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Series / Benson

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From left to right: Benson, Kraus, Denise, Katie, Pete, Gov. Gatling, Clayton.

Benson was a half-hour sitcom that aired on ABC from 1979–86. It was a Spin-Off of Soap, and like that series was created by Susan Harris.

Robert Guillaume starred as Benson DuBois, who took over as head of household affairs at the Governor's Mansion under Gov. Eugene Gatling (James Noble) — cousin to Jessica and Mary of Soap. This put him in constant conflict with Gretchen Kraus (Inga Swenson), the head cook who'd coveted the position for herself. Other characters included Gatling's daughter, Katie (Missy Gold); his chief of staff, Clayton Endicott III (René Auberjonois); his press secretary and official photographer, Pete Downey (Ethan Phillips); and his ditzy personal secretary, Denise Stevens Downey (Didi Conn).

As the show went on, Benson climbed up the political ladder, thanks to Gov. Gatling's trust in him, going from working in the mansion staff to state Budget Director, and then to Lieutenant Governor, before finally running for Governor himself in the final season.

Not to be confused with the character from Regular Show.

Benson contains examples of following tropes:

  • Alien Episode: "Close Encounters on the Third Hole," wherein the Governor thinks a bright light he saw while golfing was aliens abducting Benson.
  • An Astral Projection, Not a Ghost: Soap ends with Jessica about to be shot by a firing squad in Central America. In the next season, she shows up on Benson as a ghost who only Benson can see. But then she finds out she's not really dead, she's just in a coma in a Central American hospital.
  • Benevolent Boss: Governor Gatling
  • The Big Board: One episode has the staff in an underground bunker participating in a game that simulates a nuckear attack.
  • Blue Blood: Clayton Endicott III
  • Bluff the Eavesdropper: On an early episode, listening devices are discovered in the mansion. To combat this, Benson has the staff act out a scripted scene for the eavesdropper.
  • Boggles the Mind: One episode has Benson playing Trivial Pursuit with Death over a busload of kids. Every question that Death gets is related to death, to which Benson objects, claiming that he's cheating.
  • Break the Haughty: Many of Clayton's plotlines centered around this.
  • Breakout Character: Benson, himself, from Soap to this series; a rare case of said character getting spun off into his own show as opposed to the original show restructured completely around them.
  • Catchphrase: Clayton's condescending "Benson, Benson, Benson." Usually followed by a sarcastic "Clayton, Clayton, Clayton" retort by Benson.
    • Benson: "I ain't cleaning this."
    • Kraus: "I hear you!" "Hot Damn!" "Put it in a sock!"
  • Celebrity Resemblance: A series-long Running Gag is Benson bemusedly complaining that people always mistake him for Ben Vereen.
  • Censorship by Spelling: When Benson is Mistaken for Dying, Clayton tries to use this method to keep this information from Katie. It doesn't work.
    Clayton: Ah, Miss Kraus. Have you heard from the... D-O-C-T-O-R?
    Katie: Clayton, that was S-T-U-P-I-D.
  • Chess with Death: Or in this case, Trivial Pursuit with Death—for the fate of a busload of schoolkids. "G.Reaper" ends up losing because he missed a question on Charles Bronson—the answer was "Death Wish."
  • Christmas Episode: Two of them.
    • Season 4's "Mary and Her Little Lambs" had Kraus sing a German version of "Silent Night," followed by the above bit of Benson singing "O Holy Night."
    • Season 6's "Home for Christmas" had an It's a Wonderful Plot where Benson had a serious car accident and the spirit of his late mother was trying to convince him to go back to Earth. Benson sang "O Little Town of Bethlehem."
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: John Taylor, the Governor's Season 1 Chief of Staff.
  • Clean Food, Poisoned Fork: A murder mystery episode has a variation; after the initial murder (which turned out to be faked), one suspect gets a drink at the bar and dies shortly afterward. A subsequent investigation discovers his drink wasn't poisoned, but it's later realized that the killer exploited his habit of putting the earpieces of his glasses in his mouth and poisoned them.
  • Cockroaches Will Rule the Earth: Discussed in an episode with a nuclear war simulation.
    Governor: Do you think it's possible to survive a nuclear war?
    Benson: Sure, if you're a rat or a cockroach.
    Clayton: Well, I intend to survive.
