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, RON HOWARD as Opie Taylor, and FRANCES BAVIER as Aunt Bee.
With the departure of Don Knotts’ Barney Fife — the series’ funniest asset and the most common denominator in all its best half hours — The Andy Griffith Show enters its color era and quickly assumes a pattern of episodic mediocrity (compared to the best years), which will last for the remainder of its run and even extend into Mayberry R.F.D. This isn’t to say there aren’t good episodes — these remaining lists will attempt to highlight them — but rather that there are fewer good episodes, and they’re only good based on reduced standards, and even though we’ve been reducing standards regularly since the third season, now it’s official: there aren’t any offerings ahead that are as good as those before. But, again, this should be no surprise, for with the series losing its most prolific laugh-provider, its humor quotient drops considerably. And in addition to that major loss is the official switch in creative control from Aaron Ruben to Bob Ross, who first took on the head writer job in the weakened Season Five and naturally has a different style — one that’s more on display now that he’s the producer too. The most obvious change is that Mayberry is becoming less regionalized; with memorable recurring players like the Darlings, Ernest T. Bass, and even Otis being phased out, the show is actively moving away from the countrified hillbilly rurality that gave stories figurative “color” in their earlier black-and-white years. That is, this small town is becoming more of a generic locality — one you could find anywhere across the country — and the most important thing to know about it now is simply that it’s small. Accordingly, this removes a lot of the setting’s — and the ensemble’s — definition, which is yet another reason that the rest of the run is mediocre, for without character, both the comedy and the drama are dulled, and since the small town is one of the three pillars of the series’ identity, seeing it in a weaker form, especially as it’s also becoming the most prominent part of the series’ identity (as we inch closer to Mayberry R.F.D.), is tough to watch. Of course, the unfortunate alteration of the small town/ensemble coincides with the outright decimation of another key element: Barney, and the very funny workplace stories he invited. Yet while future years will all but drop the professional aspect of Sheriff Andy Taylor’s life, Season Six nobly tries to keep the courthouse alive in story with a new deputy.
Sadly, in picking a replacement for Don Knotts (a difficult task no matter what), the series chooses Jack Burns, a perfectly fine performer who probably could have done a decent job… if his character, Warren, wasn’t put into scripts where he’s forced to act like Barney in stories intended for Barney. Unsurprisingly, this is a setup for failure; Warren isn’t Barney — Burns doesn’t have Knotts’ breathtaking material-elevating quality and the role has no unique definition that could suggest authenticity and therefore encourage emotional investment — and because of not enough care being put into the delicate job of filling Knotts’ shoes, the series decides never to try again, dropping Warren (and consequently the workplace) about two-thirds into Six, and creating an entirely different townsperson to assume the heavy role Barney played in weekly plot. This is Jack Dodson’s Howard Sprague, the square mama’s boy who debuts here and then is basically called upon to be the new haha-generator from Seven through Mayberry R.F.D., never mind that he’s the equivalent of unbuttered toast and never actually generates the hahas intended. Future years won’t exactly soar for his more frequent inclusion. Fortunately, Six is still in the air, for along with minimal Howard and an attempt to keep using the workplace, it’s also not yet given up on the family. Or, rather, it’s found a way to keep them viable, for although Andy remains checked out (and grumpy), he’s still involved more regularly in plot (unlike later), and with Barney’s absence opening up room for Opie and Aunt Bee to anchor more ideas, they shine as individuals, outside of familial bonds… At the same time, however, because their stories lack the warmth of past “family shows,” Opie and Bee entries will quickly become extensions of the small-town/ensemble part of the series’ identity, eliminating “family shows” as a major category and enabling the series’ larger shift towards the ensemble-led Mayberry R.F.D, where slightly amusing ideas are more important than relationship-based sincerity. This is where Andy Griffith is headed; stay tuned… As for Six, it’s not the best color year in terms of episodic ideas (that’s Seven), but its sense of self is reminiscent of the black-and-white seasons, with more of the series’ original DNA intact — this should be considered a saving grace. So, with that in mind, I have picked ten episodes that I think exemplify this year’s finest.
01) Episode 164: “The Bazaar” (Aired: 10/11/65)
The new deputy arrests Aunt Bee and her friends for playing bingo.
