The Ten Best THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW Episodes of Season Four

Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! This week, we’re continuing coverage on the best of The Andy Griffith Show (1960-1968, CBS), which is currently available in full on DVD and Amazon.

The Andy Griffith Show stars ANDY GRIFFITH as Sheriff Andy Taylor, DON KNOTTS as Deputy Barney Fife, RON HOWARD as Opie Taylor, and FRANCES BAVIER as Aunt Bee. With JIM NABORS as Gomer Pyle.

I enjoy Season Four a lot, and like Three, it’s seemingly classic-filled. But there’s a big difference when counting this year’s gems: there are fewer “must-includes” because, to extend the metaphor, this year’s gems are less polished. That is, we’ve reached the point in Andy Griffith‘s run where most of the great entries are less perfect than those previous. You may be confused by this statement, for with flashy log lines that have a basic appeal, it’s easy to consider Four part of the series’ peak, and on the surface, it is; this show has always been idea-driven — it’s always put its characters into weekly plots instead of having stories come out of their own objectives — meaning a high volume of good ideas should theoretically yield a good season. But, for the first time, the show is using its ideas defensively, either to maintain the elevated comic baseline established in Two and Three, regardless of whether it’s forced (“Barney’s Sidecar”), or to maintain the show’s reputation for human sincerity, regardless of whether it’s forced (“Opie, The Birdman”) — all the while relying on the same old narrative templates as before, without enough originality to distract from the fact that stories are heightening as the characters are stagnating. To wit, Four is the first year where nothing is truly new; the only debuting recurring player is Goober, and he’s just an inferior replacement for Gomer, one of the funniest and best story-providing Mayberrians, who’s the brightest spot of the season (his best) and will prove a major loss upon his departure. To that point, you may think this criticism is premature, for even if you agree that many of Four’s classics are lesser than Three’s, there are MUCH bigger drops ahead — between Four and Five, and then Five and Six. Well, you’re right. And despite this harsher analysis’ necessity (for this is where the drop begins), I hate dwelling on the negative framework because Four is more “better than Five” than “weaker than Three,” and it’s important to say that Andy Griffith is still producing likable episodes that will contrast favorably to what we’ll find in Five (and all the years ahead), while this season’s ensemble, shared with Three, represents the series’ most ideal congregation… So, as proof of Four’s quality relative to both its neighbors, below are ten episodes I have picked to exemplify its finest.

 

01) Episode 96: “Opie, The Birdman” (Aired: 09/30/63)

Opie accidentally kills a mother bird.

Written by Harvey Bullock | Directed by Dick Crenna

One of the most overrated episodes of the series, “Opie, The Birdman” was cited several weeks ago here as being a “popular outing that contains zero laughs and is ill-suited to be an exalted segment of a situation comedy, no matter how unfunny it wants to be.” That is, it intends to be a sincere family show, emphasizing the relationship between father and son, while exploring human truths about life, death, and our responsibility in this world, so it doesn’t endeavor to be hilarious. But this is still a sitcom, and a minimum of comedy is required. Additionally, as far as the family shows go, this one is pretty premise-driven and divorced of character. In fact, I think Andy’s mercurial portrayal is completely unmotivated and presages the harsher take we’ll come to see of his depiction in Season Five. So, even on the terms of a dramatic “warmedy,” I think this entry fails its characters… However, it’s due to the weakened nature of this year that I can fill a spot on this list with an installment that I personally think is a flawed example of the series simply because it nevertheless displays a key design that fans come to Mayberry seeking: a morality play with characters about whom they care — limited hahas be darned.

02) Episode 97: “The Haunted House” (Aired: 10/07/63)

Andy, Barney, and Gomer go into a supposedly haunted house.

Written by Harvey Bullock | Directed by Earl Bellamy

Another popular offering, “The Haunted House” is an ideal example of how this season’s stories are becoming more situated upon comedic premises, as opposed to anything having to do with the characters or elements of the series’ identity. Here, it’s just an amusing idea to show Barney and Gomer scared of a spooky house, and even though there’s some value to be had in Andy turning into a prankster and the reveal that the so-called haunted mansion is being used by Otis to procure moonshine, this is still more a well-liked example of Season Four’s shortcomings compared to Three’s than it is a testament to Four’s own strength.

03) Episode 104: “Up In Barney’s Room” (Aired: 12/02/63)

Barney gets evicted by his little old landlady.

