Benson and SOAP

Benson (1979-1986)
SOAP (1977-1981)
Type: Spin Off

   SOAP was one of the late 70's more controversial shows. It was a weekly half hour sitcom/soap opera/soap opera parody. Its really hard to say whether it should be called a funny soap opera or a parody of soaps. The temptation would be to say parody except that SOAP was smart enough to actually take its characters seriously despite the silly format. Among the alien abductions, blackmail attempts and demonic possessions, these characters actually lived, felt pain and often died. When Danny's wife was killed by the mob after having slowly evolved from a shrew into a character with depth you cared about, her death was handle seriously and not lightly or as a moment for humor. That sort of character depth and drama is not something I would expect to find in a parody.

   Well, regardless it stirred up trouble with its racy and topical plots. I remember my mom thinking it was a tasteless show, which now seems odd given how tame it would appear to day even next to The Golden Girls - which my mom loved. Go figure.

   Anyway, one of the funniest characters on the show was the much put upon Tate family butler, Benson. In a series inhabited by so many crazy idiots, it was the down to earth butler who seemed to be the smartest one of all. When he was listed as a suspect in a major murder because 1.) he's the butler and the butler always did it and 2.) he was black, it was clear to him and the viewers that he was smarter than even the dim witted local authorities.

   Eventually the decision was made to give Benson his own show. Jessica Tate, one of the few people on SOAP who Benson truly cared about, sent him to help her cousin Governor James Gatling keep order in the governor's mansion. Benson started out as the butler, moved up to head of the household staff, then to state budget director and THEN to Lieutenant Governor. When the series was cancelled, he was in the midst of actually running for Governor himself. Along the way he butted heads with a number of characters who came and went but his constant sparring partner was the mansion's cook Gretchen Kraus, played by Inga Swenson who had also appeared on SOAP in a totally different role.

   The shows made only one crossover while they were both on the air. At one point on SOAP, Jessica fell ill and nearly died. Benson showed up to offer his support.

   After SOAP was cancelled there were two more crossovers, both made by Jessica and playing off her friendship with Benson. Jessica seemed an unlikely candidate though. When SOAP left the air, Jessica was left in a cliffhanger. She was left as a hostage in South America about to be executed by a firing squad! Thus, when she made her first return appearance it was in the form of a ghost who only Benson could see. By the end of the episode it was revealed Jessica was not actually dead but only in a coma in South America. Benson told her he hoped she would get out of her predicament and Jessica commented that she always seemed to.

   Later, Jessica returned in the flesh, apparently returned from her ordeal fully healed and ready to cause more trouble for her favorite friend.

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