Written by Ben Joelson & Art Baer | Directed by Sheldon Leonard
Jack Burns’ Warren makes his debut in this offering that clearly was written with Barney in mind, for the story is reminiscent of a frequently used template, best on display in the first year’s “Andy Saves Barney’s Morale.” Naturally, the inclusion of an ill-defined proxy weakens its overall appeal (and Griffith doesn’t know how to modulate Andy’s anger against a character without his emotional investment — yikes!), but I needed to feature it here because it, like the more grating “A Warning From Warren,” is a decent comedic story that illustrates precisely why this replacement was poorly handled and didn’t work, for with Barney, this would have been a solid entry; with a diluted version of him, it’s a script that shouldn’t have been shot.
02) Episode 166: “Off To Hollywood” (Aired: 10/25/65)
Mayberry gives the Taylors a send-off in advance of their trip to Los Angeles.
Written by Bill Idelson & Sam Bobrick | Directed by Alan Rafkin
The three-part Hollywood arc is probably the most memorable narrative event of the sixth season, and generally, it’s a winner, for it utilizes the small-town aspect of the series’ identity by contrasting it against the more glamorous, big-city ways of Hollywood, which the Taylors are visiting because a film is being made based on Andy (the old Sheriff Without A Gun idea from last year). This, the first of the trio, takes place all in Mayberry, highlighting the contained ensemble and how excited they are for this shared local bit of celebrity.
03) Episode 167: “The Taylors In Hollywood” (Aired: 11/01/65)
The Taylors are in Hollywood to visit the production of the film based on Andy.
Written by Bill Idelson & Sam Bobrick | Directed by Alan Rafkin
We get a taste of Sheriff Without A Gun as the Taylors, now in L.A., head down to the studio to watch production on the film… only to realize how fictional and sensationalized it’s become. There are the typical idea-led Hollywood jokes used, but the outing offers an able contrast to its predecessor, showcasing the opposite of the simple and cheery Mayberry by reinforcing the glossy and, as it’s seen here, falseness of this metropolis. And unlike the third part in this trilogy (cited below), it’s more original and displays its characters better. Gavin MacLeod, Hayden Rorke, June Vincent, Eddie Quillan, Ross Elliott, Yvonne Lime, and Herb Vigran guest.
04) Episode 176: “The Return Of Barney Fife” (Aired: 01/10/66)
Barney comes back to Mayberry for his and Andy’s high school reunion.
Written by Bill Idelson & Sam Bobrick | Directed by Alan Rafkin
Don Knotts makes his first of five return appearances to Andy Griffith — and his first of two episodes this year — in this controversial excursion that actually earned him another Emmy. However, despite this honor, it’s not universally beloved, principally because of the bittersweet (and some argue, unbelievable) revelation that Barney’s former gal, Thelma Lou, has married someone else. But because Barney has indeed left Mayberry, I think this is a powerful character drama, and while I, as usual, wish there were more laughs (beyond just the work of guest Barbara Perry), our investment in a character like Barney, and his relationship with Andy, is so strong that it improves the whole entry, making it a standout and proving his value.
05) Episode 177: “The Legend Of Barney Fife” (Aired: 01/17/66)
Barney is worried about living up to Warren’s expectations of his legendary courage.
Written by Harvey Bullock | Directed by Alan Rafkin
Barney sticks around for this mixed offering that feels more like a classic workplace story and certainly packs in more laughs than the melancholy outing above. But it expressly desires to contrast the old deputy with his replacement, which in turn forces us to acknowledge head-on what a great character Barney is and what an undefined and worthless one Warren is. This blunts enjoyment, but not entirely; Don Knotts remains a gem. Also, Frank Cady guests.
06) Episode 178: “Lost And Found” (Aired: 01/24/66)
Aunt Bee takes out an insurance claim on her lost pin.
Written by John L. Greene & Paul David | Directed by Alan Rafkin
One of several episodes built around Aunt Bee this year, “Lost And Found” is an example of the shift we’re seeing in stories about members of the Taylor family, for the relationships that once supplied such rich emotional texture are undermined in favor of comic situations. Thus, the usage of Aunt Bee here might as well be the same as the use of Goober or Otis or anyone else (in stories where they star). And yet, unlike the Bee-focused shows below, this one employs a more original idea, and the comedy is fresher, particularly in the scene with the insurance agent, played by Jack Dodson, soon to join the cast in another role: Howard Sprague.
07) Episode 180: “Aunt Bee Learns To Drive” (Aired: 02/07/66)
Aunt Bee takes driving lessons and ends up denting the car.
