Since its debut in 1999, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events has stood out for being a children’s series that didn’t believe in happy endings. The popular books followed three young siblings whose parents die in a fire and who are placed in the care of one hapless or unsavory guardian after another, all the while being hunted by an evil distant relative hungry for their enormous fortune. Page after page proved verbose, fatalistic, dark—and utterly engrossing, thanks in part to the series’s enigmatic narrator, its macabre sensibility, and its wonky literariness. But more than anything it always seemed to assume the best of its young readers, believing they possessed the emotional and intellectual maturity to enjoy such a tale.
A decade after the 13th and final book was released, the series is set to find a new audience, and re-engage an older one, when a TV adaptation from Netflix premieres Friday. After a (rather bad) 2004 movie version starring Jim Carrey, many book fans greeted news of the show with skepticism. Luckily, the unfortunate story of the Baudelaire orphans seems to have finally gotten a worthy adaptation. Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events makes an impressive effort to stay true to the spirit and idiosyncrasies of the books without being overly reverential. (It helps that the series’s real author, Daniel Handler, is an executive producer and the show’s writer.) The result is a show that’s likely to appeal to both adults and children with its layers of mystery, a weird sense of humor, and hyper-self-awareness—as long as viewers can accept the misery that lies ahead.