“TV shows and movies are a rare form of atemporality, and in an ever-changing, always on world, spoilers feel irrefutable – sheer access to them gives the illusion of control.” —Jenna Wortham
There’s just something about Korean dramas that makes them so addicting. Maybe it’s the actors? Or the story? Or the special effects? I’m not quite sure. Whatever it is, whenever I find a good k-drama, I tend to go crazy and just binge-watch it. Which is kind of out of character for me, because I’m not much of a binge-watcher. Yet, despite my adoration for k-dramas, I find it so difficult to find good ones. If you remember, I talked about how it was so difficult for me to find good K-dramas in my Falling for Innocence review. Sadly, things have not changed much and after watching that show, my expectations were even higher. So it was difficult for me to find one that I enjoyed. I sampled so many dramas, only to end up disappointed. Hence when I chanced upon My Little Baby, I didn’t expect much. Yet to my surprise, I ended up quite enjoying My Little Baby, to the point where the binge-watching returned!
Basically, My Little Baby is about police detective Cha Jung-Han (played by Oh Ji-ho) who is suddenly thrust into the role of a parent. Prior to the show beginning, Jung Han was a bachelor dedicated to fighting crime and devoting his entire time to his career. However, with the sudden death of his sister and brother-in-law, along with his brother-in-law’s mother’s waiving her parental rights, Jung-Han is forced to take responsibility for his sister’s 6 month old baby girl, Eun Ae. Since he focused entirely on his career, Jung-Han has absolutely no idea how to care for a baby. So he decides to take some time off work to get the hang of raising his niece. His friend and former police trainee/ current coffee cafe owner, Yoon Min (played by Kim Min-jae), moves in with him to help him out. The two move into a community for young children and the show deals with the struggles Jung-Han faces while raising Eun-Ae and living at the community.
At the community, it turns out that the administrator is actually Jung-Han’s former corporal officer, Jo Ji-Young (played by Jung Soo-Young). The two share bad blood because four years ago, on a police stakeout, Jung-Han had to actually deliver her baby. Jung-Han is upset that he had to witness Ji-Young in such an intimate way (he had told her to stay home due to her pregnancy), as is Ji-Young. Worried that Jung-Han will blurt out their shared past to the other mothers who live in the community, she conspires to make Jung-Han’s life miserable so he moves out of the community. On top of that, also in the community, is Jung-Han’s first girlfriend and first love, Han Ye-Seul (played by Lee Soo-Kyung). However, now she’s the secretly divorced (no one in the community knows except for her, her sister and Jung-Han), single mother of a four year old boy. Jung-Han attempts to rekindle their romantic relationship, while trying to gauge her feelings and dodging Ji-Young malicious machinations.
Supporting all these characters, are some other mothers from the community, 40 year old first time mother Yoon-Sook (played by Go Soo-Hee) and 20 year old first time mother Kim Bo-Mi (played by Joo Sae-Byuk). They, along with Ji-Young, form the core trio of the community mothers and are the main ones Jung-Han interacts with. In the process, they also end up becoming good friends to Jung-Han, especially Yoon-Sook. Also in the main credits is Nam Ji-Hyun, and she plays the role of Ye-Seul’s sister and the baby yoga teacher of the baby yoga class the mothers and Jung-Han attend. She actually doesn’t feature in the show that heavily so I’m not quite sure why she’s in the main credits.
The main story-line itself, if you can guess from the write-up, is actually quite sweet. Jung-Han is a pretty loveable character (or maybe it’s the actor LOL) and is a really decent guy. He’s willing to forgo his reputation in order to secure what is best for Eun-Ae, but also sticks to his principles. On top of that, he’s literally so dense when it comes to raising a child/ understanding the ways of parenting, that’s it’s actually hilarious. In fact, the entire show itself is super sweet and light-hearted. It does briefly delve into some serious problems, such as a father hiding his job demotion from his wife and struggling to provide for his family, but those problems aren’t really part of the main plot or really focused upon for a long time. For example, for the prior example, it was the main point for one of the mom’s for an episode or two, but after that, it’s just mentioned in passing remarks by other characters. Similarly, the show also touches upon the difficulties of parenting and being mothers. However, again, the difficulties aren’t really elaborated upon and are sort of *solved* by the time the episode(s) end.
