Jan 15, 2017

The Netflix Unfortunate Events Series: Transphobic as Ever

In case you haven't read the originals Series of Unfortunate Events, the lachrymose Lemony Snicket narrates the adventures of the three newly-orphaned Baudelaire children, 14-year old Violet, 12-year old Klaus, and 1-year old Sunny (Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, Presley Smith), as they encounter one horribly inappropriate guardian after another.




At first the Big Bad is thespian Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris), whose goal is purely mercenary -- getting his hands on their vast fortune -- but gradually, through a series of 13 books (1999-2006), a vast conspiracy is revealed, with battling secret societies, complex motivations, and strange back stories.

The new Netflix adaption is far superior to the 2004 film version, and in some ways better than the original books themselves.

1. The books keep annoying me with anachronisms. They feel like they are set in the 1930s, but suddenly there's a reference to "a computer store."  In the tv series, the costumes and sets are big, brash, glittering, and unquestionably 1930s.  There are still a few anachronistic references to "the internet" and "streaming media," but you can take them as jokes.

2. The books became tedious with so many horrible things happening to the children page after page after page, with no relief.  In the tv series, adults have a far greater role.  Even the parents are still alive (well, somebody's parents are still alive).

(Luke Camilleri, left, plays a secret society agent who is monitoring the children while trying not to interfere with the events).

This serves a practical purpose, of course -- child actors can't work many hours.  But it also dilutes the "unfortunate events," making them more palatable.

3. The books reveal the secret societies so gradually that it becomes tedious.  In the series, they're present from the start.



4. The tv series is wonderfully inclusive, with black and Indian actors playing pivotal roles.

5. Count Olaf's henchmen are humanized, not figures of pure evil, as in the books.  The Hook-Handed Man, played by comedian Usman Ally (right), seems actually rather nice.







6. The intensely annoying heterosexism of the books has been toned down.  Sure, heterosexual romances abound, and when someone mentions "relationship," it always means men and women together, but at least there  is sort of a gay couple, Sir and his "partner," plus a few characters around who aren't boy-girl romance-obsessed.  When Count Olaf is ruminating about marrying Violet to get his hands on her money, the Henchperson of Indeterminate Gender (real name: Orlando) complains that marriage is a patriarchal system that constrains personal liberty...

But that Orlando (Matty Cardarpole in bad drag): transphobia at its worst, or rather fear of androgyny, designed to make us queasy and uncomfortable.   Can't go around breaking gender norms!

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