired of family entertainment that is only for my child,” the author said. “It’s really tiresome for me and I don’t like to sneak out of the living room when the TV is playing to go mix myself a second Manhattan.”

Handler also notes that Netflix helped calibrate the adaptation’s tone into something intended to be equally palatable to fans of the franchise and newcomers. He acknowledges there are some people that may not enjoy the series—and that’s okay:

“There’s a sort of person who likes this kind of thing, someone who understands that you can be sad and laughing at the same time, or that something can be funny and really terrifying. In my experience, that sort of sensibility is not really bound by age. People say to me all the time, ‘When are you old enough to read a Lemony Snicket book?’ Then I’ll meet some humorless 75-year-old who’ll say these books are awful. I’ll think it’s not a matter of old enough. It’s a matter of just having the right-shaped brain. My own son, for years, would read the back of the Snicket books, which would say, ‘These books are really awful,’ and he would say, ‘Wonderful, thanks for the warning,’ and would put them down. Then one day he said, ‘Oh, it’s funny,’ and he picked it up. Some people go their whole lives trapped in a literal mindset and I don’t know if there’s anything [producer Barry] Sonnenfeld and I could’ve done to attract them.”

Read McHenry’s full interview with Handler here. Watch the teaser for the show here or enjoy a featurette below.

 

RealClearLife Staff