However, I don’t think that this is detrimental for the show because it’s still quite enjoyable. I think this is a show to just enjoy for what it is. It’s light-hearted, sweet, and funny. Nothing more and nothing less. The only real negative point I can think of for the drama, is that it’s actually quite unrealistic. To give you an example, there’s a whole subplot of how Eun-Ae’s step-grandmother attempted to usurp Eun-Ae from Jung-Han in an effort to get her custody and therefore be privy to the large fortune Eun-Ae is set to inherit. I mean, it’s so obviously a manufactured story-line for drama and completely unrealistic. Yet, since the show is so light-hearted, this conflict isn’t terribly dramatic and is still sprinkled with moments of comedy. Similarly, some of the action sequences were hilariously fake as well. However, they were easy enough to ignore because there wasn’t too many of them.
That said, the show is definitely uncomfortable to watch at first, because of the baby playing Eun-Ae. When the show begins, Jung-Han is obviously supposed to be unfamiliar with handling a baby, so I guess the actor was doing his job. However, the poor little girl playing Eun-Ae seemed to be terrified in the initial episodes. All she did, was cry and look scared. I felt so horrible for her, it actually did mar some of the viewing experience. However, as the show went on, she was more smiley (because I assume she got more comfortable with the actors and with filming in general) and the viewing experience was consistently enjoyable. Yet even then, part of me still felt bad for the little girl.
Moving on, let’s talk about the acting and characters. I’m not really familiar with Oh Ji-ho or his acting, but I really, really enjoyed him in this drama. He acted quite well and is super good looking. In fact, I have a small suspicion that his good looks made me feel far more favourable to his character’s actions than I would have been otherwise. He has the most adorable dimpled smile. Plus he had fantastic chemistry with his onscreen roomie, played by Kim Min-jae. While Ji-ho is good-looking in the popular “tall, dark, and handsome” trope, Min-jae is good-looking in the cute, well-dressed and witty way (I don’t know, is there a specific description for a guy like that?).Together, not only did the two play off of each other, but they also existed as foils. While Jung-Han is clueless (especially in regards to raising a baby and some social manners LOL), Yoon-Min is incredibly smart and resilient with everyday life things (Jung-Han is a good detective though). Lee Soo-Kyung is also quite good as Jung-Han’s girlfriend Ye-Seul. She actually brought this really cute charm to Ye-Seul. What’s also quite hilarious, is that she’s almost as naive and clueless as Jung-Han (LOL). She falls victim to pranks easily and isn’t as obsessed with being a mom as the other women in the community are, as she is busy being a working mother. However, she never plays the working mother as too harsh or strict. She really just comes across as any other mom trying to raise a kid alone, while still an incredibly sweet (if not judgemental sometimes) person.
On that topic, the whole mommy community in the show was a little intense. There was actually a subplot about how the mommy community literally had nothing else to do besides bring their babies everywhere and gossip with other mothers (LOL). The community depiction itself is also pretty unrealistic (or at least I think so). Yet, despite that, they were still generally enjoyable to watch and all three main mothers had distinct personality traits. That said, I will say that Ji-Young’s character could get a little too mean and annoying. She actually served as the main antagonist for most of the show and while she wasn’t exactly evil, she could be incredibly spiteful and selfish. Thankfully, she was balanced out by Yoon-Sook, who was incredibly sweet and good-natured (aside from complaining about how much her butt hurt because of childbirth LOL). In general, the acting was pretty solid across the board.
Cinematography was also good for this show (again, pretty convinced that this is a staple of all Korean dramas, regardless of content quality) as was directing (a lot of tricky camera shots to convince the viewers!).
