This post contains spoilers about A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Even in the fictional world of A Series of Unfortunate Events, there’s no escape from fake news. The series’ own fake newspaper, the Daily Punctilio, offers a take on the world that is “simplified and often incorrect,” explains narrator Lemony Snicket, with his characteristic gift for understatement. In actuality, the Daily Punctilio is a glorified tabloid, best summed up by its New York Times–parodying motto, “All the News in Fits of Print,” and its ironic name, a play on punctilious, meaning “showing great attention to detail.”
Wildly inaccurate but deliciously entertaining, the Daily Punctilio plays a small but significant role in the Netflix adaptation, where it’s run by editor-in-chief Eleanora Poe, wife of the children’s bumbling banker, Mr. Poe. Its banner headlines announce the latest plot developments, but the paper’s best quality might just be the smaller joke headlines and Easter eggs that you’d need a spyglass of your own to catch.
A Series of Unfortunate Events borrows the great Simpsons tradition of slipping comical (or in this case, comically mundane) headlines into its fake rag. TOW TRUCKS ON VERGE OF EXTINCTION is clickbait for … somebody extremely boring.
The real excitement is hiding over on the right: “Police Search for Missing Moustache.”
The reporter of this piece is none other than Unfortunate Events’ set designer, John Burke.
The article features some pretty questionable editorializing:
Perishing in a fire would have been much better compared to being eaten alive by deadly leeches
Not to mention some wild speculation and a potential libel suit, to boot:
Perhaps the children killed their parents, killed Dr. Montgomery, and now killed their Aunt Josephine to protect their fortune from anyone trying to steal it.
That also serves as a tidy (if microscopic) bit of foreshadowing: In the later books, the Daily Punctilio contributes greatly to the Baudelaire orphans’ misfortunes by falsely accusing them of murder, which forces them to go on the run.
Plus, the byline is a shoutout to production designer Bo Welch.
The other visible headline above the fold, “OLD MAN WINS LOTTERY, DIES NEXT DAY,” isn’t just grimly appropriate for A Series of Unfortunate Events. It’s also “Ironic.”
This article is notable for a few reasons. For one, it demonstrates the paper’s extreme incompetence, since Lemony Snicket is plainly alive, whatever the headline may say. For another, it captures the Punctilio’s consistent inability to get the Baudelaires’ names right; instead of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, they’re always called Veronica, Klaus, and Susie, while their villainous former guardian is known as “Count Omar” instead of “Count Olaf.”
But most incredibly, hidden there in the fine print, this article gives away the answer to A Series of Unfortunate Events’ single biggest secret: the identity of the mysterious Beatrice, Lemony Snicket’s lost love, to whom all of the books—or in this case, episodes—are dedicated. Though Snicket often refers to the woman who refused his marriage proposal and later died tragically, readers had to wait 13 books to learn exactly who she was. But in Netflix’s adaptation, it’s right there! It’s just a matter of knowing when to press pause.