Benson The Complete First Season
Robert Guillaume, James Noble, Inga Swenson, Missy Gold
Originally aired 1979-80
24 Episodes 3 DVDs
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment 2007

As the Benson DVD set of The Complete First Season shows this Soap spin-off hit the ground running back in 1979 when Robert Guillaume, as Benson, the quick-witted butler, moved to some unknown state to help Governor Gatling run his home. The pilot episode of this TV situation comedy is something all Hollywood writers should watch and learn from: the characters are quickly established, you immediately know what the conflicts and where the laughs in Benson are going to come from: The smart mouthed Benson immediately finds his match in Gretchen Kraus, quickly establishes a rapport with the somewhat dim Governor (James Noble) and his very smart daughter (Missy Gold), and soon takes charge.

Though Benson, like many other TV sitcoms, overstayed its welcome by a couple of seasons, most of the 24 complete and uncut episodes on Benson The Complete First Season 3 DVD set fire on all cylinders. Especially strong are the pilot and second episode. Fans of the show will notice how the opening credits to the sitcom changed a few times before somebody made up his mind. I appreciate the gesture of giving the viewers that little bit of feshrift instead of the generic version used in syndication.

There are plenty of very good episodes in this Benson DVD set. Although The President’s Double where Benson impersonates some African leader someone wants to assassinate is kind of lame, the episode where Soap’s Jessica Tate (Katharine Helmond) pays the governor a visit and ends up playing Weekend At Bernie’s with Benson is excellent. I very much enjoyed the scene in episode 5 where Kraus and Benson are working backstage at Katie’s play: this is a very imaginative and original TV moment.

Of course, you cannot expect every one of the 24 shows of this Benson DVD box set of The Complete First Season to be stellar. Episode 18, Checkmate, is basically sitcom plot # 342 (Russian disappears while in the United States and the mean grey suits of the KGB are very angry but all is well that ends well). The show where the Governor takes the streets to talk to the average man could have been better. Episode 19 features situation comedy plot 234-A where two characters get locked into a cold room of some kind but with Benson and Kraus it is good stuff.

There are many other good episodes here: The Halloween show where Kraus tries to exorcize the ghost of a former governor, the show where the staff goes on strike and Benson and Marcie take over all their duties are quite enjoyable.

Extra features include Inside the Governor’s Mansion, a look back at the show with Robert Guillaume, James Noble, and the series’ producer -which contains a spoiler as to how the series ends. I found this quite interesting and superior to the usual filler used as features. Favorite moments, the special feature on Benson The Complete First Season DVD 3, is also fun to watch. The two other features; an introduction by Guillaume and a photo gallery, are your standard stuff.


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