My rating: watch it to enjoy a light-hearted, sweet and funny show about child-rearing, friendship and love.
I feel like Friends is one of those tv shows that transcends its era. You know, the ones that are relatable and/or funny years later, despite looking and being dated. Kinda like the X-files. And the fact that some of its actors have become big Hollywood stars (wassap Jennifer Aniston), definitely helps keep it more relevant than it would be otherwise. As a result, despite having run for and over 10 years ago, it still remains in current pop-culture (or at least for my generation it does). Hence, I’ve decided to talk about it today.
Friends, for those of you unaware (seriously tho, is there anyone really unaware about this series?), is about a group of friends living in New York, New York USA during the 90s. The core group consisted of bossy cleanliness freak and mother-hen Monica Geller, played by Courtney Cox, her nerdy goofy and unlucky-in-love older brother Ross Geller, played by David Schwimmer, the fantastically ridiculous Phoebe Buffay, played by Lisa Kudrow, the sarcastic everyman Chandler Bing, played by Matthew Perry, the out-of-touch fashionista Rachel Green, played by Jennifer Aniston, and the ditzy but loveable Joey Tribbiani, played by Matt LeBlanc. All episodes revolve around the situations the characters find themselves in, and/or about their lives and their general direction and how the characters adapt/ navigate. Nothing ground-breaking per se, but definitely enjoyable.
For me, the biggest plus point among this series, is the friendship shown between the main characters. They all just get along so well and the interactions among them are fantastic. Each character is so different and has a different viewpoint. But they all respect each other and listen to each other and just hang out. Honestly, Friends has one of the best descriptions of friendship shown on television (living up to its name I suppose LOL). It’s super fun to watch. Adding to the entertainment, is the comedy in this show. Some of the dialogue in this show is hilarious. Like laugh out loud hilarious. And a huge credit to that, not only goes to the writing, but also to the actors. I strongly believe that this show is a testament to the fact that good writing and good actors can create an absolutely great pair (both elevate each other).
And coming to the actors, David Schwimmer in particular comes to mind. I’ve yet to see someone with as hilarious physical comedy as him as Ross. Ross’s physical comedy is absolutely top notch. Whether it be the “unagi” or the leather-pants-with-lotion scenes, he just kills it and always brings the laugh. Another really reliably funny “friend,” was Chandler. His sarcastic one-liners and general wittiness really livened up the show. In fact, each character had stand-out lines and scenes that still remain iconic. Whether it be Joey’s “How you doin?” or “Joey doesn’t share food,” or even Pheobe’s “Smelly Cat” song or “phalanges,” they’re all super entertaining. However, what was also great, was the way how the show could also be so relatable. I mean, we’ve all probably suffered through crappy jobs, heartbreaks, unexpected situations, etc. And the shows funny take on them was great (that said, not all of the situations are relatable or even realistic LOL).
That said, there are definitely a few things about the show that definitely make me side-eye it and are not so flattering. One that immediately comes to mind, is the flanderization of Joey’s character. When Joey initially started out in the show, he was ditzy, there’s no doubt about that. But even with his ditziness, he had some knowledge. It was believable that someone like Joey could exist: ditzy but with some understanding of how the world/ things work. However, as the show went on, the writers end up really dumbing down Joey, to the point where it just became unbelievable, and I mean that literally. He became so dumb. While I found his dumbness enjoyable at some times, it was often annoying because of how unrealistic it was (and what a drastic change it was from the earlier seasons).
The second thing that I really dislike, is the lack of any people of colour. The show features a predominantly white cast. Which, I guess while not ideal, is ok. Yet, even then, there are literally no POC characters. It was so rare to see any POC, not just in side character roles, but even as bystanders (extras). I mean, NYC is not just filled with white people you know. There’s people of all different races and yet Friends made it seem like NYC was just populated with white people. It was kinda jarring to realize and definitely made me side eye the show.
