On Sunday, July 25, 2021, Damian Holbrook of TV Guide magazine and TV Insider held an SDCC Zoom panel on The Mysterious Benedict Society, (hereafter referred to as TMBS).
Based on the amazing books by author Trenton Lee Stewart, TMBS is currently showcased on Disney+. In keeping with the endearing oddness of the show, let’s do the obligatory synopsis as a limerick:
Four orphans were give a test,
To find out which would be best,
Instead they combined,
Stopped a mad mastermind,
In a way we would never have guessed.
If you want the real synopsis, check out the SDCC panel – the trailer is at the beginning.
The SDCC Zoom Panel
The panel included:
- Actor & Producer Tony Hale, who plays Mr. Benedict and his twin brother, L.D. Kurtin),
- Exec. Producers and Co-creators: Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi
- Exec. Producers and Co-show runners: Todd Slavkin and Darren Swimmer
- Actors Kristen Schaal (Number Two), Ryan Hurst, (Milligan) and MaameYaa Boafo (Rhonda Kazembe) and Gia Sandhu (Ms. Perumal).
Moderator Holbrook opened the panel by speaking effusively about how well the show was received by both kids and adults. He said, “The show is so family-friendly. It doesn’t speak down to kids, but it also presents enough stuff for adults. I feel like this is one of those first shows that people can actually watch with their whole families and not have to worry about the kids being too scared.”
That prompted Phil Hay‘s remark, “That was definitely what our aim all along was – to offer something different and something that was both very heart and soul forward and very sophisticated in its comedy … We felt a home in this book and we felt Trenton ‘s spirit and his sophistication and the inspirational openness of this book … We wanted to gather people together who wanted to express that very humane side of themselves, that side that’s really open to sort of really bizarre comedy.”
Todd Slavkin admitted that he had read the original books in 2008 with his daughter. “When we heard they were looking for someone, I went, ‘Darren [Swimmer] this is great!’ And then we met these guys and we talked about Wes Anderson and shared this incredible combo the sweetest, kindest human beings. . For us, inclusion is always the central part of our work. Showing that people that are bizarre and weird and who look at life a little different can be their superpower.”
Matt Manfredi mentioned, “The show is about empathy and inclusion and all these things and it would be strange not to partner with people that we thought were incredible people and were empathetic. Todd and Darren had such a sterling reputation. We were so lucky.”
The Acting Challenge
Several participants talked about the importance of casting once the show had been written and the production design had begun.
Phil Hay emphasized that everyone cast for a role had incredible talent and chops, both comically and emotionally. And the person behind each actor was so powerful, “which became even more important because shooting the show during the pandemic required so many sacrifices from the actors. It was not an easy thing for them to do, but they cared and they believed, in the project and each other.”
According to Manfredi, when they cast the four kid roles, they were looking for old souls, but he said, “That’s what we got with our adults, too. They’re all so funny, but they also have such emotional depth.”
In keeping with the earlier TGON review of TMBS, moderator Holbrook vouchsafed, “I’m ready to nominate Constance Contraire to be the new kind of gay icon. This character and the performance are so phenomenal, and weird, and unexpected. You do not expect a child to be so jaded … I adore this character.”
Manfredi noted, “There’s an approach to that character that could be so bratty and one-note. When we saw her audition tape from Russia, her whole approach was just, ‘I’m just stating facts, and if you don’t like them, that’s not my problem.’ We were joking that she has the flattest arc of any of the characters. She’s fully realized already.”
Quick Hits: SDCC TMBS Zoom Panel TMBS
Damian Holbrook: Tony, you not only take on these two roles, but you’re also one of the producers. Were you looking for ways of achieving new levels of stress?
