Missing: Corinne and Benson
"This is the story of two sisters: Jessica Tate, and Mary Campbell.
Jessica lives in a neighborhood known as Rich. Jessica likes life. The only thing she would change about life, if she could, is that she would set it all to music. The Tates have more secrets than they do money.
Mary, too, likes life. Unfortunately, life doesn't seem too crazy about her. As you can see, the Campbells don't have nearly as much money as the Tates. They do, however, have as many secrets..."
Created by Susan Harris (who wrote most of the episodes and later created The Golden Girls
was a late 1970s sitcom on ABC
that both parodied and emulated the serial storytelling style of the Soap Opera
. It was perhaps the first Sitcom
to include a Story Arc
of any significance, and as such is still a rarity even today.Soap
followed the misadventures of the wealthy Tate family, and the equally bizarre misadventures of their relatives, the far less wealthy Campbells. Over the course of a few years, they face adultery, a murder trial, abduction by aliens, demonic possession, cultists and mental illness (several times). The cast consisted of a large ensemble, including Richard Mulligan, Katherine Helmond, Robert Urich, Billy Crystal, and Robert Guillaume as Benson, the cynical housekeeper to the Tates, who would eventually be spun off into his own show
(in which he would eventually become lieutenant governor
of his state.)
It is also notable for being one of the first major series to feature a homosexual major character. Also notable in that said character managed to survive relatively unscathed
throughout the entire series.
This series provides examples of:
- Adoring the Pests: When Chester is being held captive in his own basement by a fellow prison escapee, he befriends a rat and calls it Harold. He "teaches" it to scurry away when the lights go on.
- Affectionate Parody: Of the Soap Opera genre.
- Alien Abduction: Happens to Burt, but it takes him forever to get anyone to believe him.
- Bed Trick:
- When Burt is replaced by an alien who has sex with Mary multiple times, while she believes it's him.
- Eunice has sex with a burglar, mistaking him as Dutch trying out some sexual roleplay. Though the burglar didn't intend to sleep with Eunice when he was robbing the house, he did take advantage of the misunderstanding. Eunice, upon realising it wasn't Dutch, waves some jewellery outside the window and shouts for the burglar to come back.
- Billy Needs An Organ: Danny gets shot through both his kidneys when he's in the police. Mary can't give one of hers because it could severely weaken her. Jodie offers up his as he's healthy and Danny's full-blood brother, then it turns out he isn't and Mary reveals that Danny's real father is Chester, who is convinced to give up one of his kidneys to save Danny.
- Black Belt in Origami: Billy threatens his girlfriend's ex with Tai Chi.
- Black Comedy: Murder, suicide, racism, homophobia, and mental illness (among other things) are all fair game for jokes. That said, racists and homophobes were nearly always played as fools, if not the butt of the joke.
- Bolivian Army Ending:
- The last episode sees Burt, Jessica, Danny and Annie two seconds from being executed, all in separate events.
- A later Benson episode has Jessica appear in "ghost" form. However, she tells Benson that she's not dead, just in a coma in a South American hospital.
- Susan Harris has indicated that had the show gone to a fifth season, the rifles that shot Jessica would have had blanks in them.
- Breakout Character: Benson starts out in a relatively minor, supporting role, but quickly becomes one of the main character. He finally left to become the protagonist of his own show.
- Bungled Suicide:
- Chester's Played for Laughs suicide attempt at the end of Season One, when Jessica is getting arrested for Peter's death and Chester realises that his life is ruined not only by this, but by multiple other things. Burt keeps interrupting him, like taking the knives away to be sharpened. Eventually Chester's about to drop a heavy pot on his head but Burt comes in and proves how sharp the knives are by cutting the rope. Of course, Chester survives.
- Jodie's Played for Drama after Dennis leaves him.
- Bury Your Gays: An early and fairly spectacular aversion.
- The Butler Did It: Discussed. Benson is one of the five people accused of Peter's murder in the Cliff Hanger ending of the first season. The reason the Chief of Police puts Benson down as a suspect is that "We all know, in many, many cases like this the Butler Did It." Subverted in the second season when it (of course) turns out that Benson didn't do it.
- Creator Cameo: Susan Harris appears as a prostitute in episode # 15.
- Cut Short: Susan Harris had written out a five-season arc for the show, but the network pulled it after season 4, resulting in a final episode that ended in several unresolved cliffhangers.
- Dad the Veteran: Jessica's father, the Major, who not only fought in World War II, but believes he still is.