And finally, some story-lines were not enjoyable. In my opinion, to the point where they actually brought down the quality of the show. Case in point: the Ross-Rachel will-they-or-won’t-they relationship. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I am generally a fan of will-they-or-will-they-not relationships. I reviewed Bones a while ago, and in its earlier seasons, Bones was exactly that! Especially when it came to the relationship between the main leads. But in Friends, this plot was stretched way beyond the limit. To the point where I honestly did not care and just wanted it to end. Plus, it didn’t help that the two characters also behaved in some pretty unlikeable ways (Ross accidentally said Rachel’s name during his wedding vows to another woman…yikes!). And coming to Rachel, there was also an absolutely ludicrous “relationship” between her and Joey that made no sense whatsoever. Seriously. I’ve yet to meet a single person who doesn’t see that storyline as ridiculous.
However, despite its fault, Friends still remains pretty watchable. It reminds of me comfort food in some ways. Its certainly not the best show around. And there’s definitely been better shows made. Yet, even then, there’s just something so welcoming and comforting about it. If you’re sad, it makes you happy. If you’re bored, it gives you something to do. If you need to escape from life, it lets you. It’s just so consistently reliable, that you cannot help but get drawn into it.
My rating: watch it to enjoy a funny and likeable show, despite the fact that it has some faults and is quite dated
I have a confession to make: I’m a sucker for reality tv. Literally, put any sort of reality tv show on, and I will be game. And trashy reality tv in particular, is my ultimate guilty pleasure. In fact, back in the day, Jersey Shore was the first show I followed religiously. And I mean religiously! I’d watch each episode twice, often during my school free-periods, and even had a dedicated group of fellow show devotees with whom I’d discuss each episode. That said, I’m also into other, non-trashy reality tv shows (yes, they exist!). And Ultimate Beastmaster, is one of those.
Much like other competitive reality tv shows, Ultimate Beastmaster has competitors competing difficult obstacles in an effort to win a prize. The name of the show, actually comes from the fact that the obstacles are constructed within a gigantic man-made “beast,” so to speak. At the bottom of each obstacle is also a large pool of water, referred to as “beast blood,” in which if a competitor falls, they’re out of the competition. There are 4 levels that contestants must go through, to advance. Each level has its own timed obstacles, all with varied amounts of points that can be earned. Those with the most points, no falls into ‘beast blood,’ and least amount of time advance, and and one winner is declared at the end of level 4. And then during the penultimate episode, the winners of previous episodes compete for a shot at $10 000 USD and the title of “Ultimate Beastmaster.”
As far as competitive reality tv shows go, the format is pretty standard. It actually reminds me a bit of Wipeout and Takeshi’s Castle. However, unlike those shows, where the focus was largely on not only completing the course but also on humiliating challengers, Ultimate Beastmaster focuses solely on the athletic abilities of its contestants. Hence, each contestant for Ultimate Beastmaster is also insanely talented and athletic. Competitors range from crossfit trainers, to military men, to rock-climbers, to parkour fanatics, etc. Fittingly then, the competitors are also ‘beasts’ in their abilities (aka the title of the show).
It’s also worth noting that competitors come from six specific places: America, Brazil, Germany, Japan, Mexico, and South Korea. Each country has two competitors in each episode (except for the final episode which only has the winners of the previous episodes). Each country also has its own set of hosts. For America, its Terry Crews and Charissa Thompson, for Brazil its Rafinha Bastos and Anderson Silva, for Germany its Luke Mockridge and Hans Sarpei, for Japan its Yuji Kondo and Sayaka Akimoto, for Mexico its Luis Ernesto Franco and Ines Sainz, and for South Korea its Seo Kyung Suk and Park Keong Rim. The hosts provide commentary for each of their competitors, and even other competitors, often in their native language. Subtitles are provided for the non-English words (of if you use Netflix, you can have subtitles for all of the hosts!).
