The Mysterious Benedict Society season one is complete!
I first read the book years ago and loved it, then listened to it this year to refresh my memory in preparation for the show. I can't say the details of the book are completely ingrained in my head—twice isn't quite enough for that—but still, it's a book I love and I was anxious to see a well done adaptation.
There will be two parts to this review: Spoiler Free and Spoiler Filled (where I'll mostly be talking about specific changes from the book and how I felt about them. Don't worry, I'll give a warning before I head into spoiler territory.
First, what it's about, for those of you who may not know.
After winning a scholarship competition, four gifted orphans are recruited by the peculiar Mr. Benedict for a dangerous mission to save the world from a global crisis known as The Emergency. Reynie, Sticky, Kate, and Constance must infiltrate the mysterious L.I.V.E. Institute to discover the truth behind the crisis. When the headmaster, the sophisticated Dr. Curtain, appears to be behind this worldwide panic, the kids of the Mysterious Benedict Society must devise a plan to defeat him.
On the whole, I really enjoyed the show. Hollywood has a strong history of completely ruining books, totally missing the point, and stripping out the heart of the story. (A Wrinkle in Time 2017 comes to mind...) This show stuck to the heart of the book, to the message of it, to the main point. It had the same quirky feel, most of the main characters were true to their book counterparts (I'll get into the ones that were not in the spoiler section), and most of the major plot points were the same.
The kids were well cast. The only one I wasn't sure of for a while was Kate, because I just wasn't feeling a lot of emotion from her performance or seeing a lot of variety of facial expression, but she grew on me. And, I mean, she had her bucket! The bucket's a pretty big deal when it comes to the Great Kate Weather Machine. Reynie was great (I've always felt like I related to him the best), Sticky was pretty spot on, and then there's Constance. Constance was fabulous. They did age her up from the book, which I understand was quite necessary and they completely avoided specifying her age, but man. That personality was spot on.
Okay, I'm not sure how much more I can say without a spoiler tag, so here's just some generic comments. It's clean, quirky, fun, relevant to today even though the book came out nearly 15 years ago, enjoyable for all ages, and on the better end of book to screen adaptations, even if it's not at the top of the scale.
Like I said, the casting of the child characters was good. Each child did a good job embodying the heart of his or her character. Constance especially. She's supposed to be obstinate, stubborn, and, well, in the book she's two. Obviously, they couldn't pull that off, but she still managed to embody Constance Contraire's essential contrary characteristics and just make me feel that she is Constance. Number Two, Rhonda, Milligan, and Miss Perumal were well cast as well. The only thing I'm not sure I care for with the casting of Number Two relative to Mr. Benedict is that she doesn't look significantly younger than him. In the book, both Rhonda and Number Two passed Mr. Benedict's tests, but he couldn't put together a team before they grew up, so he ended up adopting them. TBH I thought Kristen Schaal was older than Tony Hale, but she is younger...just not enough for it to make sense for Mr. Benedict to adopt Number Two. So I guess it's a good thing they never really explained why Number Two and Rhonda are there.
Mr. Curtain, or rather Dr. Curtain as they call him in the show, well, he's different. In the book, Mr. Curtain is in a wheelchair and always wears dark glasses so no one will be able to tell when he falls asleep due to his narcolepsy. In the show, no wheelchair, no glasses, and not only do they not really touch on his narcolepsy until the last episode, when Sticky says that his trigger is anger (as it was in the book) Reynie corrects him that it was actually feeling vulnerable. I feel like they tried to humanize him, particularly by making S.Q. Pedalian his adopted son. In the book, S.Q. was an adult executive who was very loyal to Mr. Curtain, didn't see his evil, and wasn't particularly bright, likely all because of being repeatedly brainswept (having his memories erased). In the show, he's a kid, Mr. Curtain's adopted son, and I guess he is still pretty loyal to Mr. Curtain, but a little more willing to see that something's wrong. They also changed up Mr. Curtain and Mr. Benedict's backstory by having them together in the orphanage until they were twelve, at which point, Mr. Benedict was adopted and Mr. Curtain wasn't. This did create some interesting drama between the brothers, and illustrated how even from a young age Mr. Curtain was all about controlling others, but it completely contradicts The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict. I don't know, I'm not really on board with the changes to Mr. Curtain and S.Q. It kind of worked, but I would have preferred for them to stick to the book on that. Also, just in general, it seems like they forgot about narcolepsy all together for several episodes. Mr. Benedict should have fallen asleep a lot more than he did, and Mr. Curtain shouldn't have waited until the finale to show any signs of narcolepsy.
