What to Look Forward to in Entertainment in 2017The First Full A Series of Unfortunate Events Trailer Stay on target It’s tough to write a proper review of A Series of Unfortunate Events, the Netflix show that debuted last weekend, without wondering what made the original book series so memorable.So here’s the TL;DR version: if you liked the young adult book series by Lemony Snicket (a pen name for Daniel Handler), you’ll probably enjoy the show. If you think you’ll like a series that combines incredibly dark humor, the titular series of unfortunate events, and an assortment of gags based on wordplay and literary conventions, you’ll like the show. It’s a faithful adaptation of the books, with careful attention given to set design–which makes use of color and curves to create an unsettling atmosphere for the audience–and to the aforementioned wordplay.Neil Patrick Harris plays the villain Count Olaf, and revels in the part (even if he seems to enjoy the disguises a lot more than the character itself). The three child actors that play the Baudelaire orphans Violet, Klaus, and Sunny (Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, and Presley Smith respectively), all fall into their roles overtime and bring a sense of calm to the chaotic, quirky events of the show. Every supporting actor is perfect: from Alfre Woodward to K. Todd Freeman to Catherine O’Hara, Cobie Smulders, Will Arnett, and everybody else. They all understand the source material and either ham up the intricacies of their characters or play them down in crazy situations.Special attention should be given to Patrick Warburton, who plays the author and injects himself into the story at opportune moments. His deadpan, monotone delivery works to give the Baudelaire orphans’ story an extra shot of woe, and his own narrative, which involves mourning over the love of his life and finding the pieces of the conspiracy that tie up the story, doesn’t overwhelm the plot and makes for an added element of tension. Plus, his costumes are delightful.All of this is just padding as the show mostly focuses on the source material and how to deliver it to a television/streaming/Netflix/whatever you call this nowadays audience. The story is chronological but never streamlined. At some points, it feels like it’s filled with more anecdotes by Snicket and narration than with actual plot. The Baudelaire orphans themselves are not complete characters. They become more fleshed out as the books continue, but they have the exact traits needed to get out of every situation, but none of the agency to do it themselves. They’re mostly placeholders for Snicket’s goals, which is to revel in wordplay, create logic puzzles, and teach common literary techniques to children.And it’s something I forgot about. I read the series back when it first came out, getting each book as it was released. I was the perfect age for it: just old enough to begin to understand story structure and long for challenging narratives but not mature enough to want complicated characters or ambiguous endings. A Series of Unfortunate Events is dark and foreboding, and there are no happy endings in sight for the characters, but it never pretended to be anything else.As the years went on, I remembered some obvious elements: the outlandish evil of Count Olaf, how Violet ties her hair up in a ribbon before she tackles a problem, how you shouldn’t go swimming up to an hour after eating. But what I failed to remember was the dedication it had to educating its young audience, to make them more like Violet, Klaus, and Sunny.For example, there’s a moment in episode three of A Series of Unfortunate Events where the camera pans over from the central action to Lemony Snicket, sitting in a plush, gaudy chair. This in itself isn’t astounding–it happens quite often–but this occurred after Dr. Montgomery Montgomery told the three Baudelaire orphans that no harm would come to them in the Reptile Room.Snicket knows otherwise and points to this as an example of a technique that is utilized throughout the book series and now, the Netflix show: dramatic irony.“Dramatic irony is when a person makes a remark and someone who hears it knows something, which makes the remark have a different, usually unpleasant, meaning… For that reason when we hear Uncle Monty tell the children [see quote above], we should be on guard for the unpleasant arrival of dramatic irony.”Joe Lederer / NetflixSo we know that Uncle Monty, who provides relief for both the audience and the children after the first two episodes, is going to die. Those episodes, based off the first book “The Bad Beginning,” has the three orphans whisked away from their lives and into the home of Count Olaf, who abuses them and will stop at nothing to get possession of their family fortune. His mansion is bleak and coated in what looks like a thick layer of dust and mold. Compared to the house across the street–a landscaped lawn, a white picket fence, a mahogany library–we were met with a visual nightmare, and that was before Olaf started in on his scheme to marry an underage girl to get her money. This is all just another day in the Baudelaires’ lives, which is just full of dramatic irony. And evil. Olaf is obviously evil, and a happy life is just out of reach.The episode itself loves to play with the audience’s’ expectations, especially for those who aren’t familiar with the source material. Monty–played delightfully by Aasif Mandvi–is on the verge of death for his entire appearance. He’s around snake venom, Count Olaf in disguise drops a pot on his head, and he gets kidnapped by henchmen. He does eventually die, by the way, as do most of the adults in the children’s lives except for, of course, Count Olaf and anybody else who would want to cause them pain.Dramatic irony is storytelling 101, even if we don’t realize it. So, we the audience know that the Baudelaires are doomed. We just don’t know when it’ll hit and what shape that gloom will take. You can guess, based on Snicket’s constant warnings to watch something more pleasant, that it’ll be consistent and smothering. Regardless, when the show introduces a glimmer of hope for the children, your knowledge of events tells you that it’s going to disappear soon. People looking out for it can see it immediately.Joe Lederer / NetflixThat means the show can then play around with your expectations. You know things are going to go horribly, but what if they put in this element that built up the tension and made you feel hopeful? There’s one running sequence that I won’t spoil here, but its inclusion feels like emotional manipulation at its finest. It’s like watching somebody slowly wrap a gift and place it under a tree, only to find out that it really doesn’t matter because the tree is on Mars and Earth doesn’t exist anymore, so you’ll never find out what’s in the box anyway.But that’s the point. A Series of Unfortunate Events has always been less about story and more about playing around with conventions. Snicket (the character) will introduce a word, tell the audience what it means, and that word will then pop up throughout the dialogue. He’ll drop in foreshadowing as a way for the audience to pay extra attention to it, only to not be straightforward in how it plays out.A lot of us may know what dramatic irony is, but children who are reading or watching the show now understand too. This goes for all the concepts, vocabulary words, and quirky set pieces that make up A Series of Unfortunate Events. The joy in picking apart the material here is finding the repetitious elements that Handler has carefully placed and how they shape the writing and the narrative itself. What has been most delightful, if you can say that, about watching the show after all this time is remembering how that all went down.