Written by Jim Fritzell & Everett Greenbaum | Directed by Jeffrey Hayden

Okay, if I’ve been harsh on the two installments above, rest assured that we’re finally getting to some entries that deserve to be venerated, like this one, which not only fills in some details about the Barney character, by showing us where he lives and introducing us to his landlord (Enid Markey), but also has a very Andy Griffith-ian premise about a little old lady being swindled by a suitor who’s really a crook (J. Pat O’Malley), making it more than a showcase for Barney, but also a display of the series itself. One of several great scripts this year by Fritzell & Greenbaum.

04) Episode 105: “A Date For Gomer” (Aired: 12/09/63)

Barney sets up Gomer with Thelma Lou’s homely cousin.

Written by Jim Fritzell & Everett Greenbaum | Directed by Dick Crenna

Mary Grace Canfield (soon famous to TV lovers as Ralph on Green Acres) guest stars in this excursion as Thelma Lou’s homely out-of-town cousin, whom Barney decides to pair with Gomer. There are some typical laughs given the premise, and the use of the two primary couples is probably better here than in any other segment this year, but “A Date For Gomer” really works because it humanizes Jim Nabors’ character, in advance of his spin-off.

05) Episode 106: “Citizen’s Arrest” (Aired: 12/16/63)

After Barney arrests Gomer, Gomer arrests Barney for the same violation.

Written by Jim Fritzell & Everett Greenbaum | Directed by Dick Crenna

My choice for the season’s Most Valuable Episode (MVE), “Citizen’s Arrest” may be one of the quintessential examples of Andy Griffith, serving not just as one of the strongest half hours of the entire series, but also as a highly favorable ambassador both for the workplace/Barney-driven aspect of the series’ identity, which typically supplies the big laughs, and the “small town” element represented by the ensemble at large, which includes Gomer, the second funniest person on the show this season and a stellar comedic counterpoint to Barney — someone who thinks he knows it all vs. someone who’s content not knowing very much at all. What’s more: the action is rooted in the characterizations of these two kooky comedic Mayberrians as we know them to be, dealing with Barney’s ego and Gomer’s simple-mindedness, finding conflict from the natural clash between the two of them and within a premise that makes sense given the type of stories this series often tells. In other words, this doesn’t feel like a narrative that’s foisted upon the characters, but rather one that they earn. This makes the humor all the richer, and proves that Season Four, for all its faults, still is capable of more than just greatness — but series-elevating greatness. Once again, it’s written by Fritzell and Greenbaum and directed by actor Richard Crenna, who helms a handful of shows here in Four. Don’t miss it!

06) Episode 111: “Barney’s Sidecar” (Aired: 01/27/64)

Barney gets a motorcycle.

Written by Jim Fritzell & Everett Greenbaum | Directed by Coby Ruskin

Probably the clearest example on this list of a Victory In Premise, this installment utilizes the easily funny notion of Barney riding a motorcycle. Now, everything we know about this character (and about motorcycles) tells us that there’s a comic discrepancy, so all the script has to do is present its inherently amusing mismatch without much fuss. There are a few choice moments here, but otherwise, this is merely a decent telling of a script-proof story.

07) Episode 114: “Hot Rod Otis” (Aired: 02/17/64)

Andy and Barney worry when Otis buys a car.

Written by Harvey Bullock | Directed by Earl Bellamy

One of my favorite Otis episodes, this entry uses, again, our pre-established understanding of the Otis character, and then deploys a premise that’s naturally funny as a result. It’s not necessarily a character-driven show, but it’s in that vein, for it’s built on a foundation of awareness. And, yes, Otis has always been something of a one-joke personality, but there are times when he’s humanized, and this script, which includes a mock eulogy for him performed by Andy and Barney, is one of them — doing so without much tonal contortion.

08) Episode 116: “The Shoplifters” (Aired: 03/02/64)

Barney goes undercover to bust a shoplifter.

Written by Bill Idelson & Sam Bobrick | Directed by Coby Ruskin

I’m a sucker for the “Barney goes undercover” offerings because Knotts is the series’ primary asset. But the best of these shows usually work because they contextualize him within the world, and what I like best about “The Shoplifters” is the assortment of Mayberrians that fill out the story, and the fact that we get taken to a new place. So, while it’s certainly fun that Barney disguises himself as a mannequin, there’s more to it than just the gag. (Lurene Tuttle guests.)

09) Episode 122: “Fun Girls” (Aired: 04/13/64)

Two big-city women cause trouble with Andy and Barney and their girlfriends.

