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Acting Style in A Series of Unfortunate Events

This is not a review

But I want to talk about the Netflix adaptation of the beloved children's books all the same. And I want to talk about something very specific:

Today, that specificity is style.

Who doesn't love a good NPH pouty face?

Who doesn't love a good NPH pouty face?

The mechanics utilized to tell a story are hugely important. Realism is the style du-jour of dramas (such as Breaking Bad) and then of course cartoons adhere to their own set of style guides and by a different token, action movies have their own - a sort of modern melodrama, really. Style is everywhere and a form of shorthand for modulating expectations and communicating ideas.

The thing is, is that for most live action stuff that is either film or television, the performers - no matter what the other demands of the style or genre - act in a realistic manner. Believablility is key, as is emotional truth; making the audience believe that you're not acting at all is at the 101 level of nearly every performance put to film.

That's nice and all. But what's so great about A Series of Unfortunate Events is that the adult characters are forced to almost entirely eschew realism. The performances are all of a heightened style that feels like a cross between a live-action cartoon and characters created by David Lynch. It is abundantly clear that everyone is acting. It doesn't matter - the theatricality and broadness of the acting really added a lot for me.

It's character acting at its finest. It's a surreal world and the best way to build that sense is to make everyone just a little bit off (or a lot a bit). It works really well, in my opinion. Every little thing in the show was aimed at creating a very specific tone for the world of the Baudelaires - right from Patrick Warburton's melodramatic pleas to stop watching all the way to the smaller roles, such as the "Optimist" in the mill. It's deliberately absurd and works very well to give the feeling that the Baudelaire children have very little control in this topsy-turvy world.

I kept thinking that this is very close to a televised equivalent of the Theatre of the Absurd. The constant missed connections and wacky characters combined with a vague sense of mortal dread really reminded me of playwrights such as Ionesco.

It wasn't my favorite show - the kids kind of annoyed me, I'm still not sure how I feel about the whole parents thing (don't wanna spoil) and the Baudelaires crying "He's Count Olaf!" followed by nobody believing them got really repetitive in way that in the books never really bothered me.

That said, anyone who wants great examples of character acting and a genre style that stretches the bounds of what we're used to seeing in mass media should give it a look see.

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