    Benson: Like I said, rats and cockroaches.
  • Comet of Doom: The episode "Last Man On Earth" has Halley's comet passing, causing everyone except Benson and Kraus to turn into dust.
  • Commuting on a Bus: Katie, in later seasons
  • Confess to a Lesser Crime: One episode has a businessman from out of state (whose father is an old friend of the Governor's) try to negotiate a deal with the state. He goes out on a date with Denise and tries to have his way with her. Since he has good lawyers (he's done this before and always gotten off), the staff decides to pretend Denise was murdered and try casting suspicion on the businessman. (The production is so over the top, words will not do it justice.) It works and he confesses to attempting to rape Denise, but when he fails to repent, his father fires him.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Benson, Clayton, and (on occasion) Kraus.
  • Diplomatic Impunity: One episode features a wealthy Arabian prince using the "diplomatic immunity" argument to get away with everything, including wrecking Benson's car. In retaliation, Benson makes Clayton pose as a diplomat and wreck a work of art that belonged to the prince, using his argument against him.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: In a lot of episodes, folks don't even recognize members of the cast outside of a political event, which tends to lead to the typical sitcom situations. Although, there was one episode where Benson was pestered by a tough guy at a bar until the guy found out who he was, and that he had voted for him.
  • Easily-Overheard Conversation: Whenever Benson says something negative about Kraus, no matter how quietly he says it, or how far away Kraus is, she will yell out, "I heard that!"
  • Election Day Episode: Being that it takes place in the Governor's mansion, naturally has one of these every four years or so.
    • In the first season Taylor runs for office and loses quite badly.
    • In the last season Benson is running for Governor because the current Governor is constitutionally enjoined from seeking another term. But then a loophole appears and he decides to run as an independent. The last episode of the series ends on a cliffhanger as the Governor and Benson sit together watching the election results come in.
    • The last three episodes of season three surround the Governor's reelection. The first of the three involves the Governor trying (and failing) to secure his party's nomination. The second has them take a trip to the Gatling family lumber mill and Benson convincing him to run as an independent. The third shows the election itself. (Considering the show lasts four more years, it's not hard to guess who wins.)
    • The fourth and fifth episodes of season six revolve around an emergency election for lieutenant governor who was impeached in the season premiere. The two candidates are Benson and Senator Tyler. Needless to say, Benson wins.
  • Embarrassing Middle Name: Clayton's full name is Clayton Runnymede Endicott III. He 's very sensitive about his middle name, because a school bully used to call him "Runnynose".
  • Epic Fail: In season one, Taylor's attempt at a political seat.
    Gov. Gatling:How did Taylor do?
    Marcy:He lost. He came in sixth.
    Benson:How did he come in sixth? There were only five candidates.
    Marcy:There was a very large write-in for "none of the above."
  • Exposition Already Covered: In the episode where Governor Gatling runs for reelection, it first appears that he loses. One of his opponents who also lost asks for a recount. While the the staff is pondering what they're going to do next, Kraus runs in to tell Gatling something. Before she can get it out, Katie runs in and excitedly tells them that the recount actually showed that Gatling won much to Kraus's dismay.
  • Expy: Gene Gatling is clearly based partly on Jimmy Carter, with a kind but scatterbrained personality similar to his cousin Jessica.
    • With a Lampshade Hanging in a first season episode, when Benson and Gatling are alone in Gatling's office. Gatling: "If he could do it, why not me?"
  • Faking the Dead:
    • A businessman tries to have his way with Denise in exchange for a deal with the state. After the date, the gang pretends she's been murdered to get him to confess. Benson plays a British detective (dressed as Sherlock Holmes), Pete plays Denise's biker brother, Katie plays a starry-eyed witness, and Miss Kraus plays a psychic. Oddly, it works.
    • In "Death In a Funny Position", a millionaire's murder sets up a plot, and just when the cast have found a suspect, he dies. After much panicking ensues, the millionaire turns up alive and well, having faked his death to kill the other guy.
  • Finger-Licking Poison: In "Death In a Funny Position", a person with a habit of sucking on the earpiece of his reading glasses was killed when someone put poison on the glasses.
  • Fluffy Tamer: Kraus, in the first episode Benson ask Katie why Kraus has never been fired despite her extremely gruff personality. Katie replies that she is the only one who can handle the dogs (seen in the opening credits, a couple of very large doberman pinschers) prompting a sarcastic remark from Benson.