Personally, the hosts are actually one of my favourite things about this show. Not only do they add a fun factor to the show with their commentary and reactions, but I also enjoyed the sense of camaraderie they shared with the others. Terry Crews in particular was quite fun to watch as he interacted with others quite often (sometimes even going into their hosting stations LOL). Rafinha Bastos was also absolutely hilarious. In one episode, the Brazilian hosts thought that their competitor beat a German competitor, so they went into the German host’s booth to mock them and dance. But, what they didn’t realize, was that their candidate actually lost and the German advanced (LOL)! It was super funny to watch them stop mid-dancing after the German hosts let them know they lost. Another time that stood out to me, was when a South Korean competitor was advancing and the South Korean hosts decided that it was too sad to see him fail, so they turned their backs to the screen (where he was performing), only for the competitor to succeed (LOL)! Both instances were played light-heartedly and for laughs and I quite enjoyed it!
The athletic aspect of the show is also incredibly awe-inspiring, especially the way some of the competitors competed. There’s just something about watching athletes in (or even out) of their zone, doing various challenging activities. One of my favourite things, was watching Brazilian climber Felipe Camargo climb during an obstacle. He performed with such finesse, it felt like I was watching a climbing documentary! I highly enjoyed the show!
My rating: Watch it to enjoy incredible feats of athleticism by incredibly talented competitors!
Bones is one of those shows I had known about for a while but never really felt the urge to watch. However, that changed last year (or perhaps it was 2015, I don’t quite remember). After finishing the X-files for the umpteenth time and feeling lost without a show to watch, I chanced upon Bones. Netflix alleged that it was similar to X-files and I having ended my last X-files binge and desperate for more, decided to take the plunge.
Like X-files, Bones details the lives of two ‘partners,’ FBI Agent Seeley Booth, played by David Boreanaz, and Forensic Anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennan, played by Emily Deschanel. However, unlike the X-files, Bones doesn’t deal with exclusively paranormal phenomena and is actually based upon the best selling books of an actual forensic anthropologist, Dr. Kathy Reich. In an ironic twist, Dr. Brennan actually writes book about her forensic adventures using a character named Dr. Kathy Reich (LOL). As such, the show is a tad bit more ‘science-focused’ than other procedurals. Oh I forgot to mention, Bones is basically a police procedural in that each episode features a new mystery. However it also follows X-files method of having an over-arching story-line as well. Whereas X-files focused upon government conspiracies, Bones focuses more on the lives of its protagonists. To be honest, I think that’s where the similarities between the two shows end. Beyond that, they are quite different (although it amusing to note that Bones has actually referenced the X-files and other pop culture phenomena in its show before).
In essence, the show is about how Booth and Brennan (also called Bones by Booth, hence the name of the show), use the bones of murder victims to figure out how they died and bring the killers to justice. Booth heads up the Major Crimes branch at the Bureau, while Dr. Brennan works at the Jeffersonian Museum (based upon the real-life Smithsonian Museum in the United States), in its medico-legal lab. Booth finds the bodies and brings them to Bones, where then she and her science team use the bones/ body tissue, and surrounding particulates, to provide clues about the dead person/ how they died. Booth then interprets these clues to narrow down on a list of possible suspects and find the killer (Brennan actually assists him with this as she often participates in suspect interrogation and active field work). Brennan’s team consists of the following: Dr. Camille Saroyan, played by Tamara Taylor, a forensic pathologist who actually heads the medico-legal lab, Dr. Jack Hodgins, played by TJ Thyne, an entomologist, botanist, and geologist/mineralogist, Angela Montenegro, the in-house artist and computer expert, and a variety of other forensic interns/ assistants. As a result, the show, at least initially, was quite science-y at its centre. Brennan and her team would often sprout real life facts about bones, insects, etc. in order to determine time of death, cause of death, location of death, etc. However, as the show progressed, the science took more of a back seat.
