It’s up to a group of smart orphans to save the day, like the well-read Reynie (Mystic Inscho), the shy but knowledgeable Sticky (Seth B. Carr), the resourceful Kate (Emmy DeOliveira), and the sassy baby of the group, Constance (Marta Kessler). They are picked because of their creativity, their gumption, and a quality that Hale’s Benedict says with awe—their empathy. In different selection tests, the kids show how they see others, especially if that means sacrificing their spot in a race, or giving away half of their needed pencil. Their mission that will require them to infiltrate the L.I.V.E Institute, which seems built from chaotic rules (“you can go wherever you please, just stay on the path”), and is run by Dr. Curtain (the other Tony Hale, only seen toward the end of episode two). The intellect of these innocent kids, and how they use such smarts for others, is going to be their superpower.
For all that is intriguing about the show, “The Mysterious Benedict Society” struggles to gain a desired momentum with its game-filled storytelling. It becomes apparent how much the series loves a brain teaser, a puzzle, a loophole in a rule, a statement that can be interpreted in numerous ways. Some tests are given snazzy visual presentations, like when the screen splits into to watch contestants figure out how to cross a checkered room without touching any squares. The series loves words—it seems to love monologues that overstay their intrigue—and it loves putting young characters through tests that play more like crafty screenwriting than natural character development. But while watching Reynie go from one test to the next in director James Bobin’s pilot episode—albeit in settings shot with strict precision—initially sounds unique, it takes on the major drag of standardized testing itself. The first two episodes have a start-and-stop energy, with more tests leading to more tests, and it gets more and more tedious.
The young cast here is at least charming—the young four create memorable characters with their distinct facets, like how Kate loves calling herself “The Great” and solves many of her problems using the bucket. It’s endearing too to see Sticky navigate more physical challenges using his brain, like retracing every step of a maze. If the show is going to get better in the episodes that follow, I imagine that will be more from these characters getting a bit more space, or doing something more than just solving riddles.