Based on the 2007 children's novel written by Trenton Lee Stewart, The Mysterious Benedict Society is Disney+'s latest original series. Given that showrunners Todd Slavkin and Darren Swimmer were also the showrunners for the WB/CW show, Smallville, they're familiar with adapting extant properties for the small screen, as well as tailoring them for a younger audience. In this case, the tone is something of a “Wes Anderson, but for kids!” approach which readily suits the material in Stewart's book.
Looking at the characters – notably, Constance Contraire (Marta Kessler) could have stepped right out of the pages of that first book – one feels that getting the looks for this show was just as paramount as the script and casting. Not for nothing does The Mysterious Benedict Society take a lot of visual inspiration from the book's illustrations by Carson Ellis. Her images are just as important to the story as Stewart's words, and evoke the whimsy so inherent in the original book from which this season of the show takes its plotline.
Of course, a show adapted from an existing work does have its potential flaws. As stated, The Mysterious Benedict Society is spot-on in terms of visual accomplishment, but the casting is where the series really shines. While all of the adult roles are filled by actors with split-second comic timing, such as Tony Hale as Mr. Benedict, Kristen Schaal as Number Two, and MaameYaa Boafo as Rhonda, the young actors are the focus of the show, and they excel, particularly Emmy DeOliveira as Kate Weatherall, whose headstrong nature and incredible confidence make her pop right off the screen.
Importantly, Disney+ dropped the first two episodes simultaneously. While it will be episodic for the rest of the series' eight episodes, releasing the first two episodes simultaneously allows for the series to really find its voice and temperament. “A Bunch Of Smart Orphans,” the first episode is, essentially, an introduction to the four main kids – Constance, Kate, George ‘Sticky’ Washington (Seth B. Carr), and Reynie Muldoon (Mystic Inscho) – via the curious testing process which winnows out a series of stuck-up and irritating other competitors before introducing them and the viewer to the titular Mr. Benedict.
The puzzles are all furiously clever, and seeing how each of the children tackle them with their own particular set of skills and knowledge is both rousing and, hopefully, inspirational for any kids watching, showing them that there's not just one way to do things.
The Mysterious Benedict Society's second episode, “Carrying A Bird,” begins to delve into the interpersonal habits of all of the main cast, while also furthering the plot along to the main storyline of the series, which is to discover just who and what are behind “The Emergency” currently plaguing the world. While not quite as raucous as the first episode, it does allow all of the children to get a bit more backstory, as “A Bunch Of Smart Orphans” primarily focused on that of Reynie.
All in all, it's exactly the sort of program which really leans into being true family entertainment. Rather than being something for children with a few jokes the grown-ups will appreciate, it has the same youthful joie de vivre as a film like Moonrise Kingdom, but with the vivacity and energy of Spy Kids. Parents and kids alike can sit down and appreciate the thrilling adventure, regardless of whether they've read the books or not.