The show has actually been on-air for about 12 years, having first aired in 2005. And the first few seasons of the show are quite different from the later seasons. In fact, the first season all but screams that it was filmed in the mid-2000s with its equipment, clothing style, look, etc. However, that doesn’t mean it was bad. It was quite enjoyable and still fun to watch. Yet, the long duration of the show has had an impact on the characters, particularly that of Dr. Brennan.
When the show first began, Brennan was shown to be this socially awkward scientist. Possessing a genius level intellect, she often had trouble with pop culture, often remarking, “I don’t know what that means,” when it came to simple stuff like Booth referencing the team work of Mulder and Scully from the X-files. Yet, despite her awkwardness, she was still ‘relatable,’ for a lack of a better word. She understood some common phenomena like ‘booty calls’ and wasn’t overly detached from the world. Despite her awkward social skills, she still had *some* skills. She was also more willing to accept mistakes, was super confident and independent, and spoke normally; a pretty likeable character. However, as the show progressed, her character changed. Instead of progressing and maturing, she began regressing. She became progressively more and more awkward, possesses almost little to no social skills, and is incredibly arrogant. Her speech patterns have also taken on this odd random word-elongation tone. Like I read somewhere else, the writers took out all the stuff that made her complex and instead just heightened her more annoying traits. Sometimes, I legitimately do not understand how people stand her.
Which brings me to another point: the writers in the show SUCK at showing vs. telling. They always do the latter. For example, we’re constantly told that Brennan has a good heart, that she’s BFFS with Angela, people love her, etc. But we’re rarely shown it, instead people just talk about it (and the audience is supposed to believe it I guess). In regards to Brennan having a good heart, there have been episodes that have shown just how much she cares. Particularly in the earlier seasons, there were some really, really great episodes where she showed A LOT of heart (particularly those that dealt with foster kids). Yet aside from those few, she’s actually quite insensitive in many others episodes and its difficult to believe the repetitions of her being this really good hearted person. Like I mentioned before, she actually comes across as an emotionally stilted jerk a lot of the times. And regarding her friendship with Angela, I don’t always see it either. Angela always mentions that she loves Brennan, but as of late, the friendship and love are sorta missing. A lot of the time, Brennan just sprouts some logic or random anthropological facts while Angela doesn’t really understand it and talks about her own stuff. Or Angela talks about something and Brennan tends to just focus on her own stuff rather than talk about Angela’s issues. Honestly, these issues could easily be resolved, if instead of shoving down such dialogue, the writers just make scenes that show it instead. Showing stuff is always better than having people remark upon it constantly (and yes, I do mean it happens quite consistently).
And finally, as Dr. Brennan is a forensic anthropologist foremost, the initial seasons of the shows actually focused upon this. While on active field duty with Booth, Brennan would often make anthropological observations about the societies/ tribes/ peoples they were dealing with and it was often fascinating. However, as of late, I’ve begun to find that the anthropological focus has diminished a bit. Brennan no longer makes anthropological observations about the cases. A lot of the time, she just sticks to examining the bones and dealing with some discussion she and Booth are having. Now this change isn’t the worst thing in the world, and the cases they investigate do remain quite interesting as the seasons progress. However, I definitely do miss the science-y and anthropological focus of the initial show. In my opinion, it was what made the show stand out among the many police procedurals that currently exist.
However, even these complaints, I still enjoy this show, at least for the most part. I think the earlier seasons are definitely most enjoyable than the later ones. However, the later ones are decent as well. Plus, the acting in this show is pretty great as well. All the actors, not just the leads, are pretty consistent performers. However, my favourite thing about the show, is the fact that it has some really, really beautiful episodes. Surprisingly, for all its flaws, sometimes the writers manage to hit the ball out of the park spectacularly. Some that particularly stand out, are 2×09 “Aliens in a Spaceship,” 3×13 “The Verdict in the Story,” 4×26 “The End in the Beginning,” 6×09 “The Doctor in the Photo,” and 8×16 “The Patriot in Purgatory,” among many others. I have actually watched these and other memorable episodes countless times, but their impact never lessons.