  • Follow That Car: The governor gives the order to a taxi, and as you might expect, it takes off without him. Then he quickly flags down another taxi and tells the driver to "Follow that car!" point to the first taxi. He manages to get in this one first. (To make the joke even funnier, when both taxis follow the original car to its destination, he pays both drivers.)
  • Five Temperament Ensemble: The ten characters to recur in the most episodes.
    • The five men: Benson (choleric), Taylor (melancholic), Gov. Gatling (phlegmatic), Clayton (sanguine), and Pete (eclectic).
    • The five women: Kraus (choleric), Marcy (melancholic), Denise (phlegmatic), Katie (sanguine), and Rose (eclectic).
  • Funny Foreigner: Kraus.
  • Genius Ditz: Denise, who could do complex math entirely in her head. Gov. Gatling, to a slightly lesser extent.
  • Government Procedural: The show revolves around a state governor's staff, and most of the action happens in the governor's mansion.
  • The Grim Reaper: Benson once played Trivial Pursuit with him over the lives of a busload of children caught in a storm.
  • Halloween Episode: "The Stranger"
  • The Heart: One episode had a young Katie as it, others showed it was Benson.
    • In the episode where Benson has a near death experience and his deceased mother has to convince him to go back to Earth and not just rush off to join her in Heaven, she shows him a possible future where the cast's lives just fall apart without him there.
  • Holding Both Sides of the Conversation: While in court, Benson calls himself to the stand while also defending himself. The judge puts a stop to it pretty quickly.
  • How Unscientific!: Despite being a realistic show, they did take a few breaks from reality, such as the the time the mansion staff acquires a robot, the one where Benson and the Governor have a Close Encounter with a U.F.O., the one where Benson ends up challenging Death to a game of Trivial Pursuit to save the lives of a busload of children, or the one where Benson and Kraus are the only ones left alive after a comet lasses (although that last one was a dream.
  • I Heard That: A Running Gag was Benson insulting Kraus while she was out of the room, and her shouting "I HEAR YOU!" from somewhere else in the mansion.
  • I Just Want to Be You: After Clayton experiences a string of failures while Benson enjoys success, he snaps and believes himself to actuclly be Benson. Benson gets him to snap out of it by telling him about the good things about his life and the bad things about his own.
  • Improvised Weapon: Benson returns from a ribbon-cutting ceremony when he thwarts a robbery by hitting the robber with the giant scissors. The robber sues and at the subsequent trial, the robber's lawyer accuses him of premeditated assault because he already had the weapon on him.
  • Instrumental Theme Tune
  • Irony: The Governor's mansion hosts a conference of leaders of Pacific island nations. The conference hits a snag when two of the leaders, formerly engaged, start quarreling. The fight turns out to be over the fact that both claim to have shown up for their wedding but the other did not. Then Benson remembers that the two nations are on opposite sides of the International Date Line and the two weren't at the church on the same day. When the error is noticed, Benson comments that although one was there a day early and the other was there a day late, they both got to the church on time.
  • It's a Wonderful Plot: One Christmas Episode had Benson be seriously hurt in an accident, and his mom's angel showed him how bad things would be if he died.
  • Left Hanging: The show was cancelled at the end of its 7th season. The series finale ended on a freeze frame of Benson and Gatling watching the election returns just as a winner was about to be announced.
    • Conflicting accounts exist for this — one is that the producers shot three different endings to cover three scenarios, but weren't satisfied with any of them and opted for the freeze frame instead. The other, from a staff member of the show, suggests the network insisted on the cliffhanger and planned to cancel the series anyway due to dissatisfaction with the storyline of a potential 8th season.
  • Let's Put on a Show!: Season four's "Kraus Sings the Blues" has the gang having to take over an entire Jerry Lewis-style telethon, complete with having to fill in for the acts.
  • Locked in a Room: Seemingly happened at least once a season.
  • Loophole Abuse: Gene uses a loophole in the state constitution to run for a third term, despite the fact that he'd already endorsed Benson in the race.
  • Losing the Team Spirit: One episode has Gene's sister convince him to put Katie in a boarding school—and the whole cast is depressed afterwards without Katie. Benson and Gene later drive through the night to get Katie back to the mansion the next day. Everyone's happy, with Katie asking Kraus for "a big bowl of her oatmeal."
