Lemony Snicket: America Loves an Underdog

Netflix version of popular series was done for 'revenge, to be honest with you,' said filmmaker Barry Sonnenfeld

Hot off his big box office appearance as “The Grinch,” Jim Carrey as the star of “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” must have sounded like money in the bank. And it was — just not enough money to become a franchise.

The film wound up making $209 million around the globe — and that was it. Hollywood moved on from author Daniel Handler’s 13-book series, the last of which was published in 2006 and has sold more than 65 million copies.

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Until now. Netflix chose to begin streaming its TV version Friday, Jan. 13, at midnight — quite a fitting date, really. Neil Patrick Harris replaces Carrey in the lead role of Count Olaf, while Patrick Warburton (“Seinfeld,” “Rules of Engagement”) narrates.

When filmmaker Barry Sonnenfeld heard that streaming giant Netflix was considering adapting Handler’s books, he campaigned hard to get the gig, and got it. Why, you wonder?

“It was revenge, to be honest with you,” he recently said. Sonnenfeld and Handler had both originally been involved with the film version — and both got fired.

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Sonnenfeld reeked of the right choice at the time, hot on the heels of his own box office successes, like “The Addams Family” and “Men In Black” franchises. Yes, franchises. Exactly what the studio was looking for with “Snicket.”

Warburton’s narrator recounts the tribulations of the three wealthy Baudelaire orphans who, after their parents die in a fire, are forced into the custody of their estranged cousin Count Olaf (Harris), quite literally their “closest” living relative.

That relationship to the family becomes clearer throughout the eight-episode season which, as the title suggests, includes a fair amount of misery. Olaf, an awful, wannabe stage actor living in a crumbling mansion, subjects 14-year-old Violet (Malina Weissman), 12-year-old Klaus (Louis Hynes), and baby Sunny to dreadful hardships, donning various disguises in a never-ending plot to get his mitts on their inherited fortune.

“I worked very, very hard, and Daniel worked very hard to get me into Netflix,” Sonnenfeld elaborated. “I very much wanted to do it.”

With reboots all the rage and source material seemingly at an all-time low in Hollywood, Netflix obviously saw the appeal not only in adapting the material on the increasingly successful streaming service, but also attaching the guy who could have gotten it right the first time. Makes for good copy. “I worked very, very hard, and Daniel worked very hard to get me into Netflix,” Sonnenfeld elaborated. “I very much wanted to do it.”

This clearly illustrates the point that almost every industry, entertainment included, is not immune to making decisions based in some part on revenge. Many of the reboots we’ve seen in recent years, in fact, have been fueled by one-upmanship, a “We’ll be the ones to get it right” attitude. “Spider-man” and “Fantastic Four” both come to mind.

Sure, Sonnenfeld has long since been a fan of the material — he used to read the books to his children when they were small — but he’s got something to prove, an ax to grind, and while that might play funny during a press junket, don’t think for one minute that there isn’t some truth to it.

In many ways, this has been where Netflix has made much of its noise. “Arrested Development” was unceremoniously dumped by FOX after the network tried to hang in there with it, with many of the budding stars feeling as if the cancellation were premature. Netflix to the rescue! Even “Full House,” with all of those successful years behind the stalwart ABC hit, had been in the throes of moving to another network when that deal fell apart and its cancellation ultimately came.

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Netflix can corner the market on botched jobs if they’d like: That “A-Team” big screen adaptation with Bradley Cooper? Netflix it. Samuel Jackson’s “Shaft”? Ditto. All of these wrongs can be righted on Netflix, and it could even translate to a tagline: “Netflix. We get it right.”

Don’t forget: America loves underdog stories. November 2016 proved that.

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