The Mysterious Benedict Society is a new Disney+ series based on the 2007-2008 YA novel (written by Trenton Lee Stewart and illustrated by Carson Ellis). The show’s basic premise is that Mr. Benedict has recruited a group of children to infiltrate The Institution (run by Mr. Curtain) to stop Curtain’s nefarious mind-control plans. The series stars Tony Hale (playing two roles, Mr. Benedict and Mr. Curtain) and also features Kristen Schaal (as Number Two), MaameYaa Boafo (as Rhonda), and Ryan Hurst (as Milligan).
We’ve been watching as a family each Friday, and we’ve all enjoyed the show. As many know, it can be challenging to find a show that the whole family can watch together–and that parents invest in–but the show has worked for our family. My kids have really enjoyed the show, and, in particular, the intellectual aspects. In general, the show treats the children in it as whole, thinking persons, capable of moral choices, and as having full inner lives–with robust vocabularies to boot! The children are put through the paces. So, there are examinations, puzzles, and character tests that the children must go through–and my kids have taken to these with alacrity. They’ve enjoyed playing along, trying to solve the riddles along the way.
Some highlights for me:
Tony Hale. It’s great to see him show range as a bumbling, soft-spoken professorial type and a thumb twirling, “mustache twisting” villainous intellectual. He’s so likable as Mr. Benedict–and he’s so arrogant, creepy, and damaged as Mr. Curtain.
Kristen Schaal. She puts in her usual solid performance—here she’s funny, slightly rude, but sweet underneath it all. She’s a national treasure.
Ryan Hurst. He’s also a stand-out for me as the laconic, tough teddy-bear amnesiac. He gives an understated performance that suits the character perfectly.
The children. This is a great overall batch of child actors, but the stand out for me is Russian actress Marta Kessler—she is delightfully dark, stubborn, independent, sensitive, and smart.
The design. The show is beautiful to look at, with exciting color contrasts, intricate set designs/costumes, and immersive cinematography.
The story. It’s a well-constructed mystery and a compelling narrative. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t compare the show to it. Typically I’m not particularly eager to do this anyway–at least not to the extent I used to do it in my younger years. I now usually stand by the axiom that film and books are different mediums. So, I want to judge them by their particular forms. I don’t think it’s fair to judge films/tv shows strictly by their counterpart books. There are exceptions to the rule–and essential questions to ask, of course (e.g., in regards to character development, narrative structure, and more).
I would recommend trying the show on for a bit to see if it fits you and your family!