Written by Aaron Ruben | Directed by Coby Ruskin

Joyce Jameson and Jean Carson are back as the “Fun Girls” — introduced in last year’s “Barney Mends A Broken Heart” — for a story that basically expands upon their one comedic scene in that previous outing, as the two wild chicks from the city return to flirt with the badge-wearing boys of Mayberry, with the drama stemming from what happens when the regular girlfriends get wind of their fellas’ so-called “fun girls.” It’s another easily comedic prospect, but it’s a hoot. Also, Goober makes his debut in advance of joining the recurring cast next year.

10) Episode 125: “Barney And Thelma Lou, Phfftt” (Aired: 05/04/64) 

Thelma Lou uses Gomer to make Barney jealous.

Written by Bill Idelson & Sam Bobrick | Directed by Coby Ruskin

On the short list of Four’s must-includes, this entry takes an idea from the aforementioned “Fun Girls,” of the Mayberry ladies going out with Gomer and his cousin Goober, by dedicating a whole story to what happens when Thelma Lou uses Gomer to make Barney jealous. With one of the strongest scripts, the foolproof premise gets everything it seeks and then some, showcasing the series’ two funniest players (Knotts and Nabors) smartly, proving why Gomer Pyle will be such a detriment to Andy Griffith‘s continued success.

 

Other notable episodes that merit mention include: the two closest to the above list, “The Song Festers,” which pairs the previous notion of Barney’s terrible warbling with the surprising glory of Jim Nabors’ booming voice, and “Andy’s Vacation,” which is the year’s best example of how well Knotts and Nabors work together, along with “A Black Day For Mayberry,” a premise-driven outing that works as a “small town” show, “My Fair Ernest T. Bass,” which features Doris Packer and claims the best use of Ernest T. Bass (because it tames his over-the-top energy), and “Bargain Day,” which is often compared to an I Love Lucy, but isn’t funny enough to benefit from such an association. Of More Honorable Mention quality are three outings where Gomer shines: “Andy Saves Gomer,” “A Deal Is A Deal,” and “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.,” the last of which is the backdoor pilot for his own series.

 

*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Four of The Andy Griffith Show goes to…

“Citizen’s Arrest”

 

 

Come back next week for Season Five! Stay tuned tomorrow for a new Wildcard!

10 thoughts on “The Ten Best THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW Episodes of Season Four

  1. So glad someone finally agrees with me that Barney’s last TWO years are already on the decline. We all kind of agree about S5 but, to me, S4 has its own troubles. I like the use of Gomer /don’t get me wrong/ but I don’t think Barney has as good a year as he had in S2 and S3. and that’s an important barometer of this show’s quality.

    Some of the /classics/ here, like “The Haunted House”, are beneath what came before. Thats an idea that could work on any series, not just Andy’s.

    That said, “Citizen’s Arrest” may be the best episode of the series. But thats an episode that only Andy Griffith Show could do!

    • Hi, Nat! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Exactly right — “Citizen’s Arrest” is motivated by its characters, which makes it seem unique to ANDY GRIFFITH, while “The Haunted House” is motivated by its idea, which any show could use.

  2. Very good list. For years after this was originally on kids in my neighborhood would yell “Citizen’s Arrest” whenever there was any kind of altercation!

  3. I love “Citizens Arrest”. Great choice for MVP. I agree still lots of good episodes in this season. “Fun Girls” and “Haunted House” are some of my favorites. Barney and Gomer were a perfect match. I do feel like season 5 is where the real decline started but still a lot of good episodes. Thanks.

    • Hi, Smitty! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Yes, a bigger drop is to come between Seasons Four and Five; stay tuned…

  4. I agree with your assessment of Opie the Birdman, and no doubt Mr. McBeevee is far better as far as these Opie-centric openers go, but damned if I’m not a sucker for Andys closing line every time.

    Ernest T. Bass is best in small doses (similar to Sonny Drysdale’s effect on the Beverly Hillbillies), but I laugh out loud at Howard Morris’ antics. Dude is gold.

    Are you stopping at S5 or going on into the Barney-less years also?

    • Hi, Hal! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      A season-by-season study requires every season be studied. I only commit Sitcom Tuesday coverage to shows I can (and want to) feature in full. If I merely discussed the seasons I liked here, I wouldn’t really know whether or not I was selecting a series’ best episodes or adjudicating its run fairly!

      The only exceptions have come in the last six months: BURNS & ALLEN and DANNY THOMAS, and those decisions had nothing to do with not liking the absent seasons (which were compressed into Wildcard posts) — they were due to availability. So, in both cases, I was making my selections within parameters that no viewer will be able to exceed in the foreseeable future, meaning each series’ coverage was “complete” for all practical purposes. (And, fortunately, this is only a concern with some 1950s shows; I won’t have to worry about this again.)

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