Tony Hale (Veep, Arrested Development) is doing double duty playing twins in the Disney+ adaptation of the book series “The Mysterious Benedict Society,” also featuring Ryan Hurst (The Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy) and Kristen Schaal (Bob’s Burgers, 30 Rock) in supporting roles, with the first two episodes streaming on June 25.
Giving the audience Lemony Snicket's “A Series of Unfortunate Events” vibes, maybe with a bit of Wes Anderson’s motif sprinkled in, The Mysterious Benedict Society brings you into an odd, quirky, fantasy-like world centred around a group of four orphans who, after passing a peculiar test of intelligence and wit, are recruited by Mr. Benedict (Hale) to help solve a global crisis called “The Emergency.” They are also working alongside Mr. Benedict’s colleagues Number Two (Schaal), Rhonda Kazembe (MaameYaa Boafo) and Milligan (Hurst).
Hale described the storytelling as being reminiscent of his favourite movie growing up, The Goonies.
“Just how that adventure went so many [different directions], this goes in a lot of different directions and is full of a lot of puzzles, much like that,” Hale told Yahoo Canada.
While this may not be the story you would expect to see The Walking Dead and Sons of Anarchy star Hurst in, he connected with the “warmth” and "earnestness" of the material to the point where it brought him to tears.
“While reading the pilot script, I started crying halfway through just because I could tell that the creators and the message, contained within the book also, was just a perfect little diamond of a message,” he said. “It's really neat to read something like that and not feel like it's corny.”
“The emergency” is described as a situation where everyone’s minds are “attacked” by fear and anxiety, which really feeds into our own dispositions around the real-life emergency, the COVID-19 pandemic, making this particularly effective timing for the show’s release.
The group goes to the L.I.V.E. Institute to try to uncover the truth behind the source of The Emergency, with L.D. Curtain (Mr. Benedict’s twin) as the headmaster of the institute.
“Curtain was very sarcastic and I'm very sarcastic, to a fault, and so it was fun to kind of bring that out of myself,” Hale said.
“And then Benedict, he was so fun but his posture,...he walked around [really hunched] and I had to really watch my lower back because it was just this like heaviness, but he was so full of life, so there was this kind of like contrast happening.”
The four orphans, Reynie (who is tutored in the series by Ms. Perumal, played by Canadian actor Gia Sandhu), Sticky, Kate and Constance all have their own ways of problem solving. Reynie is the most logical, methodical, deep thinker, Sticky is the definition of a natural intellectual who is a bit more timid, Kate is the resourceful, adventurous type, and Constance has a bit of a know-it-all attitude and a more self-righteous personality.
While the adult characters aren’t subjected to these tests personally, the adult actors in The Mysterious Benedict Society told Yahoo Canada which child’s approach to puzzles and problem solving they are most like.
“As a kid, I can see myself in between a Kate and a Reynie because Reynie was a very deep thinker, a lot of empathy, and then Kate, she had a lot of energy and tried to find tools, very inventive,” Hale explained. “Sticky is so problem solving and intellect, I don't know if I was that kid.”
“I think I might be a Constance and just be like, I don’t know how to do this...peace,” Sandhu said.
“I’d like to be Kate but I think I’m Sticky, I think at the beginning I’m a little bit like, ‘are we sure we want to do [this]?’” Boafo said. “That’s how I start off stuff.”
“The closest to my personality now would probably be Kate, somebody who’s very sort of physical, also very capable, very determined,” Hurst said. “ But who I would choose to be would probably be Constance just because she’s playing by her own rules.”
Comedy duo still makes you laugh through the puzzles, adventures
While the show is very much centred around this odd but whimsical adventure fantasy, having Hale and Schaal together doesn’t disappoint in terms of the comedic banter and interactions between the two characters, including physical comedy as Mr. Benedict has narcolepsy and continues to pass out, with Number Two at the ready to assist him.
“I love Kristin,” Hale said. “We were all away from our families, we were shooting in the lovely Vancouver and we couldn't return home,...and so we really depended on each other.”
“Knowing Kristen before doing the show and having that relationship and that friendship, in addition to the rest of the cast, we kind of became each other’s found family.”
In terms of a larger message for the series, Hale hopes that kids who watch this realize that they all have superpowers.
“I do want kids to walk away and go, ‘hey, I've got that superpower, I can be empathetic, I can use my intellect, my uniqueness,’” Hale said.
“The more the story goes on, you learn a lot more about the stories of these characters and I think it's very easy in our world to kind of put people in categories...rather than taking the time to kind of find out where their story is and where their behaviour came from.”
For Boafo, she was excited by what the story stands for in terms of how people’s actions can lead to a certain outcome, while also praising the diversity of the cast and stories of each character.
“I was also really attracted to the fact that Rhonda Kazembe, she's mysterious as well, but I love that she's a girl from Africa, like myself, who is a part of this world and is confident in who she is and believes in what Mr. Benedict is doing,” she said.
“I loved to see the diversity of the cast,...they're from all sorts of different backgrounds and so I loved that the show was so inclusive of everyone.”
For Sandhu, she really connected with how warm her character, Ms. Perumal, is to Reynie in particular.
“She's such a force of encouragement for this young boy who really doesn't realize his own potential, doesn't realize how special he is,” she said. “I think she's the type of person that every parent kind of wants their child to have as a teacher.”