Mild SPOILERS for A Series of Unfortunate Events season 2, episodes 1 & 2 ahead!
It is with our deepest sympathies that we must inform you of a new season of A Series of Unfortunate Events and that it remains as delightfully absurd and quirky as the first season. We regret to share this news because it will surely lead many to binge the whole second season of the Netflix adaptation of Lemony Snicket's darkly funny children's books in a single sitting, possibly even disregarding some obligation in order to so. (Obligation - a word which here means some activity that is arguably more important than watching the new season of A Series of Unfortunate Events, but likely nowhere near as enjoyable or entertaining.)
Much like season 1, A Series of Unfortunate Events season 2 is based on the novels of the same name by Lemony Snicket (the pen name for author Daniel Handler), with each book adapted across two episodes. Season 1 featured the first four novels while season 2 presents the following five; the series will then wrap up with a third season that adapts the remaining four books. And whereas season 1 only teased the larger mystery which surrounds the truly unfortunate string of events experienced by the Baudelaires, season 2 begins dropping clues right from the start.
A Series of Unfortunate Events season 2's first pair of episodes adapt the novel The Austere Academy, in which the Baudelaire children - Violet, Klaus, and the now somewhat less of a baby, Sunny - are sent to a most esteemed but also terrible boarding school, Prufrock Prepatory School. There, after what feels to Violet like "sitting on this bench for months", they are given a tour of the school by fellow student, the adorable but obnoxious Carmelita Spats, and introduced to Vice Principal Nero - a violin-playing egomaniac who has no business being responsible for children. But not all is bleak because at Prufrock the Baudelaires make friends with another pair of orphaned children - two of three triplets, Duncan and Isadora Quagmire, whose parents and brother were also killed in a fire - as well as the school's librarian, Olivia Caliban. Of course, Count Olaf remains an ever-present threat, while Lemony Snicket continues with his grim task of relaying to us this sad and unfortunate story.
"The Austere Academy: Part One" and "Part Two" reestablish the tone and themes from the previous season, but shift the setting from potential homes and lumber mills to a school. This works very well for continuing to have adults in positions of authority who are either incompetent or mean (or both), and it allows the Baudelaires to persevere not just by their wits but with the help of friends. There is also ample opportunity to ramp up the levels of absurdity and dark humor. For example, a school motto which literally means "remember you will die" or having a dead horse for a mascot. (Which as we all know, cannot be beat.)
Additionally, A Series of Unfortunate Events season 2 amplifies the mysterious elements surrounding the death of both the Baudelaires' parents as well as the Quagmires', and it begins more openly teasing the truth of the secret organization to which they belonged. These first two episodes still only raise more questions than answers, but the very fact that "The Austere Academy" outright introduces a book that contains all the answers - The Incomplete History of Secret Organizations - it's obvious this season expects to delve more deeply into what is really going on.
The attention to detail which made the first season such a visual treat is still here, with everything from Prufrock's classrooms to the the Baudelaire's literal Orphan Shack having a fittingly austere design. Practically nothing about Prufrock is all that pleasant, and this is reflected in everything from the school being in disrepair to a world of mostly gray. There are a few shocks of color, however, but they only seem to highlight the most horrible parts - like Carmelita's grotesquely pink dress or the pep rally. The costume design also echoes the differences in characters, with those who are honest and decent people, like the Baudelaries or Ms. Caliban, dressed in very proper and demure outfits; those who are dressed more outlandish or are disheveled are therefore governed by corruption and arrogance.
Season 1 already boasted an absolutely wonderful cast, from the three young actors portraying the Baudelaires - Violet (Malina Wiessman), Klaus (Louis Hynes), and Sunny (Presley Smith) - to Patrick Warburton's Rod Serling-esque Snicket and, of course, Neal Patrick Harris' over-the-top Count Olaf. The core cast remains just as strong as it was in season 1, with Harris still the regular scene-stealer whether he's mistakenly accosting the wrong orphans or smoking under the bleachers like some high school punk. The Baudelaires, unfortunately, feel a bit overshadowed in these first two episodes seeing as there are so many new characters to introduce, and hopefully this isn't an issue throughout the season. Warburton's Snicket continues to be a great convention for the series, illuminating the ever-more tragic circumstances with his dry deliver of the verbose but cleverly constructed dialogue.
K. Todd Freeman is also back as the bumbling Mr. Poe, though his role feels less needed this time. Sarah Canning and Patrick Breen return as Jacquelyn and Larry, two members of the secret organization who do their best to help the Baudelaires. Breen's Larry in particular has a larger part play in "The Austere Academy" and it creates some funny moments which also help to develop the organization's role in the children's lives.
By far, though, it's the new characters who inject the season 2 opener with intrigue and laughs. Roger Bart's Nero is an awful yet hilarious standout who, when playing off the sensible Baudelaires, acts unreasonable and cruel, but when next to Count Olaf he's clearly just inept and easily manipulated. Kitana Turnbull is equally good as the downright horrible Carmelita, challenging even Harris himself with how much she throws herself into the character. Sarah Rue's Ms. Caliban and Dylan Kingwell and Avi Lake as the Quagmire children are bright spots among the dreary world of Prufrock, and their performances are fittingly understated. And in something of a surprise appearance, Nathan Fillion portrays Jacques Snicket, the more adventurous and dashing older brother of Lemony. It's a pitch-perfect role for Fillion that hints at even more melancholy in the Snicket family's past.
"The Austere Academy Part One" and "Part Two" are excellent opening chapters for this season of A Series of Unfortunate Events. The show remains darkly funny and it reestablishes the infuriating nature of authority figures who have no business being in charge of anything. There are more unfortunate events in store for the dear, sweet Baudelaires, and while there's risk that this repetitive misery might wear thin across a longer season, these episodes kick off season 2 in delightfully absurd fashion.
A Series of Unfortunate Events seasons 1 & 2 are now available for streaming through Netflix.