- Deadpan Snarker: Benson stands out in particular.
- Died in Your Arms Tonight: Elaine dies in Danny's arms.
- Disguised in Drag: Danny meets Jodie in hospital disguised as a nurse (because the mob is after him).
- Disney Villain Death: The death of Mary's first husband.
- Dramatically Missing the Point: Burt thinks a disease with no treatment means it will just go away.
- Driven to Suicide: Chester, Jodie and Leslie. They all get better, after Bungled Suicide attempts.
- Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male: The first time they meet, Elaine pulls a gun on Danny and forces him to have sex with her. This is Played for Laughs.
- Dude Magnet: Jessica, who attracts a good collection of the men around her.
- Easy Amnesia: Chester spends much of the second season with amnesia after botched brain surgery. He gets his memory back, then immediately loses it again to a bonk on the head.
- Escalating Brawl: One of the several openings shows a brawl that starts with Burt trying to get in front of Chester for the family photo, but ends up involving all except the Major (who is too out of it to notice), Billy (who considers himself the Only Sane Man in his family, and sits watching amused by it all) and Benson who steps back and shakes his head disapprovingly as they fight.
- Evil Twin: Burt and the space alien sent down to replace him.
- Expy: Susan Harris tried to update the formula in the "Soap meets Dynasty" 90s sitcom Good And Evil.
- Fictional Counterpart: The "Sunnies", a cult led by Reverend Sun, standing in for Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church (known colloquially as "Moonies").
- Flanderization: In the early seasons Danny isn't overly bright, but not the imbecile that he becomes in later episodes.
- Follow the Leader:
- Soap was a clear influence on Arrested Development.
- Soap itself was the prime-time answer to the previous season's hit Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, a daytime soap opera parody from Harris's former boss Norman Lear.
- Food Fight: Fairly common in the first season, almost always involving Burt (although he rarely seemed to start them).
- Four Lines, All Waiting: averted. There were multiple plot lines in every episode, but every one advanced each time we saw it - and if even if they hadn't, they were funny enough that no one would have minded.
- Funny Foreigner: Ingrid Swenson and Himmle, the German private detective.
- Genre Shift: On occasion, the show would switch from goofy, over-the-top parody to genuinely poignant drama that put actual soaps to shame. Then, next scene, more wacky antics!
- Good Bye Cruel World: Chester attempt to write a suicide note at the end of series one, which he decides to write on kitchen roll as there's no paper in the kitchen. After he failings to remember the correct spelling of "suicide" he realises that it doesn't matter what it says as everybody will understand what happens when they find him dead over a note.
- Gratuitous Italian: Danny's pathetic attempts at speaking Italian in season one when he's under the impression he's Italian.
- Great Escape: Chester is forced into one by Dutch.
- Happily Adopted: Corinne, who turns out to be Jessica's adopted daughter.
- Have I Mentioned I am Gay?:
- Heroic BSOD: After Burt runs away from the mental institution (to buy a newspaper) Mary demands he tell her what's the problem that he's keeping from her. They've been through a lot and they can deal with it, she says. He tells her he killed her first husband. Burt tries to speak to her after this but she's effectively frozen on the spot.
- Historical-Domain Character: Adolf Hitler is now apparently making a living as a waiter in the South American café where Ingrid Swenson is having coffee.
- Hot for Preacher: Corinne, towards Father Tim Flotsky. Tim's reciprocation of these feelings eventually becomes too much for him and he leaves the priesthood.
- If I Can't Have You: After Billy turns Leslie down she first goes suicidal and then tries to kill him repeatedly. Played for Laughs as nobody notices.
- Injury Bookend: Played With. Chester has amnesia due to brain surgery gone somewhat wrong. He gets a bonk on the head and remembers his life, but then very quickly gets another bonk and forgets everything again.
- Interrupted Suicide
- Played for Drama: Jodie's, after he takes a lot of pills after his boyfriend breaks up with him.
- Played for Laughs: Chester's, after Jessica is getting arrested for Peter's murder and his business is failing. He fails to write a note (not knowing how to spell "suicide" and presumes people would get the idea) Burt keeps interrupting him, not realising what's happening, and takes away the knives he was about to use to sharpen. He comes back and accidentally sets off one of the later attempts which ultimately fails.
- In series two, Jodie is about to jump of a Golden Gate Bridge expy and talks to himself about how it all went wrong. Alice walks over to him and tells him to shut up because he's interrupting her suicide attempt and now her suicide letter is muddled up. They decide to become friends.
