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Series / Benson

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Benson was a half-hour Sitcom that aired on ABC from 1979–86.

A Spin-Off of Soap, the series starred Robert Guillaume 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 immediate conflict with Gretchen Kraus (Inga Swenson), the head cook who 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 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 Lt. Governor, before finally running for Governor himself in the final season.


Benson contains examples of following tropes:

  • 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 which 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
  • Blue Blood: Clayton Endicott III
  • 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.
  • The Cast Show Off: At least one episode per season gave Robert Guillaume a chance to show his singing chops.
    • The first Christmas episode gave us this clip of Guillaume singing "O Holy Night."
    • The second Christmas episode had him sing "O Little Town of Bethlehem" with the extra bonus of lighting the tree with his music.
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    • Season 5's "Too Pooped To Pip" let him do a duet with Gladys Knight.
    • Season 6's "Solid Gold" had him sing "Tonight It's My Party," written for the show by Guillaume's son.
    • Inga Swenson, a noted Broadway actress, also sings in a couple of episodes: "Stille Nacht" in the above-mentioned Christmas episode and "In the Still of the Night" during a telethon.
    • The Season 6 two-parter, "Made in Hong Kong," shows Rene Auberjonois speaking fluent Chinese and displaying an impressive amount of local knowledge about Hong Kong.
  • Catchphrase: Clayton's condescending "Benson, Benson, Benson." Usually followed by a sarcastic "Clayton, Clayton, Clayton" retort by Benson.
  • Celebrity Resemblance: A series-long Running Gag is Benson bemusedly complaining that people always mistake him for Ben Vereen.
  • 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.
  • Commuting on a Bus: Katie, in later seasons
  • Deadpan Snarker: Benson, Clayton, and (on occasion) Kraus.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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?"
  • 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.
  • Halloween Episode: "The Stranger"
  • The Heart: One episode had a young Katie as it, others showed it was Benson.
  • 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.
  • Instrumental Theme Tune
  • 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.
  • Missing Mom: Gatling is a widower.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Simple-Minded Wisdom: Benson still had this even when he went up the job ladder.
  • Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: Benson has two: Gretchen and Clayton.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Clayton and Denise to Taylor and Marcy.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • What Might Have Been: A show runner revealed that if the show hadn't been cancelled, the eighth season would've featured Gene winning re-election and Benson becoming a Senator.
  • 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.


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