Written by Jack Elinson | Directed by Lee Philips
Admittedly, I have some mixed feelings about this entry — not only is it a routine sitcom idea that almost any show could do, it also forces a depiction of Andy that’s more obstinate and harsh than we like. However, I think Griffith’s more aggressive performance is better motivated here than it is elsewhere in the season, and it’s vital to the premise, which has Aunt Bee accidentally denting the car and not being able to tell Andy. And why I enjoy this one — and excuse its unoriginality — is that, unlike most outings for Bee’s character, it actually puts the comedic burden on Bavier, and lets her drive (pun intended) the humor.
08) Episode 181: “Look Paw, I’m Dancing” (Aired: 02/14/66)
Opie doesn’t want to go to his first school dance.
Written by Ben Starr | Directed by Lee Philips
In the color era where shows featuring Andy’s familial relationships are generally disappointing because of their diminished emotional returns, it’s always a treat to find exceptions, particularly when the great chemistry that Griffith and Howard initially shared is back on display — usually because Andy’s allowed to be sweeter and Opie, who’s growing up, is allowed to mature believably. Accordingly, this charming half hour is the best of Six’s father/son shows, with laughs and some earned sincerity, courtesy of Opie’s maturation. An MVE contender.
09) Episode 186: “The Foster Lady” (Aired: 03/21/66)
Aunt Bee is chosen for a furniture polish commercial.
Written by Jack Elinson & Iz Elinson | Directed by Alan Rafkin
As with the above “Aunt Bee Learns To Drive,” we have another unoriginal premise that’s nevertheless excusable due to the comic performance of Bavier, helped by a teleplay and a structure that actually lets her be funny. That is, the whole idea of Bee being unnatural on camera is clichéd, but such comic boldness with her character is rare and should be celebrated, especially if the story is basically sound. Also, Gomer Pyle’s Ronnie Schell guest stars.
10) Episode 188: “The Battle Of Mayberry” (Aired: 04/04/66)
Opie learns the truth about Mayberry’s most famous battle.
Written by John L. Greene & Paul David | Directed by Alan Rafkin
My choice for the season’s Most Valuable Episode (MVE), “The Battle Of Mayberry” belongs in the pile of shows that deflate the town’s ego by revealing some dirty little secret that its people would rather not know. A prior example was in Season One, when Mayberry’s Revolutionary War hero was learned to be an ancestor of Otis’, and it’s a formula that will be applied later on also, though never as smartly and comedically as here, when Opie researches the famed Battle of Mayberry and discovers that there really was no fight at all. It’s an amusing idea and the application of the town’s ensemble is never better, making this a prime sample of Season Six and the larger direction into which the series is heading, with the Mayberrians as a whole becoming more important than Andy and the Taylors…
Other notable episodes that merit mention include: the third part of the Hollywood trio, “The Hollywood Party,” which guest stars Ruta Lee (and Sid Melton) for a predictable story that attempts to bridge the L.A./Mayberry divide but doesn’t make any points that weren’t already made in the combination of the first two entries, and “Eat Your Heart Out,” the year’s best Goober show. Of more Honorable Mention quality are “Aunt Bee, The Swinger,” with Charles Ruggles, “Aunt Bee On TV,” just because it depicts small-town life a little unfavorably, “Otis, The Artist,” with Otis’ only Season Six appearance, and “The County Clerk,” which introduces Howard (and his mother, played by Mabel Albertson), along with both “A Man’s Best Friend,” which has a comedic, albeit strained, premise, and “A Singer In Town,” memorable for the “Mayberry U.S.A.” song and its various performances.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Six of The Andy Griffith Show goes to…
“The Battle Of Mayberry”
Come back next week for Season Seven! Stay tuned tomorrow for a new Wildcard!
Great list… I was just talking to my dad today and I told him that’s really rare that the colored episodes don’t get that much play on syndication. What do you think of that episode opie’s job? That episode was a bit distracting because of Andy’s portrayal.
Hi, Track! Thanks for reading and commenting.
While the color era pivots both Opie and Aunt Bee so that they can exist in story alone and without an obvious connection to Andy, I think episodes built for the kid, in particular, suffer when they give us too much of Opie and not enough of Andy *with* Opie — I’m just not emotionally invested in him alone, especially when the comedy’s not there. That’s my larger problem with “Opie’s Job,” although I certainly agree that Griffith’s harsher performance, endemic to this period, is well on display, particularly in the scenes he does share with Howard.
