A Series of Unfortunate Events season 2 continues what the series does best: telling a dreadful story you shouldn’t watch unless you want to suffer through complex characters, beautiful costumes, and catchy music.

A Series of Unfortunate Events tells a story unlike any other. The story is miserable, telling about one unfortunate event after another. It warns you against watching — and then teases you in with a trail of secrets, the promise of something awful, and a small glimmer of hope.

At its heart, however, the series is driven by its characters. The actors in the Netflix adaptation bring all the heart, misery, and deceit of the book’s original characters. You love the Baudelaires, hate Count Olaf, and desperately mistrust everyone’s intentions. Even though so many of the characters are bigger than life, they also feel essentially human. They tell a story of imperfect people making imperfect decisions.

Related: A Series of Unfortunate Events trailer analysis: Will season 2 depart from the books?

Neil Patrick Harris’s Count Olaf is as enjoyable as characters come. His portrayal of Olaf is Harris’s best performance yet and he continues to slay it this season. He becomes the character with his whole self, putting on voices, making faces, and changing his body language. The character is funny and terrifying. Harris keeps you engrossed in the story by making you wonder what Olaf will do next.

a series of unfortunate events season 2

The Baudelaires are every bit as good in this season as in the first. As child actors age, you can’t ever be sure that their talent will rise with them. Malina Weissman (Violet), Louis Hynes (Klaus), and even Presley Smith (Sunny) do rise. The adventures of the Baudelaires are bigger and bolder and so are their portals.

A Series of Unfortunate Events season 2 introduces new characters as well. A new character named Esme is introduced and she immediately brings new life and layers to the series. She was my favorite character in the books and I couldn’t be more excited about how brilliantly Lucy Punch portrayed her. The character leans into the show’s slightly absurdist tone, bringing just as much humor as she does fashion, treachery, and support.

A Series of Unfortunate Events season 2 also has an incredible ensemble of supporting characters. Nathan Fillion’s addition to the cast as Jacques Snicket has been highly anticipated by fans. He does not disappoint. Jacques is the anti-Olaf of the story. Fillion keeps up with Harris’s portrayal of Olaf in every way. Fillion brings the suave charm needed for the role, but he also brings a balance of comedic timing and serious emotion.

a series of unfortunate events season 2

The other ensemble actors — including Sara Canning, Sara Rue, and Tony Hale — bring just as much to the series. Every piece of this cast works together to tell a vivid story.

The vivid story is told through other means as well. The amazing actors are supported by amazing costumes, props, sets, and music. The clothes this season add so much depth to Snicket’s world. They bring the pop of hopeful color you need to break up the dreary backdrop of misfortune. The costumes also toe the line of absurd verses believable, especially in Olaf’s disguises.

A Series of Unfortunate Events has one of the best theme songs on TV. In a day when many shows are ditching the song in favor of a few frames of their logo, the creativity of this song stands out even more. Season 2 continues to play with the song, giving it new verses and new voices every episode. There is more music this season, too, which captures the tone of the story in a way that nothing else can.

a series of unfortunate events season 2

Best of all, A Series of Unfortunate Events season 2 stays true to the books in all the right ways. The familiar beats and the essential pieces of the story are all there. The tone of the series matches the book’s tone, too. It’s fun and miserable and smart. It raises the bar for book to screen adaptations because it knows how to translate the feelings of the book into a visual story.

In staying true to the tone, the series also adds a few extra mysteries. It shows action that occurs behind-the-scenes in the books. It gives more depth to all the characters. In the season 2, the show sets the stage for more to come. We might finally get answers the books never gave us. That’s one dastardly deviation I’d be happy to see.

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