The Mysterious Benedict Society 2021 TV Series Review
Stars : Seth CarrEmmy DeOliveiraMystic Inscho
The Mysterious Benedict Society is not only Disney+’s latest television series, it’s one of the streamer’s noteworthy original TV projects outside the massive Marvel and Star Wars franchises… But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a source material. The series is based on the bestselling middle grade book series by Trenton Lee Stewart. Stewart first published The Mysterious Benedict Society in 2007, which means the original readers are now adults and even parents themselves.
(I myself discovered the series while working in summer camp and after school a year or two after publication.) The series was in development hell for over a decade before Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi joined the project in 2017. Den of Geek talked to showrunners Hay and Manfredi, who previously worked on AEon Flux and the Ride Along movie series together, to discuss the behind the scenes of translating this middle grade mystery adventure to the silver streaming screen.
“We were aware of the book when we were brought them, and read the first one and just fell in love,” Manfredi tells Den of Geek. The most important example of this love comes through in novel series author Stewart signing on as consulting producer on the series. Several other middle grade books from the mid 2000’s, most notably the Percy Jackson movies, were reduced to in-name-only movie adaptations that butchered the essence of the stories, due to authors having no input on the adaptation.
“We talked to him very early in the adaptation process, got to know him,” Hay says. ”Then as the show went along, he read all the scripts, he saw the cuts…whenever he had an idea, it obviously rang a lot of bells for us… and, it was just very important to us that he be pleased and like it.”
The series follows Mr. Benedict (Tony Hale), a scientist living in an alternate universe who is very concerned that the world’s increased anxiety, called The Emergency, is not, in fact, the organic result of social politics, but rather is being orchestrated by someone outside the government. There are subliminal messages about The Emergency broadcast across the media and adults have accepted these messages as truth.
Kids are naturally more curious and at times confrontational about accepting authority and fate. Although Mr. Benedict has two extremely capable assistants in Rhonda Kazembe (MaameYaa Boafo) and Number 2 (Kristen Schaal); he needs children to infiltrate the educational institute from which the messages about The Emergency originate. After a series of rigorous tests, he assembles a team of four extremely smart orphans to infiltrate and to find the person responsible.
Renard “Reynie” Muldoon (Mystic Inscho) is a master puzzle solver, George “Sticky” Washington (Seth Carr) is a trivia champion, Kate Weatherall (Emmy DeOlivera) is a budding engineer and meteorologist, and Constance Contraire (Marta Kessler) is a social rebel who needs a cause to properly apply her truth-seeking instincts. The mission is going to test not only their skills but also their stamina to resist the subliminal messaging. The title of the series comes from the team name the children give themselves.
Although the adventure elements are clearly targeted towards today’s preteens, the political undertones of the story are definitely going to be the element that appeals to adults who haven’t read the novel series. “The book feels prescient,” Hay says.
“I double-checked the copyright page when I was reading it because it just seemed that the themes were so resonant and relevant to today.” This theme adds depth and immediacy to the children’s mission. Adults will immediately recognize current politics in this alternate universe where the language of The Emergency is the language of misinformation.
Kids are also affected by the political situation around them and this renders the plot of The Mysterious Benedict Society relatable. “We have kids thinking of the way they’ve experienced the recent past as a relentless tide of anxiety, and how do we get to the bottom of that and how do we find ways to contend with it?” Hay says.
“I think the message of the show in a way, is through getting to the truth and through finding the truth and then also through addressing others with care and with empathy and with kindness, and those things coalesced to be the bedrock of what we think the show is about.” Although some may feel uneasy about a dystopian alternate universe as escapist entertainment especially for children, there is hope and a solution embedded into the mission. The audience naturally roots for Mr. Benedict and his team triumph over evil.
Bringing the alternate universe of Stonetown and its environs to life from Stewart’s imagination presented several challenges for Hay and Manfredi. Shooting eight, hour-long episodes during the pandemic added considerable complexity to the project. “We had such an incredible team in Vancouver led by Grace Gilroy.
Our line producer, and the dedication of the cast and crew, which was extraordinary to keep each other safe and healthy and follow the protocols to the T all of which happened,” Hay says. “Every day when you’re shooting in that condition is seen as a gift, and you are just really reliant on everybody, every single member of the cast and crew to be vigilant and they were, and that’s something that is extremely inspiring.”
Another obstacle was reconciling viewers’ imaginations and the illustrations in the novels with the screen. “I imagined [the novel as] a bit more Gothic or Victorian, and partially just because it worked with the themes for us and partially because we thought a lot of other things have explored that visual landscape,” Hay says. “[We] settled on this idea that this could be told in a sixties, European modernist kind of vibe, where things are very organized and formal.”
Source : denofgeek