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Category:    Home > Reviews > TV Situation Comedy > Spin-Off > Politics > Benson – The Complete First Season

Benson – The Complete First Season


Picture: C     Sound: C+     Extras: C+     Episodes: B



As Soap soared in the ratings and became as much a critical success and groundbreaker as money machine, a decision was made in the middle of its four-season run to spin-off one of its most beloved characters.  Robert Guillaume played Benson DuBois, the butler of the Tate household who happened to be the only sane, non-dysfunctional person there.  His best friend there is Jessica (the wonderful Katherine Helmond) who becomes closer and closer with Benson as craziness ensures.  As part of the spin-off Benson, Jessica asks Benson to help out her cousin Gene (James Noble) who has just become Governor of his state.


The Complete First Season is finally arriving on DVD a while after all four Soap seasons were long released on DVD.  The result was a spin-off that ran almost twice as long as the original (seven seasons) and in its first few, was an exceptional show.  The pilot has Benson arriving and finding the governor’s mansion in chaos.  Will he stay?  It depended on the rating and critical reception.  A solid, funny pilot, David Hedison played the governor’s advisor John Taylor and an interesting opponent for Benson, but Lewis J. Stadlen (The Sopranos) took over for the rest of the season as Taylor before his character was succeeded in later seasons.


Two actresses who made a strong impression in Soap played new characters here.  The wonderful, underrated Caroline McWilliams played Marcy Hill, who handled the governor’s scheduling and was also looking to fall in love with the right man.  Unfortunately, she also keeps meeting heels.  Then there is the witty Inga Swenson, who played the German cook Gretchen Kraus, who is not a fascist, yet runs her kitchen like one and that is done with great humor as an in-joke throughout the series.


Another joke is that Gene is like Jessica in their “unique world view” where they are oblivious to reality, but have a big heart.  Missy Gold plays Katie, Gene’s very young and cute daughter, both dealing with the death of their mother/wife.  Instead of a shallow sitcom, we get one that has much heart and soul, clever humor and writing that is even wittier than I remembered.  At least in these early seasons which more than a few people I know watched all the time, the writing was exceptional and the exchanges between characters to fast that it is amazing a commercial TV series this smart was a hit.


However, the smart audience who loved Soap turned in and another hit was a result.  Helmond even guest starred on one of the earliest episodes.  Guillaume managed to subvert decades of racism from being the smart one on Soap to the star here.  There are some very big laughs here, all the better since it has been so long since anyone has seen these shows.  Paul Jungle Witt, Tony Thomas and Susan Harris had another winner on their hands and that it holds up so well nearly 30 years later is a testament to the team’s remarkable, underrated, classic work from their peak period.



The 1.33 X 1 image was shot on old professional NTSC analog video, likely the reel-to-reel kind, and shows a little more softness than expected, but that is the age of the tape because these are nice transfers in color and cleanness.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono holds up better, including the memorable instrumental theme song by George Aliceson Tipton who was as much a part of these shows working as anyone.  There are actually extras here, including an introduction by Guillaume, stills, favorites from the first season and a featurette about the show entitled Inside The Governor’s Mansion.  Especially with extras, Benson – The Complete First Season is one of the surprise back-catalog TV on DVD releases of the year and highly recommended.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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