I did like how they added a storyline about the adults. The book is primarily from Reynie's POV, so from the time the kids arrive at the L.I.V.E. Institute until the adults actually join them on the island at the end, we really don't know what they're up to, other than watching from shore and sending the kids messages via riddles in Morse code. So it was cool for them actually to have stuff to do. I felt like it added to the story rather than detracting, and it felt authentic to the tone of the whole story.
TBH, I didn't really like the whole tetherball storyline. It wasn't in the book, and it served to make Martina Crowe a sympathetic character. See, in the book she's a dedicated messenger and she hates the Society, mostly, I think, because she feels threatened by how well the boys are doing and how quickly they become Messengers. She's a minor antagonist to them (minor because Mr. Curtain is obviously the primary antagonist). In the show, Kate fake-befriends her to get her keycard (rather than using a code found on a note S.Q. left for himself), then betrays/frames her, then Kate confesses and that makes Martina decide they're friends after all so she helps defend Kate in the finale. It was kind of weird. I don't want Martina to be good.
Which somewhat leads into another change I was disappointed about, though maybe I shouldn't have been? See, in the book, when Kate gets back from her scouting mission, her sneakers are wet, so Reynie spills orange juice on them so there's an obvious reason for that. Jackson and Martina, trying to track down a spy (Kate), don't find the clues they're looking for in her bucket, so the kids think she's safe. Until it's mentioned that Jackson lost his licorice, which is on the bottom of Kate's shoe. The kids pass it around to get it away from Kate, but Constance eats it, and looks a little green, which they blame on a fake stomach bug the boys supposedly had earlier in the book. Which gives the kids the idea to make everyone get a "stomach bug" to ensure that Sticky and Reynie are the only Messengers available for use in the Improvement wherein Mr. Curtain will boost the power on the Whisperer and totally control everyone. They...skip all of that by having Sticky be Mr. Curtain's favorite Messenger. I guess maybe they thought everyone at the Institute puking was a little gross or something, but I was disappointed they changed it.
The Whisperer was (mostly) done very well. The only thing I didn't like about what they did with it was that they had it get to Sticky to the point that he was turned against the Society for about an episode and a half before he snapped out of it. But it was that perfect soothing that's actually secretly sinister and Constance breaking it by simply being her obstinate (and also somewhat psychic) self was fabulous.
All along the way, though, there would be little things out of the books that made me very happy. There were almost no changes to the tests at the beginning, even down to Number Two mistakenly saying that children caught cheating would be executed. 😂 Reynie gave Mr. Curtain ribbon bookmarks so they could spy on his notes, they had to help the girls cheat in class, they did get rid of the mud in the Waiting Room but I guess that's a minor thing, a lot of the riddles were from the book, Milligan was very Milligan and while they didn't delve into his proper reunion with Kate what they did give us was sweet, Miss Perumal still wanted to adopt Reynie, they broke the Whisperer and Mr. Benedict got Mr. Curtain's men to stand down by pretending to be his brother, Mr. Curtain got away so he can wreak havoc in the next installment...
On the whole, The Mysterious Benedict Society on Disney+ was an enjoyable, satisfying adaptation. Even if they deviated from the storyline and certain character portrayals at times, they did appear to understand the true heart of the book and Mr. Curtain's plot, as well as who each of the four kids truly is.
Yes, I'm going to nitpick the differences. Always. The Hunger Games movies are pretty darn high on my book-to-screen satisfaction scale and I still nitpick the changes they made with those (particularly the omissions of Madge Undersee and Delly Cartwright and how splitting Mockingjay into two parts totally messed up the story structure...and how they made Gale a nobler character by totally changing the reason he was whipped in CF).
Even so, this is an adaptation I'd watch again. That's definitely a recommendation from me, since I flatly refuse to rewatch Johnny Tremain, Ella Enchanted, The Secret of NIMH, Caddie Woodlawn, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, A Wrinkle in Time (2017), The Westing Game, The Tale of Despereaux, won't even try Percy Jackson...you get the picture. This show isn't perfect, but it's still a good one. The book is still better, as it always is, but this is a good adaptation that hopefully will lead to more of my beloved Society.
P.S. I don't honestly know how much I'll be blogging going forward. School starts in a week, and until I'm in it, I don't know how much I'll be swamped with homework. Also, with that limited time, working on Acktorek 2 will be more of a priority than blogging, which I'm sure Acktorek fans will appreciate. But I'll try to pop in here once in a while to let you know I'm not dead. 😉