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.
Although traces of Andy Griffith’s issues with story and character appear in Four, Five is the year where elements of the series’ identity actually start eroding — a prelude to the even greater decline between the end of this season and the next: the first in color, the first with a new producer, and the first without Barney. That last departure is the series’ biggest, but the show gets a taste of loss here, as Gomer — the second funniest Mayberrian — goes to his spin-off, marking the first time an idea-providing character is taken away, leaving a void so obvious it must be filled. Indeed, he’s replaced by Goober (George Lindsey), the goofy cousin introduced briefly at the end of Four, now assuming Gomer’s role as a peripheral player. However, Goober is less dimensional, and he’s not an adequate substitute for a series that is desperate for story. In fact, the issues with weekly plot are becoming more glaring — not just because the Goober switch indicates that the show is no longer additive, but merely trying to replace and soldier forward without its most ideal ensemble. No, these concerns are glaring now because of a continued lack of originality, as the show uses the same tired narrative templates from before and/or more obviously puts its regulars into theoretically appealing stories instead of having them legitimately motivated, yielding a tension about what’s believable. Also, while the ensemble is no longer in peak form, Five’s family stories, particularly those with Opie, are no longer as emotionally rich either, largely due to a more aggressive depiction of Andy — one that’s less gentle and not as earned, compromising yet another aspect of the series’ identity. Heck, all that’s really in decent shape right now is Barney, and naturally, this is Don Knotts’ last season. He’ll take with him the series’ longtime producer, Aaron Ruben, who actually stepped away from head writer responsibilities this year, as he juggled creative duties on both Andy Griffith and Gomer Pyle — a fact that explains why Five is clearly lesser than Four, as contrary to what most fans believe, Five is already part of the Bob Ross era, for though he’s not yet the official producer, he’s the “story consultant” (code for “head writer”), and he brings obvious changes that we’ll touch more on next week. In the meantime, here are my picks for this year’s finest.
01) Episode 129: “Barney’s Physical” (Aired: 09/28/64)
Barney has to gain weight to meet the new Civil Service standards.
Written by Bob Ross | Directed by Howard Morris
New head writer Bob Ross and Ernest T. Bass portrayer Howard Morris are the two primary behind-the-scenes credits for this amiable offering that employs a likable premise in which Barney has to gain weight in order to meet the new Civil Service standards. (It’s a story later used, albeit more comedically, on Gilligan’s Island.) Frankly, this is a simple Victory In Premise — it works for the idea alone — but there are certainly funny moments that justify its inclusion.
02) Episode 134: “The Man In The Middle” (Aired: 11/02/64)
Andy finds himself caught in the middle of a fight between Barney and Thelma Lou.
Written by Gus Adrian & David Evans | Directed by Alan Rafkin
An admittedly atypical outing, this freelance script is one of the few times where Andy is directly responsible for the conflict, and the “two couple” design is a device that the series sporadically uses but seldom as effectively as here, where it embraces the notion of interpersonal drama — something the show attempts to supply more often this season, even though it usually has trouble motivating it. Fortunately, by keeping this low-concept, and grounding Andy’s “offense” in small-town relatability, it works as a sample of what Andy Griffith could be doing more of this year, if it wasn’t driven by heightened episodic ideas.
03) Episode 135: “Barney’s Uniform” (Aired: 11/09/64)
A man threatens to beat up Barney the next time the deputy is in plainclothes.
Written by Bill Idelson & Sam Bobrick | Directed by Coby Ruskin
With Allan Melvin as the bad guy bully that Barney must confront in the final act — after Andy has given the antagonist a false impression of the meek deputy’s power (this time Andy claims that Barney is a judo expert!) — this entry reminds a lot of Season Three’s “Lawman Barney,” and like that half hour, it works because Don Knotts gets to display a range of emotions, all within the well-drawn Barney characterization (which remains the series’ finest).
04) Episode 137: “Goodbye, Sheriff Taylor” (Aired: 11/23/64)
Barney is acting sheriff when Andy goes out of town.
Written by Fred Freeman & Lawrence J. Cohen | Directed by Gene Nelson
We’ve seen a lot of “Barney is in control for the day” shows over the years, yet this is one of the best in that category — not only because it deploys three amusing peripheral Mayberrians as the temporary acting deputies (Goober, Jud, and Otis), but also because it actually gives us something NEW, as Barney and the guys realize how much better Andy is at this job and then scheme to get him back. This is a reversal of what swell-headed Barney would usually do.
05) Episode 141: “Three Wishes For Opie” (Aired: 12/21/64)
Barney thinks he’s found a lamp that can grant wishes.