My rating: watch it to enjoy a crime procedural with a science-y touch and to witness some fantastic, heartfelt episodes.
A Series of Unfortunate Events is a book series written by Daniel Handler under the pen-name of Lemony Snicket. However, unlike most pseudonyms, Lemony Snicket actually interacts with the book series and features as a part of the book’s universe. The book chronicles the lives of the rich Baudelaire orphans after their parent’s deaths. Lemony Snicket serves as a narrator and possess a personal connection to the Baudelaire’s. It turns out, he loved the Baudelaire mother, Beatrice, back when the two were still young. However, Beatrice ended up marrying Betrand, the Baudelaire father, rather than Lemony. Nonetheless, after hearing of her death, Lemony feels compelled to discover what happened to the Baudelaire children afterwards and hence the novel commences with him frequently remarking upon the terrible circumstances. Are you still with me?
The Baudelaire’s are made up of three children. Violet, the oldest at 14, is a genius inventor and often takes the leadership role in the various situations the children find themselves in. Klaus, the middle child at 12, is a voracious reader and has the ability to remember everything he’s read, the point where he can recite random quotations from random authors at verbatim. And finally, Sunny, is the youngest at 2(?). Although she can’t properly speak by the time the books begin, she is incredibly intelligent, possess the ability to understand complex situations and communicates with ‘babbles’ only her siblings understand. The trio lived happily with their well-off parents until a mysterious fire destroyed their house, presumably also killing their parents although no bodies were found. A local banker, Mr. Poe, is tasked with executing their parent’s will, which includes the huge inheritance the trio are to inherit once Violet comes to age. Despite being foolish and self-absorbed, Poe is also responsible for finding a new residence for the Baudelaire’s, as the parent’s will specified that the Baudelaire’s were to live with their closest living relative. And herein enters Count Olaf, the main antagonist, an actor with circus henchmen who is determined to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune by any means possible, including murder.
There are 13 books in the series and each book deals with the children adapting to their new living situations, trying to get away from Count Olaf and his schemes to take over their fortune, and attempting to figure out their parent’s past/ present. The parents, it turns out, were spies (?) of some sort for the VFD (volunteer firefighters department?), a secret organization. Apparently, there was a schism in the organization wherein people split and took sides. The Baudelaire parents were obviously on the good side while Count Olaf was on the bad (yes, Count Olaf knew the parents from long ago). A lot of the people the Baudelaire’s encounter in the book are/were a part of the VFD, but despite their occurrence, the Baudelaire’s never do find out the full truth of their parent’s participation in the VFD. In fact, readers themselves never fully find out what the VFD is/for/does/did. Every new piece of information is given incomplete, through small vague clues, leading to eventual diversions to other topics/ parts of the truth.
I read somewhere that this elusive, purposeful holding of the full truth, was actually one of the themes of the book (i.e. the incomplete nature of the full truth). While I guess that explanation would help to solve the question of why the books remain so vague in its answers, I don’t really care. I just found it incredibly frustrating. I read this series way back, around the time the first book was published (early 2000s). Immediately, the dark comedic tone and mysterious story caught my attention and enthralled me. I faithfully read the books until the 10th book, after which I realized that the full truths of the story would never be revealed. The series contains 13 books, and while I normally don’t like reviewing or writing about things upon which I only have incomplete knowledge, I’m willing to make an exception in this case. I’m pretty proud of the fact that I managed to reach the 10th book because most people I know who’ve read the story have not finished it either, or even reached the 10th book. Despite the wonderful story and great suspense, the story is too frustrating and unfulfilling to follow, as the full truth is NEVER revealed. It’s just annoying to read a story only to realize that you’ll never actually know what happened.