- I Was Young And I Needed The Money: Sally had done a pornography film and this was how Ingrid was blackmailing her to break up Mary and Burt.
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: An odd variation. Alice chooses to leave Jodie when Carol's mother says she isn't comfortable with a lesbian being with her baby granddaughter. Alice refuses to let Jodie pick between his Platonic Life Partners and his daughter so she makes it simpler.
- Jail Bait Wait: Billy and his teacher, Leslie, may date while he is still a minor, but don't actually sleep together until his 18th birthday.
- Jerkass: Bob (who is, after all, basically Chuck's id).
- The Kindnapper: Jodie's daughter Wendy is kidnapped by her mother Carol. Whether for Rule of Drama or Hollywood Law, apparently the authorities can't do anything about it "because she's her mother" DESPITE the fact that Carol sued for custody and lost prior to the kidnapping.
To be fair, some jurisdictions have had loopholes where a parent can be denied custody but for it to not be fully binding until they are officially informed of the fact, allowing them an opportunity to grab the kid and run without it legally being kidnapping.
- Kissing Cousins: Corinne and Peter. And they don't stop at kissing...
- Large Ham: Quite a few characters, but Burt and the Major take the cake.
- Lemony Narrator: Rod Roddy frequently poked fun at the melodrama during the Previously On and On the Next segments.
- Long Bus Trip: The fate of Alice. She moves out after Carol's mother says she isn't happy with her granddaughter growing up with a lesbian, but she's never seen again.
- Love Triangle:
- After Chester returns after his trip, Jessica has to choose between him and detective Donahue. She chooses Chester.
- Carol likes Jodie who is in an on-and-off relationship with Dennis. He chooses neither.
- Love Dodecahedron: It gets extremely complicated by the end of the show.
- Luke, I Am Your Father:
- Corinne's real parents are her uncle Rudolf and the ex-maid, Ingrid.
- In Season Four, Mary reveals that Danny's real father is Chester.
- The Mad Hatter: Burt. He is aware that many of the things he says and does make, to say the least, an odd impression of other people. Some of this, such as his stories of alien abduction, subvert the trope since he isn't delusional but actually telling the truth.
- The Mafia: Mary's first husband was secretly part of the mafia and, after his death, Danny joins. Burt spends the first part of the show convincing him to leave because it's dangerous. After Danny refuses to kill Burt at the mafia's order he "goes into hiding" (aka. he wears unusual clothes around the house). He's told he'll be forgiven for not obeying them if he marries The Don's daughter, Mafia Princess Elaine.
- Mafia Princess: Elaine is the spoiled, rude and generally obnoxious daughter of The Don who has put out a contract on Danny. She saves Dannys life after falling in love with him; her father agrees to drop the contract on condition that Danny marry her.
- May-December Romance: Chester gets together with (and eventually marries) Eunice's school friend, Annie.
- Mood Whiplash:
- After episode 7 or so, Jessica occasionally does this in the most heartwrenching ways.
- This also happened with Jodie's suicide attempt when the family get told the next episode they're also being robbed and every other line flips between comedy with the robber and rushing to get to the hospital.
- My Beloved Smother: Timothy's mother, who he does stand up to in the end while she's dying. She curses Corinne and Tim's wedding as she dispises Corinne for causing him to leave the priesthood.
- Noodle Incident: After Jodie tries to commit suicide his friend and mother tell him that everybody has five stupid things that they do in their life that they can never tell anybody else, his suicide being his first. Mary tries to think of stupid things she's done but each time ends up laughing and saying she can't possibly tell him that.
- No Bisexuals:
- Jodie defines himself as gay, and experiences a minor crisis of identity after enjoying sex with a girl, unable to decide if he is gay or straight. Apparently there is no third option.
- Nobody else seem able to imagine any such third option for Jodie either.
- Only One Name: It was wasn't revealed if Benson was his first or last name until the character had moved to his own Spin-Off, Benson (full name: Benson DuBois).
- Only Sane Man
- Billy Tate as well as Benson to the Tates.
- Mary in her interactions with Burt and Jessica.
- To some extent, Jodie is this too.
- Parental Incest: At the end of season four, Danny has a relationship with Annie, the new wife of Chester, who turns out actually to be his father. This, of course, is not actually incest, just adultery, since they are not genetically related. Annie points that out to Danny, and also corrects him when he thinks they've committed "inquest."
- Penultimate Outburst: This happens in the first season during Jessica's murder trial, since her entire family disturbs the court.
