We all admire benches for their well-known ability to help people sit. But did you realize that the bench possesses a sneaky influence that extends beyond mere leisure? In fact, the bench has played a secret, essential part in our most popular entertainment for decades. Here are just seven examples of pop-cultural favorites where a humble bench played a quiet but essential role. Truly, it is the unsung hero of pop culture furniture.
This post is sponsored by the Emmy-nominated series Park Bench With Steve Buscemi, whose second season launches on June 18. Directed by and starring Steve Buscemi, Park Bench is a local’s take on the special people, places, and spirit of New York City—a funny first-hand journey/misadventure, told in Steve’s unique voice. Viewers can watch the first episode of the new season exclusively on the AOL On app on Roku right now. To view a trailer, see sneak peeks, and catch up on season one, visit www.parkbenchtheshow.com. And join the conversation using the #parkbenchtheshow hashtag on your favorite social networks.
To paraphrase the titular hero of Forrest Gump, bench is as bench does. And the park bench in this 1994 film advanced the cause of pop-culture benches everywhere with its star turn as the pleasant furniture upon which Gump relates his fantastical life story. The bench was even placed front-and-center in the movie’s famous one-sheet poster, so bench fans nationwide would know that this movie would deliver, seating-wise. Tom Hanks’ performance in the lead role hasn’t necessarily aged well, as critical opinion has soured on the more indulgent and trite aspects of the story. But you’ll notice nobody criticizes the bench: Its legacy endures.
The bench in Hoosiers is almost as important as the basketball court. The court may be where the games are won, but the bench is where lessons are learned: When one of his players refuses to go with Coach Norman Dale’s plan—even though the player is tearing it up on the court—he ends up on the bench. You could argue that the movie’s most important character—Dale, played by Gene Hackman—spends most of his time on or near the bench, rather than in the thick of the game.
With finely crafted TV ads that put their public-access competition to shame, Breaking Bad’s canny lawyer Saul Goodman knows how to advertise. Perhaps his greatest bit of self-promotion came not on the tube but—you guessed it—on a bench. Parked in a high-traffic area, the bench advises the legally troubled that they’d “better call Saul!” The slogan was so catchy that it became the title of Breaking Bad’s spinoff series. Another example of the bench’s power reaching deep into the entertainment industry.
When Kevin Costner’s character, Jim Garrison, meets his secret informant, Mr. X—played by Donald Sutherland—they’re walking through a park, and the camera sharply shows a park bench in the foreground. Eventually, the two end up on a different bench—with the Washington Monument and the Capitol clearly visible in the background—where the movie’s most important conversation takes place. Sutherland’s character, who was a composite of various real-life whistleblowers, lays it all out, confusingly, for the main character. Rest assured that the bench understood every bit of the conspiracy, though.
“Don’t take the law into your own hands,” went the catchphrase of this pioneering reality series, “You take ’em to court.” Presiding over that court was retired judge Joseph Wapner, who presided over the disputes of small-claims litigants for 12 seasons. Wapner’s grumpy, no-nonsense demeanor made him a TV icon. When The People’s Court returned to the air in 1997, though, the show had a new judge—and it has gone through a couple more judges then, settling on current judge Marilyn Milian in 2001. Through it all, one thing remained constant: the bench from which all these judges issued their rulings. Officers of the law come and go. Benches are forever.
Robin Williams spends much of Good Will Hunting trying to break down the emotional walls built up by Matt Damon, and one major breakthrough comes in an idyllic setting, with the two watching swans in a pond while sitting on a backless bench. The scene begins and ends with a long shot of the bench, and in between, Williams lays it all on the table—his own life story, and his perceptions about Damon’s. Benches have a way of eliciting emotional truth.
The most memorable line in A League Of Their Own comes as Bitty Schram’s character makes her way back to the bench. She’s stopped by Coach Tom Hanks, who delivers the classic, “There’s no crying in baseball!” as the rest of his team mills around the dugout. Hanks makes his way back to the bench when the umpire gives him some advice he doesn’t much care for, and he ends up there once again—on his way out of the ballpark after being ejected. He can’t even sit on his own bench, which is the ultimate shame.