Anyway, after that long recap, this post isn’t really about the books but about the tv series. This year, an original NetFlix production of the series was created and aired. Currently, only season 1 has aired and it has covered 4 books. Although I was quite frustrated by the books inability to answer its mysteries, I was still incredibly excited at the prospect of the show about them. The books are written well and do have engaging characters. The books had been attempted to be adapted for the big screen with a movie in 2004. But personally, I wasn’t a fan of it as I felt it rushed too many things. Hence, when I heard about the tv adaptation, I was excited because I felt a tv format would allow for greater detail and accuracy. To be happiness, that is exactly what happened. The sets, stories, scenes, larger VFD mystery are all well done and plotted and remain fantastic. I honestly had not expected it to be as great as it was. That said, I do want to address a few things.
Firstly, I heard that there was some criticism over Neil Patrick Harris’s Count Olaf, with most people saying that he wasn’t scary enough. But to be honest, I don’t think that criticism holds. Yes sure Harris plays Count Olaf with more humour than his book counterpart, but that doesn’t detract from the scariness. His Olaf is still terrifying. There’s a menacing undercurrent to Olaf’s humour that comes through with Harris’s acting which prevents Olaf from coming across as too comedic. If anything, I think it enhances the character. Olaf fancies himself a great actor and Harris’s Olaf embodies that delusional identification with crazy costumes, weird voices, and general oddness. But he still manages to imbue Olaf with a scariness because his Olaf is also absolutely ruthless with his violent tendencies, devious tricks, and general horribleness. It’s more of a low-key threat, which I quite appreciate because I think it helps keep the tone of the show/ books.
Secondly, despite my earlier claim of accuracy in the show, I want to iterate that this doesn’t mean that everything is 100% accurate. If anything, it’s about 80% accurate, which is still quite accurate in the grand scheme of things. However, some characterizations are definitely off. Violet, played by Malina Weissman, is one of the few that come to mind. In the books, she functions as the fierce leader of the Baudelaire trio and often comes up with plans to save them. In the tv series however, her fierceness is quite downplayed and she comes across as more complacent than active. Instead, her role of leader is given to Klaus, played by Louis Hynes. On a similar note, Aunt Josephine’s character, is given more of a saint-washing, as in the books, she much more selfish and horrible.
Thirdly, I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity in casting. Don’t get me wrong, the majority of the cast was still white. But there were a few other people of colour in significant roles that I quite enjoyed. In particular, the Baudelaire’s guardians, Uncle Monty, a herpetologist, and Aunt Josephine, a formerly fierce but now cowardly woman, were played by Aasif Mandvi and Alfre Woodard respectively. Not to mention that Mr. Poe was played by K. Todd Freeman. Similarly, one of Olaf’s henchman, The Hook-handed Man, was played by Usman Ally. It’s always really nice to see diversity and although it could 100% be better, I felt that it was still a nice effort (although on a more introspective note, it’s sad how happy I get when there’s more than one POC because there should be more and standards should be higher).
Fourthly, I quite liked the way Lemony Snicket and his commentary were employed throughout show (through the use of Patrick Walburton as Lemony). It brought a uniqueness I did not expect and definitely helped to capture the dark humour of the books. Similarly, I enjoyed the red herring put by the show (deliberately being vague because it really is great LOL).
That said, I also read somewhere that this is a show to be savoured rather than binged and I completely agree. The books themselves are quite dark, but are prevented from being too depressing by Lemony Snicket’s commentary. The tv series doesn’t quite have that advantage at the same level. While Patrick Warburton is good at diffusing certain tense and dark scenes, they still leave the viewer unsettled and focused on the dark scene. If you watch too much of it, there’s chances that you’ll become very sad at the Baudelaire’s plight. However, if you savour each episode and take breaks, I think it would be more enjoyable because you wouldn’t be overtaken by sadness. I did the latter and quite enjoyed the series despite its macabre gothic tone.
My rating: Watch it if you’re a fan of the book series or if you’d like to watch a hopeless show with a sense of misplaced hopefulness.