    • Also, the second Christmas episode, where a Bad Future happened when Benson didn't survive a car accident.
  • Low Clearance: In one of Governor Gatling's stories, a logging truck from the family lumber mill once got stuck under a railroad trestle. Nobody could figure out how to get the truck unstuck until one lumber mill employee suggested letting the air out of the tires. It worked.
  • Missing Mom: Gatling is a widower.
  • Mistaken for Dying:
    • Benson takes Kraus to the doctor in one episode. While she's in the other room, Benson talks with the doctor about one of his horses which doesn't have long to live. Kraus overhears the conversation and thinks they're talking about her. She goes through a lot of angst and sadness, trying to get her affairs in order and giving some of her possessions to her friends, before learning the truth.
    • A later episode has Benson visit a female doctor who he ends up having romantic feelings for. She later calls him to have a serious talk with him. Everyone thinks he's about to receives news of a fatal illness. It turns out the doctor was trying to break it to Benson that they can't date because she's married.
  • My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels: Benson is covering for the president of a fictional country (who happens to be in the hospital recovering from a poisoning attempt that morning.) A government official who thinks he's addressing the actual President tells Benson what he thinks is the saying for "Thank you very much." Benson, not knowing a lick of the real thing, makes it up on the spot that the way the guy just phrased it, "It was an insult to my mother."
  • Mystery Episode: Twice, both with two-part episodes:
    • "Death in a Funny Position" has the Governor and his staff staying on board a millionaire's yacht when the millionaire is murdered. Shortly afterward, another guest is also murdered leading to an escalating investigation. The millionaire turns out to have faked his death to commit the other murder.
    • "Reel Murder" has George Kennedy shooting a movie at the governor's mansion when the director is killed. Unfortunately, the mansion is snowbound as well, so the characters are trapped with the killer. The killer was a photographer covering the shoot who accidentally ended up on camera. He's in trouble with the mob who are said to be funding the movie.
  • Never Learned to Read: In one episode, Benson learns that his nephew doesn't know how to read, having spent all his time playing basketball instead. The young man thinks it's no big deal, but Benson stresses that he might not get a professional contract and even if he did, he can't play ball forever.
  • No Ending: The final episode revolves around Benson, Gatling, and a third candidate running for election. It stops just before the results are announced.
  • No Party Given: It was never disclosed which party Gene was a part of - though it was "None of the above" by the final season.
  • Our Governors Are Different Gene Gatling, Gov. Genius Ditz.
  • Point That Somewhere Else: When Benson confronts an armed gunman, he wrongly believes the gun is a fake, and just annoyedly grabs the gun out of the guy's hand, disarming him. Benson then quickly realizes that it's a real gun, and is terrified at what almost happened.
  • Pointless Civic Project: In one instance, federal auditors discover an unexpected budget surplus of $8 million and insist that the state spend that money or their federal distribution will be reduced by twice that much the next fiscal year (which starts tomorrow). Benson & Clayton try to find a way to spend it before the end of the day. In the end Benson decides that's stupid, and just announces that they have a surplus.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: Gov. Gatling, to the point where you wonder how he ever got elected in the first place.
  • Put on a Bus:
    • Marcy Hill, Gov. Gatling's first secretary, gets married and moves because of her husband's job. She has a farewell party early in Season Three.
    • Denise takes a job with NASA and Pete goes with her in Season Six.
  • The Radio Dies First: After Benson, Clayton, the Governor and a friend are caught in a helicopter crash, this is the first thing they find:
    Clayton: Bad news.
    Benson: The radio's dead.
    Clayton: The radio's dead.
    Governor: How did you know that?
    Benson: Don't you ever watch movies? The radio never works.
  • Real After All: After spending a whole episode dealing with possibly false reports of a UFO, Benson and the Governor are flashed by a series of strange lights in the middle of a field.
  • Replaced with Replica: One episode has the Governor's mansion host a delegation from a foreign country with a national artifact on display. During a costume party, a member of a revolutionary group from the country approaches Benson (who's wearing the same costume as their contact) to steal the artifact. The government officials give him a fake to give them instead. When the revolutionaries do the same, Benson decides to have a little fun.
  • Required Spinoff Crossover: Jessica Tate shows up in a couple of episodes.