Written by Richard M. Powell | Directed by Howard Morris
There are two outings here that put to use a somewhat fresh aspect of the Barney characterization: his penchant for believing in the supernatural. This is a buyable trait for the neurotic deputy and it’s why both this offering and the one below (“The Lucky Letter”) are worthwhile in this “same old, same old” season, although this one is totally ensconced in the mechanics of its premise and is way more story-driven than I typically prefer.
06) Episode 146: “The Lucky Letter” (Aired: 01/25/65)
Barney thinks he’s fallen victim to a broken chain letter.
Written by Richard M. Powell | Directed by Theodore J. Flicker
In contrast to the above, this entry built around Barney’s superstitious streak features a less gaudy episodic idea and accordingly, it seems to be a better showcase for the regulars, as the story, and its structure, aren’t able to overwhelm the accompanying character moments. Of course, it still claims a familiar sitcom plot — the dreaded “broken chain letter” — that won’t win points for originality, but it comes packaged to a script with several elevating comic bits.
07) Episode 147: “Goober And The Art Of Love” (Aired: 02/01/65)
Andy and Barney fix Goober up with Lydia Crosswaithe.
Written by Fred Freeman & Lawrence J. Cohen | Directed by Alan Rafkin
Josie Lloyd’s Lydia Crosswaithe, the awkward girl from Season Three’s “Barney Mends A Broken Heart,” returns as the object of desire for Goober, who seeks to be paired with her in this largely sweet, but affably amusing installment that provides him some sincere humanity, and reminds of last year’s “A Date For Gomer,” which similarly dimensionalized Goober’s otherwise more superior and story-providing cousin. We miss Gomer, but Goober’s fine here.
08) Episode 152: “The Case Of The Punch In The Nose” (Aired: 03/15/65)
Barney ruffles feathers by digging up an old unsettled assault case.
Written by Bill Idelson & Sam Bobrick | Directed by Coby Ruskin
My choice for the season’s Most Valuable Episode (MVE), “The Case Of The Punch In The Nose” is the year’s best showcase for two of the series’ main aspects: the workplace/Barney and the town/ensemble. It’s a great Barney show because he drives the action by dredging up an unsolved assault case between Floyd the barber (Howard McNear) and Mr. Foley the grocer (Peyton Place‘s Frank Ferguson), and it’s a great “small town” show because it exploits the festering nature of conflict in a place where everybody knows everybody and they all have history. It’s not the most flattering view of Mayberry life either, and that’s a notion that’s only popular here in Five, as the series seeks to navigate not having its most ideal roster of ensemble players (and making the location less obviously rural), while still keeping this core part of the series’ identity in regular use… especially as it awaits Barney’s leave. Also, Larry Hovis guests.
09) Episode 153: “Opie’s Newspaper” (Aired: 03/22/65)
Opie embarrasses his family when he writes and publishes a scandal sheet.
Written by Harvey Bullock | Directed by Coby Ruskin
As with the above, this is an offering that purposely depicts a not-so-rosy view of small-town life, and while it’s not as rural as some of the stories in previous seasons and therefore better reflects the more generic “Main Street U.S.A.” embodied by both the later years and Mayberry R.F.D., the conflict-yielding realities of existence in such a contained, controlled environment is not something that’s routinely well-handled ahead, when Mayberry is generally viewed with rose-colored glasses. For that reason, it’s exciting to see the ramifications of “scandal” in a small town, particularly when the folks behind it are Andy, Barney, and Aunt Bee — morally decent characters whom we like. And this isn’t an incongruity because the stakes are low and nothing they say keeps them from staying heroes; after all, much of this is relatable.
10) Episode 155: “The Arrest Of The Fun Girls” (Aired: 04/05/65)
The Fun Girls once again cause trouble for Andy and Barney’s relationships.
Written by Richard M. Powell | Directed by Theodore J. Flicker
Joyce Jameson and Jean Carson make their last of three appearances as the “Fun Girls,” two outrageous big-city women who cause trouble for Andy and Barney when they show up in Mayberry and disrupt the status quo. This is basically the same plot as their previous entry (“The Fun Girls”), giving credence to my criticism that the show is recycling ideas without much nuance. But because the Fun Girls always bring big laughs, I won’t complain much… doll.
Other notable episodes that merit mention include: “The Pageant,” the year’s best Aunt Bee outing, “Andy And Helen Have Their Day,” a routine “Barney is a nuisance” show, “The Rehabilitation Of Otis,” which has a terrific premise but a script that falls short of delivering upon its expectations, “If I Had A Quarter-Million,” which gives us too much of a good thing (lots of Barney, not much else), and “The Luck Of Newton Monroe,” which I include simply for guest Don Rickles, who deserves better. I’ll also cite seemingly popular excursions where characters are placed in story, instead of motivating it, “The Education Of Ernest T. Bass,” “Barney Fife, Realtor,” and “Barney Runs For Sheriff.”