- The Power of Love: Jessica Tate invokes this in a successful Hollywood Exorcism on Corinne's baby
- Previously On: "Confused? You won't be.... after this episode of Soap."
- Private Detective:
- Ingrid hires Himmle, a German detective, to discover Peter's murderer after Corinne is falsely arrested.
- Jessica hires Donahue to find Chester after he lost his memory and went missing.
- Quest for Identity: Chester goes on one after he loses his memories in Season Two.
- Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: When Dutch, an escaped convict, is looking around the Tate house he comes across Eunice, who threatens him and says she can defend herself against a rapist. He's disgusted and says he's a murderer and talks about how everybody in prison looks down on rapists.
- Rooftop Confrontation: Mary's first husband decides to kill Burt on top of a skyscraper he was then building.
- Rule of Three: Juan One, Juan Two, and Juan Three
- Servile Snarker: Benson. So much of a snarker, in fact, that it's a bit of a stretch calling him servile.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Major
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: In one episode, when Burt is feeling down, he talks to his priest about how worried he is and tells him the story of a man who worked extremely hard in his life and survived a lot of health issues (multiple heart attacks, etc.) who is eventually killed by a mugger in a park over a Schwinn (a type of bike). Burt says he's worried that his life will go the same way: loads of work and with no pay-off. The priest died while listening to his story.
- Spiritual Successor: Arrested Development has almost too many similarities to Soap to be this by accident. Luckily Cracked already did all the legwork so we don't have to.
- Story Arc: Perhaps the first Sitcom to have story arcs spanning multiple episodes or even whole seasons.
- Straight Gay: The impression Jodie made on many people in the later seasons, when his camp mannerisms had been downplayed. This was especially the case during the period when he was known to have a child with one woman and to be living with another.
- Surprise Incest: Learning that Peter is Burt's son means that Jessica has been sleeping with her nephew and Corinne has been sleeping with her cousin.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Saunders, another African-American Servile Snarker brought in to replace Benson as the Tates' butler.
- Tap on the Head: Chester remembers he's the one who killed Peter after his failed suicide attempt by dropping a really big pot on his head. Later he loses his whole memory to a huge knock to the head.
- Teacher/Student Romance:
- Billy and his teacher.
- Mary's English Professor was extremely interested in her and eventually attacked her on the sofa. Burt was always worried she would leave him for somebody smarter and happened to walk in when the professor was all over his wife. It was not what it looked like: Mary was not interested in the professor and managed to fight him off after Burt had left.
- There Is No Kill Like Over Kill: Peter Campbell's death - he was stabbed, shot, strangled, suffocated and bludgeoned.
- Tied Up on the Phone: In an early episode Danny tries to kill Burt by wrapping a phone cord around his neck. Burt, being oblivious to the murder attempt, takes the handset and says, "Hello?"
- Too Dumb to Live:
- Jessica, Burt.
- The Major isn't exactly a bright bulb either.
- When the mob is trying to kill Danny, because he refused to kill Burt, his plan is to change his outfit every day (e.g. a rabbi, a female nurse) but still live with his family (he is seen moving out, but he never does). This works.
- Actually, none of the characters (except Benson) is exactly on the bright side.
- Ventriloquism: Chuck and Bob.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: In one season Jodie confronts Chuck about Bob (that is Chuck) sending him hatemail. This is never mentioned again.
- This is most likely a leftover from the original plan of Chuck (and/or Bob) being Peter's murderer and showing a darker side.
- Whole Plot Reference: When Danny asks Burt how to deal with Elaine, Burt says they should follow the plot of a musical, the name of which he misremembers as Kiss me Shrew note . It works.
- You Look Familiar: Ingrid Swenson and Caroline McWilliams would return as different characters for the show's Spin-Off Benson.
- Your Cheating Heart:
- In Season One, Eunice was having an affair with a married Senator. He chose his wife when she threatened to ruin his career.
- Peter had affairs with every single one of his female tennis students (some of them being married as well).
- Chester was known for having multiple affairs with various women while still being married to Jessica and was getting blackmailed about it in Season One.
- Jessica (at the same time) was having an affair with Peter.
- Burt is framed into having an affair which he ends up thinking he did (he was very drunk at the time) because he walked in on what he thought was Mary and her English Professor having an affair.
- In the fourth series, Annie (who is with Chester and married to him) has a relationship with Danny because she feels Chester is now ignoring her. Chester finds them together and goes to shoot them. Then the show ends.