Thanks Jackson. It is nice to see Frances Bavier shine in the color episodes.
Hi, Smitty! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Yes — in fact, I think this may be Bavier’s best season, based on the relative success of the comedic stories thrown her way.
I have mixed feelings about The Return of Barney Fife episode. I did not like the ending where Barney’s head is turned by another woman a little too easily. I know the intent was to end on a positive note but it didn’t quite ring true.
Hi, John! Thanks for reading and commenting.
I think that’s a misinterpretation. Notice how both men’s faces fall at the end of the Nettie Albright car exchange in the tag before they slowly go into the house, ending the episode on a sentimental, melancholy note. This lets us know that Barney’s temporary recovery was all an act and he’s trying to underplay the extent to which his heart is broken — we’re supposed to understand that he’s still in mourning for Thelma Lou — and it’s totally in keeping with Barney’s character to swagger his way through something that he doesn’t want others to know he feels. In fact, I think Knotts does a terrific job of communicating this to the audience, and if there’s any doubt, the quietly sad underscoring cinches it.
Thanks. I’ll have to watch it again. In any event, as you stated, this episode will always remain controversial.
Yes, it’s the tag, so it was probably missing from many syndicated airings. The full version adds context, so it’s worth checking out now on DVD/streaming.
Hello there. I would love for you to cover Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction but alas only seasons 5 and 3 are available on DVD. And The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet but 14 seasons and only so many of its shows on DVDs its just out of the realm of possibility.
It does seem though that every show starts off slowly but respectively, climbs until reaching its peak of greatness season 3/4 but then begins the gradually decent into something that is a shell of its former self. Petticoat, Bewitched, The Golden Girls were for me terrific the first four seasons but then not so much afterwards.
Hi, Matt! Thanks for reading and commenting.
I have no plans to cover PETTICOAT JUNCTION or OZZIE & HARRIET here but will be discussing THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES shortly, as promised. Please visit the Coming Attractions page, which I update periodically, to see what’s ahead.
Regarding the trajectory of sitcoms, consistency is the hardest part of series television and there’s a natural arc to every show. Once an identity is established, a comedy tends to operate at peak form until it slowly is no longer able to sustain itself at the same level.
However, I’d object to your labeling this period around Seasons Three and Four for “every show,” because as we’ve seen throughout the last seven years of Sitcom Tuesdays, each one is different. Some peak in their first year, some in their second, some in their third, some in their fourth, and some even bloom as late as Five and Six. If you’re asking me to speak generally, I think the era where “novelty” (the premise is still story-generating) meets “knowingness” (there’s a true understanding of the characters) occurs most often around Seasons Two and/or Three — assuming that the first year was complete.
But, again, that’s a generalization that doesn’t apply to all. For instance, I think BEWITCHED was at its prime in Season One and was never again able to achieve the same excellence consistently. We’ve covered many shows where that’s been the case… And we’ve also covered many shows that were still hitting new heights well after Season Four. It’s a case-by-case basis.
Thank you for you’re very detailed and informative reply back. It’s much appreciated.
Glad to hear Hillbillies will be covered but isn’t it just sad about Petticoat Junction being that show between Hillbillies and Green Acres?
Despite having one of the great theme songs it also featured a great ensemble cast particularly dear Bea Benaderet for whom Petticoat was created (as Paul Henning thought she much deserving). Really Petticoat is generally seen as the lesser of the three and that is rather unfortunate.
I’ll share some general thoughts about PETTICOAT JUNCTION (and the previously discussed GREEN ACRES) during our forthcoming BEVERLY HILLBILLIES coverage. However, I’m afraid my decision not to cover that series separately alongside the other two should preview the slant of my opinion — if it’s seen as the lesser of the three by viewers who know all three, I don’t think that’s without good reason. Stay tuned…
I couldn’t agree more- the Andy Griffith Show can be divided into the episodes with Barney and the episodes without. Mediocre is the word for the post- Barney era. Still worth watching of course but I’ve always thought the Barney Fife character was the key to the show- and the greatest character in sitcom history.
Hi, hanspostcard! Thanks for reading and commenting.
I don’t think Barney Fife has the nuance, objective, or application in story to be considered the greatest character in sitcom history, but I share both your enthusiasm for his presence and your preference for the episodes with him over those without him.
Be sure to check out the other posts in our ANDY GRIFFITH coverage, if you haven’t already.