Next up on the Disney Channel: The Mysterious Benedict Society, based on a series of books by Trenton Lee Stewart, who has a M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Iowa. In 2019-2020, he was writer-in-residence at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, which scores 3.5 on the Campus Pride Index (3 LGBTQ organizations and a LGBTQ studies program). Does that allow you to surmise whether there will be gay characters or subtexts?
Sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s, the world has been overtaken by something called The Emergency: everyone awakens every day feeling intense anxiety and fear, as if something terrible is about to happen (sounds like life during the Trump Administration, but the first book was published in 2007). No one can concentrate on work or studies, so the economy is in shambles.
A orphaned genius named Reynie Muldoon (13-year old Mystic Inscho, left) is suffering from the Emergency, plus the bullying and intellectual malaise of his orphanage, when his Tamil tutor tells him about a series of tests that will result in a scholarship to the prestigious Boatwright Academy. I wonder why he is learning Tamil. Not to disparage the 75 million Tamil speakers, but it wouldn't be my first choice. Unless I was planning to go to South India.
First test: out of a huge roomful of hopefuls, Reynie is the only one to pass.
Second test: another huge roomful of hopefuls, and again Reynie is the only one to pass. He meets three kids who were the only ones to pass their own first and second tests: Sticky (Seth Carr, above right)), who has a photographic memory; techno-savant Kate; and athletic Dewey (Josh Zaharia).
Final test: Dewey loses. I guess you can't have three boys and one girl. A fourth member is added to the remaining three, a little girl whose superpower seems to be rudeness. Oddly, they are all orphans or runaways.
Then the mysterious Mr. Benedict (Tony Hale) tells them that the scholarship test was a ruse; they were actually being evaluated for their special skills, to take down the Emergency. Everyone is anxious all the time due to subliminal messages being conveyed through television sets (not fake news conveyed through social media?). The signals are coming from a mysterious private school on a nearby island.
The four enroll incognito. Their guides, Jackson (Ben Cockell) and Jillson, give them a tour, explain the strictly regimented schedule, and demonstrate the brainwashing lessons. The only teacher who doesn't act like a zombie is Mr. Oshiro (Shannon Kook, top photo), who teaches a class in logic and problem solving.
The signals are coming from The Tower, but only Messagers are allowed near it, so they must try to become messengers.
Eventually they meet the headmaster's adopted son, S.Q. (Ricky Ortiz), a shy, retiring, gay-coded artist. And the headmaster himself, Mr. Curtain. Surprise! He is Mr. Benedict's estranged twin brother!
Gay Subtexts: S.Q. is gay-coded. Reynie and Sticky spend most of their time together, without the other team members present.
Heterosexism: No. In the books, some of the characters have heterosexual romances, but not here. Mr. Benedict and Mr. Curtain both have adopted children, with no wives or girlfriends mentioned.
Derivative: Teams of children have been solving mysteries since the days of the Famous Five. Orphans are best, since there are no parents to get in the way. Most schools in mass media are depicted as brainwashing, soul-crushing conformity factories. TV is evil? Odd to hear that on a tv show, but yep, it's a commonplace.
My Grade: C