Short version: I loved it. Better than season one.
More substantial: ASOUE season 1 started off as a decent adaptation that actually improved on the original book in the wonderful “Miserable Mill” episodes.
In season 2, “The Austere Academy” is decent but not great, but “The Ersatz Elevator” is fantastic, clever, funny, and suspenseful.
“The Vile Village” is a perfectly fine adaptation, but we’re back to pretty good instead of great. Several things worked extremely well but I thought they rushed through some of the more emotional, moving moments.
Ah, but then we get to “The Hostile Hospital”, and WOW. This is the first episode pair to actually improve on the book it is based on, perhaps because the book’s fast pace and suspenseful plot translate particularly well to the screen. Louis Hynes has to carry the bulk of the second episode and reveals himself to be a surprisingly excellent actor, able to captivate in suspenseful and dramatic scenes. My only criticism again is that I wish another minute was given to a dramatic moment between the Baudelaire siblings, but this is a minor complaint overshadowed by the terrific cinematography and editing of the final scenes of the second episode.
The pace and quality stays at its high level into the Carnivorous Carnival episodes, and it ends with the famous cliffhanger before the start of “The Slippery Slope”.
It’s all terrifically well done and terrifically entertaining, but I do need to add a caveat:
I’m not sure what people who aren’t fans of the books will think of this show. “A Series of Unfortunate Events” is famous, for better or for worse, for its repetitive structure and its grim, bleak backdrop. Not dark – even Disney can do dark. Bleak. The whole world is allied against the Baudelaires; the few noble people who try to help them are either dead or just our of reach in the most frustrating way available. They are more than unlucky – society itself is against them.
The repetitive structure is what it is; you either get tired of it or you don’t. It is necessary to ASOUE, because the minor variations on the same theme are part of that sense of frustration the series is intentionally creating. Several reviews have complained about the cruelty of some of the scenes and even humor or the fact that the same general plot beats repeat in each episode. And I get it! It’s not for everybody.
The reason I love this adaptation so much because as an adaptation it’s brilliant. “The Hostile Hospital”, which was a transition book between the first and second half structure change of the series, was one of the weaker overall books (honestly I don’t think any of the books in ASOUE are bad, or even mediocre; it is a very consistent series quality-wise), but the Netflix writers saw the potential and cleverly emphasized the aspects of the book that worked best on screen. “The Vile Village” had a couple of small missteps with rushed emotional beats, and for such a monumental change in the series structure it almost moved too quickly to feel it, but “The Ersatz Elevator”, “The Hostile Hospital” and “The Carnivorous Carnival” had me grinning the whole way through.
Because it was finally on screen! And it looked like it was supposed to! And Snicket was PERFECT (give Patrick Warburton an Emmy, come on)!
But for other people…well it’s an acquired taste.
For fans of the books: Highly recommended.
For everyone else: Ditto…but proceed at your own risk. There are people it just won’t resonate with.