Take the ‘tell’ out of storytelling

I’ve been off and on watching the Netflix original ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’, and although it is lovely to look at with great production value and an all-star cast, it is really quite infuriating at times.

My irritation is due to the narrator. The story is framed as research done by a man named Lemony Snicket, many years after the events actually happened. The narrator (played by Patrick Warburton, one of the more recognizable voices in Hollywood) is constantly telling us how terrible and horrific the story is, often interrupting a scene to warn the viewer that something horrible and shocking is about to occur.

This, I suspect, is a strategy to make the story less scary, since it is after all a story for kids. This constant talk of how awful things are is somewhat humorous, and does effectively take a lot of the punch out of the shocking scenes. If that was their intention, then well done I suppose, though children are not such fragile flowers as people seem to want to treat them when it comes to entertainment, and I think would more appreciate not being treated so.

Even more frustrating is when the narrator interrupts the story in order to tell me what happened. Like, literally what just happened in the scene I just watched.

Take a paraphrased example: At one point early on, the orphaned children (the protagonists of the story) are playing at a lake with some bizarre contraptions they’ve built, and doing some kind of scientific experiment to see how far they can skip a rock. During the scene, the narrator shows up to tell us how smart and resourceful the children are, and how they like to study, and create inventions… yes, I just saw that.

The narrator appears many times this way, explaining things we just saw, as if we are incapable of detecting emotions or desires in the characters on the screen. Yes, I realize that child actors are generally terrible at getting the point across, but these children are actually pretty good, and even if they weren’t, explaining every scene is an awful solution!

I expect it is more a style choice, an attempt at quirkiness. The narrator has a funny, overly eloquent way of speaking that is humorous at times, but no amount of humor is enough to overcome the infuriating feeling of being told something directly after you’ve been shown it so nicely.

I wonder how the show would play with all of the narrator’s scenes cut out. With such a great cast (Neil Patrick Harris? Joan Cusac? Will Arnett??), and knowing the usual awesomeness of Netflix shows, I expect it would be a pretty great story once all the ‘tell’ was removed.



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