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STUDIO: Sony Pictures
RATED: Not rated
RUNNING TIME: 597 minutes
• Photo Gallery
• Video Introduction by Robert Guillaume
• Favorites from the first season
• Inside the Governor’s Mansion
Behind every great man is a brutha runnin’ shit.
Robert Guillaume, James Noble, Inga Swenson, Missy Gold.
"Hello, Cheetah Escorts? This is the ‘governor’ again. Yeah, gonna need you to send over a couple more hookers…and put it on the state’s account…"
In a 1979 spin-off of Soap, Robert Guillaume stars as the titular character who arrives in the governor’s mansion of an unnamed state to run the governor’s household. Along the way, he becomes a straight man to the daffy Governor Gatling (Noble), surrogate father to his daughter, Katie (Missy Gold), and arch nemesis to the German head housekeeper, Gretchen Kraus (Swenson).
"You know, Kraus, you’re the biggest c-word I’ve ever met."
"And you, Herr Benson, are ze biggest n-word I’ve ever met"
"You as turned on as I am?"
It’s easy to discount Benson as just another sitcom in a period where the tube was flooded with them, and in many ways it mirrors the time that it was produced by adhering to many of the sitcom conventions. But it did break new ground by featuring a black lead in an otherwise all white cast, and broke even more ground by having him be the smartest character in the cast. Whereas Fred Sanford and George Jefferson headlined mostly black casts in their respective comedies, Benson was a token – but a token who was running the show.
"So, Katie, you want me to show you what the joke Where da white women at? means?"
Also dissimilar from Sanford and Jefferson was that Benson was a level-headed brother who was in control and to whom other characters turned to to help them solve their problems, particularly Governor Gatling. It was practically unheard of at the time for a black man to be in such a position of not only authority, but also of intelligent counsel. Sanford, for all his enjoyable antics, was ghetto through and through and George was a lovable but volatile and frequently uninformed caricature. Benson was a sharp black man essentially running the governor’s mansion. And Guillaume was perfectly suited to play him as such.
"Beast the shit out of me what all these honkeys are doing on my show…"
With those praises aside, Benson doesn’t particularly strike me as a standout sitcom in terms of being all that special. Aside from Benson’s mile-a-minute verbal sparring with Kraus, there’s nothing about the show that particularly grabs me. I remember catching a few episodes in the ole’ youth, but it wasn’t a show that I especially watched nor remember fondly. Noble’s one-note shtick as the dim bulb governor quickly wore thin and most of the rest of the cast was ordinary at best. At the time, although generally well written, Benson was pretty much another drop in an ocean of sitcoms. It had many of the conventions of sitcoms of the day, being wholesome, fairly safe and teaching more than the occasional life or social lesson. Nevertheless, props should definitely be given to Guillaume for portraying one of the most positive roles for a black man in TV history. He showed that it was okay to watch a smart brother holding things down and maybe get an occasional laugh out of it.
Suspending disbelief that a black guy could get a trusted position in a governor’s mansion in the ’70s is one thing…suspending disbelief that he could get a cab is something else…
There’re a few goodies to keep you die hard Bensoncoats happy: First of all, there’s a video introduction from Guillaume, who, at 80, is pretty much looking like your old grandpa (if you happen to be black…or adopted) who liked to tell stories of the war and the good ole days. There’s also a 25-minute talking head / recap piece with Guillaume, Noble and producer Tony Thomas called Inside the Governor’s Mansion, where they reminisce over the creation of the series and the execution of the first season. Similarly, there’s a six-minute piece titled Favorites From the First Season, where Guillaume, Noble and Thomas wax nostalgic once again to pick their faves from the inaugural season. A photo gallery rounds out the goodies.