The Mysterious Benedict Society

Credits

Cast

Network

Reviewer

Lauren Cook

TV Series Review

They call it “The Emergency”.

It describes an inexplicable sense of anxiety growing around the world; people are waking up unsettled, having panic attacks, starting arguments with each other over the tiniest of differences. Financial futures are falling and the world is slowly but steadily devolving into chaos.

And the worst part—no one knows what’s causing it or why.

Enter Mr. Benedict, an eccentric, narcoleptic, possibly brilliant scientist, and his elite team of handpicked operatives…that just all happen to be 12 years old.

See, Mr. Benedict believes that children possess an “unusually powerful love of the truth”—a trait he thinks is key to getting to the bottom of what’s causing The Emergency. But not just any kids will do; he needs a very specific and carefully chosen group to complete a mysterious, potentially dangerous mission.

Pretty straightforward, right? So let’s meet the team.

Testing, Testing…

Reynie Muldoon is kind, intelligent, a voracious reader…and an orphan. His tutor, Ms. Perumal (who also happens to be his only friend at the orphanage where he lives), encourages him to take a test she found advertised in the newspaper—Are You a Gifted Child Looking For Special Opportunities? Reynie isn’t sure he qualifies as “gifted”, but he’s quickly proven wrong, as he passes a series of increasingly bizarre tests and is introduced to his fellow team members, each more eccentric than the last.

George Washington—nicknamed “Sticky” since everything seems to “stick in his head”—is a shy and timid kid who happens to have a perfect memory. Kate Wetherall is cheerful and independent, carrying a bucket full of random tools with her at all times. And Constance Contraire, a tiny girl who hides her unpleasantness behind blonde braids and an adorable pink coat, is stubborn and wildly unpredictable. Together, they form the Mysterious Benedict Society, and they might be the world’s only hope to stop The Emergency.

There isn’t much that the group has in common, but they’re all brilliant—just not necessarily in the conventional way. And it’s that unconventionality that makes them perfect for Mr. Benedict’s secret mission…to infliltrate a prestigious school and uncover the true cause behind the wave of panic sweeping the world.

Truth, Justice, and the Mr. Benedict Way

The Mysterious Benedict Society may be based on a serious of novels from over a decade ago—author Trenton Lee Stewart published the first of four in 2007—but it speaks so well to today’s age of anxiety and uneasiness the series may as well be a 2021 original. What separates it from others that address the turmoil of our time, however, is its core values.

The first episode opens with Mr. Benedict appealing to the audience about how difficult it is to find “truth-loving people”. Reynie, Sticky and Kate succeed in the series of tests and challenges not just because of their ingenuity and creative thinking, but because of their honesty and kindness. Reynie has an opportunity to win one of the challenges, but he stays behind to help Sticky finish instead; he’s given a chance to cheat on the initial written test and secure a perfect score, but politely refuses in favor of taking it himself.

“It was clear that you all possess a quality that’s severly lacking in our society,” Mr. Benedict addresses the group. “Empathy.”

He might as well be speaking straight through the fourth wall.

No, the showisn’t perfect. Characters very sparsely use God’s name in vain, there’s some mild action and fear to be aware of, and Constance is a fountain of sarcasm and unpleasantness—but what The Mysterious Benedict Society has that so many shows for children lack is an emphasis on honesty, learning, humility, kindness, and most importantly, truth. What exactly that truth is remains to be seen, but it’s clear that Mr. Benedict is passionate about cutting through the sea of rampant disinformation and showing the world that yes, it does indeed exist.

Strong values for children? In a fun, entertaining, largely-family-friendly package? Maybe The Mysterious Benedict Society is just as needed in our world as its namesake is in theirs.

Episode Reviews

June 25, 2021, Episode 1: “A Bunch of Smart Orphans”

Intelligent and mild-mannered orphan Reynie Muldoon signs up for a test for gifted children, hoping to win a scholarship to the prestigious Boatwright Academy. As he continues to progress through various tests and challenges, he’s introduced to two other children, Sticky and Kate, and they decide to work together as they steadily realize not everything with the test is exactly as it was advertised.

We’re introduced to the fourth member of the team, Constance Contraire, as she throws a tantrum in her orphanage bedroom because of a “rude look from her new roommate”. Reynie is bullied verbally by some other children at the orphanage; they call him “weird” for loving to read, though Reynie doesn’t seem to mind. Dewey, a kid who makes it to the final test along with Reynie, Sticky and Kate, pushes Sticky over in order to pass him and win a time-based challenge (this gets him disqualified and sent home). We learn that Kate made it through the first written test not by answering the questions correctly, but by starting an “easily containable” fire to help the proctor escape a group of enraged parents. She later uses a pocketknife to unscrew an air vent and cut through a maze the group has to solve. There’s also a constant theme of anxiety and panic attacks—the very issue Mr. Benedict is trying to fix.

Constance has been introduced to her teammates for all of five seconds before she finds a way to insult them; she mocks Reynie’s fashion sense and calls Mr. Benedict’s office “disgusting”. Her unpleasant nature is mostly played for laughs—Mr. Benedict finds it incredibly amusing—but she barely says a kind word to anyone throughout the episode. The only language issues present are two misuses of God’s name, one of them from a child who fails one of the tests.

June 25, 2021, Episode 2: “Carrying a Bird”

Reynie, Sticky, Kate and Constance—the newly formed Mysterious Benedict Society—are sent to the L.I.V.E. Institute, a school that Mr. Benedict believes is the origin point of The Emergency. There, they go undercover as students to uncover the true nature of The Emergency…and discover just how risky their mission is.

Mr. Benedict’s house is broken into by mysterious henchmen; they use tasers to knock him out, then get into a fist fight with Milligan, Mr. Benedict’s bodyguard. The fight takes place mostly in the dark, and not much of it can be seen. Milligan also tells the kids about his past; he woke up with amnesia and was beaten by his captors until he escaped. No one believed his story and he was made an outcast, until Mr. Benedict took him in. Number Two, another of Mr. Benedict’s assistants, brandishes an axe and uses it to chop wood.

We learn that Sticky was raised by his aunt and uncle, who took advantage of his knowledge by entering him into competitions and taking the rewards. Sticky ran away to see how they’d react, then, seeing that they didn’t seem to care, ran away for good. Constance continues to be disagreeable towards the rest of the group, calling them “dummies”. She writes a poem making fun of them, in which she claims Sticky constantly “poops in fear”. While the group is learning Morse code in order to communicate with Mr. Benedict from the L.I.V.E. Institute, Constance signals an unknown word to Reynie with a mischievous smile; Reynie, concerned, responds with, “I’d rather not say that word.” Foul language actually spoken in English is absent, save a “what the heck” from Constance.

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Lauren Cook Bio Pic
Lauren Cook

Lauren Cook is serving as a 2021 summer intern for the Parenting and Youth department at Focus on the Family. She is studying film and screenwriting at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. You can get her talking for hours about anything from Star Wars to her family to how Inception was the best movie of the 2010s. But more than anything, she’s passionate about showing how every form of art in some way reflects the Gospel. Coffee is a close second.

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