Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, based on the popular children's books by Daniel Handler, has been a hit with critics for its striking visuals and strange storylines.
Unlike conventional productions in the family-friendly genre, the series has no happy endings. Evil characters do not always get what they deserve, and neither do the good. And the Netflix series is also notable and unique for its LGBT visibility.
First, the casting of out actor Neil Patrick Harris as the central villain, Count Olaf, is a major step forward in representation. While the character himself does not profess any love for persons of the same gender, Olaf, an actor and master of disguise, is unafraid to push against gender norms. With ease, he dresses in drag to help execute a fiendish plot to kidnap a trio of rich orphans — Violet (Malina Weissman), Klaus (Louis Hynes), and Sunny Baudelaire (Presley Smith). In a conversation with his ex-lover, portrayed by Catherine O’Hara, it is also revealed that the on-screen scheme is not the first time he’s worn women’s clothing.
However, A Series of Unfortunate Events also has several clearly queer characters, a reality that is groundbreaking for a children’s series. Not all of them are saints. One of the count’s accomplices, for example, is gender-nonconforming. IMDB lists the character’s name as Henchperson of Indeterminate Gender (Matty Cardarople), who memorably assumed the guise of “Nurse Lucafont” to fake an autopsy report in one of Olaf’s plots. In another, the character, garbed in a dress and fur vest, tells a hostage that they don’t care “what gender you are,” as long as he does not compromise the count’s cover. They might be a villain, but they are an equal-opportunity villain.
In addition to the Henchperson of Indeterminate Gender, A Series of Unfortunate Events introduces its audience to Sir (Don Johnson) and Charles (Rhys Darby), a gay couple who operate a lumber mill. Initially introduced as partners to the Baudelaire children, the pair is revealed to be gay by Lemony Snicket. The show's narrator, deadpanned by Patrick Warburton, appears throughout the series to define terms or phrases that may be outside the vocabulary of young viewers.
“In fact, ‘partners’ can mean several things,” Snicket explained. “It could mean two people who own a lumber mill together or a cupcakery. And now, with the advent of more progressive cultural mores, not to mention certain high-court rulings, it could also mean…’
“I do all the work, he irons my clothes,” Sir declared. To which his partner responded, “I also cook your omelets!”
“The definitions are not mutually exclusive,” Snicket concluded.
Sir is not particularly likable. In fact, he forces the Baudelaires into child labor in his mill, and he pays his employees with chewing gum and coupons. Charles is more sympathetic, yet he allows his good instincts to be suppressed by his partner’s greed.
While not all LGBT people may be pleased by these portrayals — after all, there are many real-life foes who seek to demonize queer people — these characters’ existence and complexity stand out in a sea of overwhelmingly heteronormative family fare. And their inclusion in a production rated TV-PG is anything but unfortunate.
The first season of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is now available to stream on Netflix. Watch the trailer below.