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Five of The Andy Griffith Show goes to…
“The Case Of The Punch In The Nose”
Come back next week for Season Six! Stay tuned tomorrow for a new Wildcard!
Great picks Jackson as always. I have always found “Barney Fife, Realtor” very funny. The whole core cast seems to shine in that one.
Through your reviews of the first five seasons, I have come to realize that the real downfall started before season 6. Of course with Barney leaving it only made it more glaring. Season 5 had a lot of clunkers and Andy was developing his grouchy persona.
I do think that seasons 6 to 8 have some good episodes and look forward to your reviews. Thanks again.
Hi, Smitty! Thanks for reading and commenting.
“Barney Fife, Realtor” is a quintessential example of the series’ mounting narrative problems — it’s a comedic idea into which the characters are placed, instead of one they motivate. It’s simply convenient to have Barney all of a sudden interested in selling Andy’s house, never mind that this has nothing to do with the way his character usually functions or what he usually does throughout the run. It’s forced. Including it here as more than an Honorable Mention would have required a heavy compromise to my standards.
Stay tuned next week for my thoughts on Season Six!
I feel the same way about “Barney Fife, Realtor” and that goes also for “Barney Runs for Sheriff” and “Otis Sues the County.” I just don’t believe that the characters would do the things they do in there without some writer forcing them into it.
Also I love when Mayberry gets a little “scandal” so I’m glad to see “Opie’s Newspaper” and “The Man In The Middle” here. And it goes without saying but “The Case of the Punch in the Nose” is S5’s standout. Wish we saw more of Frank Ferguson.
I hate the color years. There’s no episode that’s as good as b/w years. But I look forward to your commentary anyway! (Even when I don’t watch the show I enjoy your posts!)
Also I know you have the Coming Attractions page for it but I was wondering if you’ve ever given any thought to featuring “Gomer Pyle USMC” here? Thanks!
Hi, Nat! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Yes, those three episodes you listed are great examples of story driving character, as opposed to the more desirable inverse.
As for the color seasons, I’m afraid that I agree — there are no offerings ahead that compare to the best of what we’ve already covered. However, there are still worthwhile entries based on the era’s own (reduced) standards, and I’ve found them. Stay tuned…
And, lastly, I have thought about covering GOMER PYLE, U.S.M.C., but ultimately, I don’t think it’s necessary to examine both that series and this one. So, after choosing ANDY GRIFFITH, it’s unlikely that you’ll see GOMER PYLE as well.
Since Andy maintained such control over the series it seems odd that he allowed his grouchy persona to take hold. This became even more pronounced in the coming seasons. Maybe as time went on he had too much control…..
Hi, John! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Griffith seemed to become less creatively satisfied by his show as it progressed. The biggest problem ahead is less this new harsher characterization and more the simple fact that his weekly on-screen involvement reduces considerably. Stay tuned…
Out of all this black and white years this one has always been my least favorite and my bias have said that it’s probably cuz I haven’t seen that many episodes of it in years. But I definitely agree that Andy had more for darker persona here. there’s one episode in season 6 I will clarify that more but I’ll leave that right there. You got to see him being more snappy with aunt bee. also I like the fact that you highlighted the scndal episodes. I myself never seen an episode of gomer Pyle but I feel good things about it
Hi, Track! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Keep in mind that the reason Andy’s harsher portrayal is worth commenting on here is that it doesn’t feel earned or motivated based on what we know of his characterization. This hurts stories that feature him prominently, particularly those that involve his family, because this makes it harder for us to remain emotionally invested.
The biggest problem on this front in upcoming seasons, then, is the diminishing returns of the so-called “family stories” — and, as we’ll see, while Andy’s portrayal remains more aggressive, his reduced inclusion in plot is what truly eradicates this important part of the series’ identity from being prominent and enjoyable, for this essentially removes yet another one of the series’ three major narrative tentpoles (after the era’s post-Warren abandonment of the workplace). That’s my guiding concern. Stay tuned for more…
Jackson, have started watching Gomer Plye USMC reruns and was wondering if you were planning to either highlight or do a wild card on the show. While the episodes I’ve seen are only mildly ammusing the show was in the top 3 4 of it’s 5 season and even from a standpoint of it’s popularity at the time would be interested in your thoughts
Hi, Bob! Thanks for reading and commenting.
As I said to Nat when he asked me in August (above), it’s unlikely. GOMER PYLE is neither episodically exceptional nor rhetorically necessary — so, no pressing need for it here.