Previously on A Series of Unfortunate Events
You will always be in my heart, in my mind,
and in your grave.
Oh. Lemony Snicket – how we’ve missed you. Just when we found some happiness in our lives, with television’s new Golden Age demanding we spend more and more of our leisure time glued to new stories and characters, you bring us back to earth with a depressing thump. A reality-check that you know we sorely need. And not only that, you bring us five books this season, not four like last time. We’re going to need some expensive therapy once we get through all these.
Season two of ASOUE begins with the adaptation of The Austere Academy, otherwise known as Prufrock Preparatory School, which, if you recall from season one’s finale, is where the Baudelaire Orphans – Violet, Klaus, and Sonny – found themselves at the end of The Miserable Mill.
Suitably attired in drab school uniforms, as well as finding a new nemesis in the shape of Carmelita Spats, the orphans quickly work out that school years are not the best years of their lives. Their new “guardian”, Vice Principal Nero, consigns them to their new residence – the Orphan Shed – a tiny building in the middle of campus, overrun by crabs and fungus. And of course, Count Olaf isn’t too far away. Overhearing a conversation between Jacquelyn and Larry-Your-Waiter, he finds out where the orphans are and sets about creating a new disguise for himself and his cronies. Hijacking a school bus isn’t beyond the villain, but he needs to find a way inside the school grounds. Thanks to an “Advanced Computer Program”, Olaf isn’t allowed beyond the gate under his current guise. He needs some inside help. Which is where Carmelita Spats comes into play. Hiding under the bleachers, sneaking a quick smoke, like he did when he was a student at the school, Olaf appeals to Carmelita’s narcissism and ego and gains entry through the back door, so to speak.
All is not completely lost for the Baudelaire Orphans, however. They have allies now. Jacquelyn sends Larry to the school so he can give them a copy of An Incomplete History of Secret Societies. It’s important the children get their hands on it because it contains essential information about their parents and the society they worked for – V.F.D. But a chance encounter with the school’s librarian, Olivia Caliban, leaves the book hidden in plain sight.
Also present are the Quagmire Triplets – well, two of them anyway. Isadora and Duncan lost their brother and parents in a fire similar to that which apparently killed the Baudelaires’ mother and father. They even look like Violet and Klaus, a similarity which comes in handy later in the story when the Baudelaires need to be in two places at once. I enjoyed the camaraderie between the collective orphans. There’s safety in numbers, I do believe. But this also creates added peril, because now we have more children to worry about.
Help is at hand from other quarters. In a surprise and welcomed cameo appearance, Nathan Fillion plays Jacques Snicket, Lemony’s older brother. Jacques rescues Larry-Your-Waiter when he comes afoul of Olaf and his henchpeople. We wonder, though, how long he remains involved because everyone around Lemony and the children either disappears or dies. Omens are bad, too, for Olivia the Librarian. Lemony hints that events lead to unfortunate demises for anyone who tries to help the children. Even the poor Quagmires find themselves kidnapped by Olaf at the end of the story. Foiled yet again, Olaf has the last laugh. The kids are still at the school, unsafe, and nowhere near finding out what’s to become of them.
The Austere Academy is a rip-roaring start to the new season. It has all the elements that made the first one a joy to watch and review. Neil Patrick Harris continues to steal every scene he is in. This time around, his disguise of choice is that of the school’s gym coach. Resplendent in a jewelled turban, adopting a fauz-Southern accent, once again the only people who can see through his disguise – the only one’s willing to see through his disguise – are the orphans.
New villains in the form of Vice Principal Nero (Roger Bart), a would-be violinist without the talent to match his ambitions, but with an ego the size of a small country; and Carmelita Spats (Kitana Turnbull, brilliant), both adorable and odious, the children’s chief tormentor (Cake-sniffers!), line up in perfect harmony with established one, namely Olaf, Hook-Handed Man, Henchperson of Indeterminate Gender, and the White-Faced Women.
Tying it all together is the laconic Patrick Walburton as Lemony Snicket. Dropping in and out of proceedings, letting us know to not get our hopes up too high (or at all), Lemony is a doleful figure amidst Olaf’s high-camp villainy and the Baudelaire Orphans despair. Warburton is a delight this season, and because he has a personal connection with the Baudelaire’s, their sadness is his. This will not end well, and surprisingly we’re all the better for it.
Next up: The Ersatz Elevator.
ASoUE Book Five Review Score
"The Austere Academy"
Starring: Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, K. Todd Freeman, Usman Ally, Aasif Mandvi
Available through Netflix, streaming now.