  • Running Gag: Gov. Gatling frequently tells stories about his past, which Benson and the other staffers hate listening to (but can't say so, since he's their friend as well as their boss). The stories usually do have a point connected to the plot of the day, but he takes the scenic route in getting to it.
    • Lampshaded and parodied in a two-parter on the Governor's ranch. The ranch foreman tells Benson a long, rambling story that ends with no connection to any current events. When Benson asks what the point was:
      Foreman: [Gov. Gatling]'s stories have points. Mine are pure entertainment!
  • Servile Snarker: Benson, initially. And Kraus.
  • Ship Tease: While Kraus and Benson are never in a relationship (and react with horror at the thought), other characters frequently assume they are, and in a few episodes they have to pretend to be a couple- in the fourth season accidentally getting married! A fifth season episode has them convincing their colleagues of a secret affair between them, to which Pete replies that he suspected it all along.
  • Short-Distance Phone Call: Benson is at home in one episode when he gets a call from the Governor. Benson gives him permission to come over for a visit. What he doesn't know is that the Governor is actually calling from his limo in the driveway. The Governor shows up at his door within a minute and Benson asks him "What did you do? Beam over?"
  • Sick Episode: One early episode starts off with Benson being the only one of the staff who isn't sick, except that the Army has called to tell him he might have been exposed to a biological weapon during his service. In the end, it turns out he wasn't exposed to the weapon, but he did contract the cold that the others caught.
  • Simple-Minded Wisdom: Benson still had this even when he went up the job ladder.
  • Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: Benson has two: Gretchen and Clayton.
  • So Much for Stealth: In one episode, Benson discovers a crime in progress. He happens to have a camera with him, so he takes a photo through a window. Unfortunately, the flash is on.
    Benson: So much for the element of surprise.
  • Spy Speak: An early episode had a revolutionary attempt to contact another at a party using this method. However, he talks to Benson by mistake and Benson is not in on the code.
    Revolutionary: The road has many turns.
    Benson: Hmm?
    Revolutionary: The road has many turns.
    Benson: Well, drive carefully.
  • Suspect Existence Failure: In "Death In a Funny Position", a millionaire invites the Governor and his staff for a cruise on his yacht. The millionaire is killed while on the cruise, leading to an investigation that gives everyone a suspect. Then that suspect dies, and the myster escalates. It turned out the millionaire faked his death so he could kill the suspect.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Clayton and Denise to Taylor and Marcy.
  • Take a Third Option: One episode has the guys talking about their biggest romantic encounter. Clayton talks about the time he was in the Foreign Legion and romanced a Middle Eastern noblewoman. When it came time for the next step, she gave him a choice of two tents to enter. One had her and their wedding party while the other was full of snakes. He was not told which was which. When asked what he did, he says he took the next flight out of the country rather than choose a tent.
  • Trash Talk: A duel between Benson and Clayton is decided when Benson opts to have them "playing the dozens" and use insults at the weapon of choice. By the end Clayton is punch-drunk from being on the receiving end while Benson shows why he's the Master.
  • Treasure Hunt Episode: Benson and Kraus find the diary of a former governor which reveals he hid a sizable cache of gold somewhere in the mansion. While the others are searching for it randomly, Governor Gatling finds a riddle telling of the gold's resting place. Benson figures it out and finds the gold's hiding place, only to discover the former governor's wife saw him hiding the gold and took it with her lover.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Benson and Kraus evolve into this by the end of the series.
  • Viva Las Vegas!: A sixth-season episode had them going there for a lieutenant governor's convention.
  • Volleying Insults: Benson and Clayton had a duel using insults as their main weapon. Clayton wins two rounds, Benson wins thirteen.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?:
    • The state Benson was set in was never revealed (other than it was a Southern state), nor was the name of the city the mansion was located in.
    • The capital city is always referred to as... Capital City. That might be its proper name, which would theoretically put it in the same state as the Trope Namer. In fact, a "Springfield" is mentioned in one season 3 episode.
  • Yes-Man: A defied trope in Season 3. Governor Gatling chose Benson as his nominee for state budget director mainly due to his honesty, saying "There are safer choices, but I don't want someone who will play it safe, I want someone who will play it straight." He also declined Senator Chapman's choice Harris for this reason.
    Chapman: Are you implying that Representative Harris is my yes-man?
    Gatling: I'm not implying anything, Senator, I'm saying it loud and clear.