Source: I was … well, actually, when Phil and Matt and Darren and Todd, well, when we all talked about this I was excited about the challenge of playing twins – I’ve never done that before. I had never done that. I had never heard of the book series, so I started reading the book. And then when the pandemic hit my reason for doing it just got broader, because, you know, here we are … it takes place in a global crisis. And everyone is in a state of panic. No one can put their finger on it. Mr. Benedict gathers these kids together to find the source, but these kids don’t have magical powers. Their superpower is their creativity, their intellect, and their empathy. And after the year that we all had, those are superpowers. Source: YouTube – THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY Trailer (2021) Comedy, Disney + Series
Kristen Schaal Discusses Number Two
Damian Holbrook: “Kristen Schaal, what is behind Number Two’s devotion to Benedict? Where does this come from?”
Hmmm … I think that she … I mean, she’s smart, smarter than me, I mean, she’s real SMAHT! She’s very smart and I think she was misunderstood growing up. Benedict was just someone that instantly understood her. You know, I think in the world in general that’s a rare thing, is when you find your person, or your people, your family that understands you. That it, you’re devoted forever. Someone who sees you and knows you. That’s that. That’s what I think the connection is. Source: YouTube – Kristen Schaal on Disney+’s ‘The Mysterious Benedict Society’
MaameYaa Boafo Talks About Rhonda
Damian Holbrook: “MaameYaa, I love the revelation that Rhonda has this sort of secret life going on, almost like a civil activist underneath all of this. Where is this coming from?”
“I love that (Rhonda) feels free to be able to express what she believes in. She’s surrounded by people who, just like what Kristen was saying, to have Mr. Benedict believe in her, which is why she’s devoted to him. But she’s also devoted to the cause. And if it means risking that relationship for the greater good, she will do that. So she’s fierce in that way.” Source: YouTube – MaameYaa Boafo, Gia Sandhu & Ryan Hurst Discuss The Mysterious Benedict Society | Disney+ Interview
Ryan Hurst as Milligan
Damian Holbrook: “Okay, Ryan. This could not be further from your previous work. The first time I saw the name, I thought, wait … that Ryan Hurst? Were you looking to get into this kind of world?”
“Absolutely … absolutely … The last ten to fifteen years it’s been a lot of blood and guts and zombies and motorcycles and that kind of thing. Anybody who knows me knows that I’m pretty much an open hearted fool. So I really felt a bit like the kids in this show. When I was talking with Matt and Phil, I just felt so blessed to be a part of something, to be part of an artistic project where the focus was on empathy, truth, and inclusion, you know … all these things that we’ve been talking about. And we had a whole team that had the same focus. Then it’s actually realized and it’s beautiful.” Source: YouTube – ‘Ryan Hurst on Walking w/ a Walker Herd’ Bonus Scene Ep. 913 | Talking Dead
Gia Sandhu as Ms. Perumal
Damian Holbrook: “So, Gia, what does Ms. Perumal think of the group that she joins midway through the season? What is her take on these people?”
“Of course, at the beginning she’s like, ‘Who are these weirdos? And what are they doing with my dear love, Reynie?’ She then goes back out in the world and learns that there is a lot of truth about what they’re saying. They probably come across as the conspiracy theorists, y’know. Then, all of a sudden, they’re validated. Bit by bit she witnesses exactly what they’re saying to be true.” Source: YouTube – THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY Trailer (2021) Comedy, Disney + Series
CLICK HERE to experience the full SDCC Zoom panel, and to learn:
- Just how much, or little, Kristen Schaal thought the on-set falcon was going to peck out her eyeballs (“Are you gonna peck my eyes out, ‘cuz they’re so juicy …”)
- Milligan doing a spot on Peter Sellers accent as the kids travel over to the institute
- The secrets behind Ms. Perumal tracking down Mr. Benedict … like “Follow Billy” from the Family Circus, or, as Damian Holbrook says, a whole episode of the show in two minutes.
- More about how much the group wants to see brawl between the capable kids of TMB S and the waifs from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (yes, there IS such a reference)
Nice write up! I haven’t seen the show but I will check it out now, I 🧡Kristen Schaal!