I was SO happy when Netflix announced this series. I loved the books and the Jim Carrey movie a few years ago did not do them justice.
Netflix did not let me down. A Series of Unfortunate Events has all the charming cleverness of the books and a great respect for its central characters, the siblings Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire.
Season Two of A Series of Unfortunate Events premieres on March 30th. In preparation, it’s time to watch season one all over again. Not that I needed an excuse.
Not offensive to women = 1 pt
Features a woman as the main protagonist and/or supporting character = 2 pts
Passes the Bechdel-Wallace test = 3 pts
The series features two major female characters: Violet and Sunny Baudelaire. Beyond that, there are a host of female characters. Women characters are judges, spies, scientists, villains, journalists, hypnotists, and more. They are kind and smart and morally upright, as well as evil, weak-willed, gullible, and cowardly. A major theme of the show (and the books, which are geared toward middle grade readers) is the unreliability of adults and the children’s need to learn to help themselves. This means that quite a few adult female characters are not positively portrayed, but they do have a lot of character depth. This means the even the background characters steal the scenes. This, plus the great writing for Violet and Sunny, demolishes any potential Strong Female Character tropes.
There is one instance of Count Olaf cross-dressing as a woman for humorous purposes. Personally, I did not find this offensive because it was one disguise among many that Olaf uses, all of which are intended to be over-the-top.
The show easily passes the Bechdel-Wallace test, and passes for racial diversity in the first episode, though not again. The show made the spot-on choice to race-bend a few characters, meaning we get to experience the work of some great actors, but I thought they could’ve gone farther. Character race has no effect on the plot in these stories, so there’s plenty of room for greater diversity in the future. As for LGBT inclusion, there is one heavily-implied gay couple with an interesting dynamic: (“Doesn’t partner mean equal?” Klaus asks. The narrator assures us, not necessarily).
Need more feminist TV recommendations? Check out our Best Of lists.
Artistic and/or Entertaining = 4 pts
While I loved the books, I came into the show with a critical eye. However, I was easily won over in the first few minutes. The screenplay often pulls directly from the books, and the Wes-Anderson-esque colors and symmetry of the opening scenes were a great start to a story all about what’s lurking beneath the surface. Each book is being adapted into two hour-long episodes, each essentially getting a movie of its own.
The writers made one big change from the books: they moved the spy storyline, which begins later in the book series, into the first episode, and wove it slowly through the show. I think this was a good choice. It made the stories more enjoyable to watch as an adult, and will help engage viewers who have never read the books.
Above and Beyond General Media = 5 pts
The female characters really put this above and beyond for me. As I wrote above, the representation could not have been better. I was pleased to see Violet treated with respect by the writers, specifically in that she was not sexualized. The character of Violet is 14 years old, and a friend pointed out 16 is often the socially acceptable age to start sexualizing young girls (yes, it starts much earlier in actuality, but 16 is definitely when girls are treated as sexually available to men). I’ll be watching the rest of the series carefully to see if how she is treated changes over time, particularly knowing the future romantic plotlines of the book.
The adult women are in general treated with respect. The female spies are portrayed as mature and put-together, in contrast to the other unreliable adults. (There’s only one unfortunate case of impractical high-heeled leather boots.)
I was also happy with the treatment of the male characters, particularly Klaus, who is very much allowed to have feelings of love and sadness, without veering into stereotypical male expressions, such as anger or brooding isolation.
When we choose our Books of the Month for F-BOM, one of our guiding mottos is “Good Books that Won’t Offend You.” A Series of Unfortunate Events is just that type of story. While there are no overt feminist themes, the dedication to portraying great characters creates space for complex women. That’s what we like to see.
I’ll review season two when it comes out March 30th. Until then, let me know what you thought of season one!
Final tally: 15/15 points on the Scale:
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