Branding an Adaptation: How Netflix's "A Series of Unfortunate Events" Differentiates Itself from the Books

A Series of Unfortunate Events has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Obviously it's still pretty important to me, if my homepage quote and social media handle have any say in this.

Let me add this disclaimer: I am a huge fan of the new TV show adaptation and have been since the moment it was announced. My roommate and I even stayed up until 3 am EST to watch the first episode right when the series dropped. I've already binged it twice. And I may or may not have an entire tag on my Tumblr dedicated to Klaus Baudelaire.

From the beginning, I have trusted Netflix (and Daniel Handler, the man behind the books, because he wrote the teleplay—cheers to you, babe) to present an offspring of the book series worthy of its mother's love like I trust the bed I am currently sitting on to hold me up. So far, they've exceeded all expectations.

With only the first season down, we already have so many key elements of a good visual adaptation that the first movie totally lacked: incredible set design; gorgeous cinematography; and an accurately-cast Klaus, the shy hipster kid I want should I one day have the misfortune of children. Not to mention, Netflix has included primary themes which the movie failed miserably in adapting: realistic character qualities for each of the children; a prevailing sense of dread appropriate for ASOUE's target age; and sharper juxtapositions of youth vs. adulthood, innocence vs. corruption, and disadvantage vs. power.

In short: The new TV series is exactly the adaptation the book series deserves.

I knew this before the series even dropped. Of course, I had my reservations (mainly because I'm fiercely overprotective of ASOUE and Lemony Snicket), but most all of them were along the lines of, "I'm pretty sure Aunt Josephine's hair should be a little bit more frizzy."

However, there were two concerns I couldn't shake. Both fueled my apprehension of how the TV show would fit with the overall aesthetic of the series defined by the books.

Before the season dropped, I frequently voiced my annoyance at the lack of homage to the Gothic Archies song "Scream and Run Away." This, which served as Count Olaf's unofficial theme song and could be found under the "Vile Videos" tab on Lemony Snicket's website, was the perfect creepy companion for what every kid at the time was reading. (When I found the music video, my elementary school self spent the next month simultaneously freaking out and playing it on loop.)

But after I binged all eight episodes and I started revisiting some of my pre-viewing opinions in hindsight, I realized something: What I couldn't get through my thick skull was that the new theme song (and the lack of the old song) is exactly what it needs to be. Both informative and chilling, the new theme song brands the Netflix series and sets it apart from Daniel Handler's books.

My other concern still haunts me. No matter how much I argue in favor of differentiating the TV series from the book series, a small part of me is always going to think of the Netflix adaptation and mourn the mystery of Lemony Snicket.

Before the series even started, Snicket was given an actual face. To me, this posed a serious question about the content of the TV universe vs. the book universe, in which Snicket is featured as a legitimate character in addition to a narrator. In the books, Snicket the character remained eerily ominous until Book the Thirteenth, when he's introduced as an actual facet of the story via another character's relationship with him. Snicket the author remained always faceless and unknown, and I never solved the puzzle until years later, when I realized Lemony Snicket is a pseudonym for Daniel Handler.

So yeah, I was dubious of the TV show's execution my little shady baby Snicket, namely for his complete lack of shade. From just the series previews, I knew his fac as I know Count Olaf's face, which was included in the books' cover arts and described in detail multiple times.

The fact that Snicket narrates the entire show is a nice nod to the original format of the series as third (and sometimes first) person literature; however, the enigmatic Snicket was one of the greatest mysteries and biggest joys of my childhood. The books have now been moved to the back shelves of the kids' corner of Barnes & Noble (I know this because I realized a few months ago that I was missing Book the Tenth—and B&N didn't even have it) so most children today are going to grow up knowing ASOUE (if at all) by the show, not the books. And watching the show (or basically knowing anything at all about it, promotional or otherwise) before reading the books will ruin the series in its original form. You will then know Lemony Snicket as a person. You will have seen him right before your eyes—this huge, now-identifiable figure—as you read, and the mystery will be gone.

You will have more information about him than spooky author bios that read something like "Lemony Snicket has ridden the rails, gotten off track, and lost his train of thought" or black-and-white pics of him with poster board covering his face. He's there, he's on the screen, and whether or not we actually learn anything about his character prematurely than in the books, his physical existence is still something the books kept secret. Through the TV series, we are going to know more about him just by his appearance than we were ever supposed to know going through the series for the first time.

But perhaps this is just a new way to go through the series. Perhaps knowing this much about Lemony Snicket is a different "supposed to." Perhaps watching the series before reading the books wouldn't ruin anything; it would just present the story in a different way, separate from the other.

I know that both of these concerns stem from the fact that I have been looking at this adaptation as a direct adaptation of the books, when I should have always looked at it as an entity based on but separate from the books. Everyone agrees that the movie version of ASOUE was one of 2004's great blunders, and maybe a lot of that was because it was trying too strongly to be something that it wasn't.

Netflix knows better than to try to live up to the books' potential. Daniel Handler did not sign over the series' rights so he could write the exact same story all over again. This new TV series does affect the role A Series of Unfortunate Events plays in my life; of course it does. But it is not replacing or rewriting any of the books' information. It's adding more to love, and it's doing that in its own way.

The new series becomes a new memory, and I add it to the old.