Neil Patrick Harris, Barry Sonnenfeld Fete 'A Series of Unfortunate Events' at Premiere

Courtesy of Netflix/Kristina Bumphrey/StarPix

"I feel like a rescue dog at Netflix," Sonnenfeld gushed at the New York premiere, where the new rendering of Daniel Handler’s best-selling book series debuted.

Moments before Wednesday night’s premiere of the new Netflix original program A Series of Unfortunate Events at AMC Loews Lincoln Square in New York City, director and executive producer Barry Sonnenfeld sounded near tears as he thanked fellow executive producer Daniel Handler, author of the 13 novels of source material, who responded with a hug. Sonnenfeld — best-known for directing the Men in Black trilogy — originally was set to direct Paramount’s 2004 film Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events starring Jim Carrey; he ultimately earned an executive producer credit instead.

On the red carpet, Sonnenfeld gave The Hollywood Reporter an “easy” explanation for why he has been so devoted to adapting Handler’s tales (which have sold an estimated 65 million copies) for the screen. “The books posit that all children are capable and wonderful, and all adults — whether they mean well or are villains — are equally horrible and ineffectual and mean,” he said. “And that was my parents.”

Handler’s first book in the series, The Bad Beginning, was published when Sonnenfeld’s only child, Chloe, was 6 years old. The director first read the books to her as a child, then again after she began boarding school. “I loved how dark it was. I loved how literal it was, also how visual it was,” said Sonnenfeld. “So when I got fired off the Paramount movie, I was disappointed because I loved the material.”

As he explained to the Manhattan audience assembled inside the theater (including Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos), “I was so desperate to get this job.” He then complimented the studio on its “supportive” and “lovely” environment, toasts that carried over to the afterparty at Tavern on the Green. “I said to [Netflix’s vp content acquisition and original programming, Cindy Holland], ‘I feel like a rescue dog at Netflix.’ ”

Handler dreamed up the three Baudelaire siblings, who are placed in the care of wicked Count Olaf after losing their parents and home in a mysterious fire. In the 2004 film, narrator Lemony Snicket (Jude Law), a writer who was once in love with the Baudelaires' mother, Beatrice, is sequestered in his underground bunker. Netflix’s Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton, who was offered the part without auditioning via a text message from Sonnenfeld) frequently ventures out into the world to keep an eye on his protagonists (who cannot see him); he’s a welcome sight, everywhere from a lifeguard perch to a theater balcony. These Unfortunate Events include more sight gags and callbacks, plus lots of literary flourishes (from typewritten words on the screen to characters who constantly provide definitions in conversation).

Thanks to Moulin Rouge! Oscar winner Angus Strathie and four-time-Oscar-nominated production designer Bo Welch, a splendid world, which brings to mind a more lush version of The Neighborhood of Make-Believe on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, was created. “I wanted everything to be shot onstage and everything to feel slightly surreal, slightly fake,” Sonnenfeld told THR. The challenge was, when does it take place and where does it take place?” Welch cherry-picked artifacts from many eras (one minute a British car from the '40s or an Oldsmobile Toronado from the '70s drives by, the next Neil Patrick Harris's Count Olaf deadpans about online shopping and lip balm..

Harris, a doting dad to 6-year-old twins, joked to THR, “I had no problem being mean to these kids because they were really talented, and that was bothersome because a lot of people told them how good they were doing.”

Before Sonnenfeld’s remarks to the audience, Sarandos informed the crowd in his best dour Snicket timbre, “This is a terrible night. I’ve been dreading releasing this series upon the world, spreading misery and woe, but we cannot hold it back any longer!”

The first eight hourlong episodes begin streaming on Friday and cover Handler’s four earliest Unfortunate Events books (the 108-minute film combined the plots of books one through three).

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