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.
Andy Griffith’s seventh season is the color era’s most episodically rewarding because, as pillars of the series’ identity continue to evolve — or rather, weaken — scripts are becoming more dependent on the strength of individual ideas to deliver temporary week-by-week success. And this year has the best ideas. That is, with reduced sustaining substance relative to the series’ “big picture” sense of self, almost all of its value now must be derived in flashes, moments, episodes — most of which we enjoy if they’re predicated on ideas we enjoy. This has been an ongoing trend, but it’s worth noting with Seven, for this year has even less use of the series’ three core elements than the prior, yet it still comes up with a better collection, simply because it’s got a higher number of likable premises. I think this is also because the year is more able to embrace and write towards its evolving, or again, weakened, identity. For instance, the workplace is no longer around and the series is done trying to replace Barney directly, which means a good third of the show’s narrative opportunities are gone (along with its laughs), and yet, it also no longer tries to go through the motions with this element and therefore eliminates the category as a place for failure. Additionally, family stories remain inferior to their black-and-white predecessors, as Andy’s relationships with Opie and Aunt Bee have become less warm and realistic. However, Seven, like Six, devotes even more time to developing Opie and Bee individually, so though their stories lack the warmth and realism of past family efforts, their use puts them on par with the rest of the ensemble’s, as if the series is redirecting its diminished Taylor unit into the only part of its identity that’s still viable: the small town. In fact, Mayberry’s ensemble is fast becoming the series’ guiding force, with many scripts anchored by its denizens, including Goober and Howard, both of whom are blander and less dimensional replacements for earlier folks who were more comedically inspiring, but the two are nevertheless used a lot and push plot better in Seven than in the years ahead (which are also down Floyd, the Darlings, and Otis, who all bow out here). Thus, while Andy Griffith’s quality continues to erode annually in every way, this collection takes better advantage of the series’ current particulars to inspire its best list of post-black-and-white showings. Below are my picks for the year’s finest.
01) Episode 191: “The Lodge” (Aired: 09/19/66)
Howard’s mother seeks to keep him from joining Andy’s lodge.
Written by Jim Parker & Arnold Margolin | Directed by Lee Philips
Season Seven pushes Howard into more narrative visibility, and this, the year’s sophomore outing, actively makes a point to better integrate him into the cast by building a story around Andy’s attempts to get him inducted into Mayberry’s not-so-exclusive men’s lodge. The comedy comes from Howard’s meddling mother, played effortlessly by good ol’ Mabel Albertson, who uses Goober to blackball her son. Frankly, I wish she was featured more often.
02) Episode 193: “The Ball Game” (Aired: 10/03/66)
Andy regrets agreeing to umpire Opie’s baseball game.
Teleplay by Sid Morse | Story by Rance Howard | Directed by Lee Philips
With a story by Ron Howard’s father, this well-liked excursion from the color era puts its lead in the middle of a conflict that, true to the trend discussed above, doesn’t really delineate the difference between the small-town ensemble and the Taylor family, as Andy’s controversial decision to call a play in Opie’s baseball game that makes Mayberry lose against Mt. Pilot has consequences both for him as a father and a townsperson — without much distinction. Still, it’s an interesting dilemma for any part of the series’ identity, with laughs in support.
03) Episode 196: “Mind Over Matter” (Aired: 10/31/66)
Goober stays with the Taylors after developing whiplash.
Written by Ron Friedman & Pat McCormick | Directed by Lee Philips
Andy Griffith is never above idea-recycling, so we’ve seen a similar story utilized back in Season Four when Gomer became the Taylors’ annoying houseguest. But surprisingly, this iteration of The Man Who Came To Dinner with Goober is even funnier, thanks to a bolder teleplay that goes for bigger laughs and a particularly joyful performance from George Lindsey that helps make this a comparatively fun half hour. And if familiar, it still suits the characters.
04) Episode 199: “Opie Finds A Baby” (Aired: 11/21/66)
Opie and his friend find a baby.
Written by Stan Dreben & Sid Mandel | Directed by Lee Philips
Regular readers know I’m unlikely to highlight episodes featuring babies, for cuteness is not a worthy substitute for humor, but this one actually is hilarious, due to the surprisingly audacious notion of Opie going around to ask unmarried Mayberrians if they want to have a baby. This shocks the town, including the Taylors, creating a Victory In Premise with big hahas that makes smart use of the series’ identity in this era. Jack Nicholson has a small role.
05) Episode 201: “Only A Rose” (Aired: 12/05/66)
Opie destroys Aunt Bee’s rose just before a competition.
Written by Jim Parker & Arnold Margolin | Directed by Lee Philips
We’ve seen many variations of the “entry destroyed before the contest” story — this time Opie accidentally takes out Aunt Bee’s prized pink rose — but this teleplay by Parker/Margolin is a cut above the norm, ensuring that the premise mines a lot of small-town humor from the rivalry between Bee and Clara, and earns some Andy Griffith family-like sentiment with Opie and his learned lesson. However, Opie and Bee are becoming less Taylors, more generic Mayberrians.
06) Episode 203: “Goober Makes History” (Aired: 12/19/66)
Goober grows a beard and tries to change his identity.
Written by John L. Greene & Paul David | Directed by Lee Philips
My choice for the season’s Most Valuable Episode (MVE), “Goober Makes History” is the best segment of the series ever centered around George Lindsey’s Goober, for it actually provides the character with new dimension via a self-awareness about his limitations — which he finally thinks he’ll conquer by growing a beard, as facial hair gives him the confidence he needs to feign intellectualism. It’s funny, but driven by some sincere truths, and more than any other outing this season, it’s a legitimate character piece (like we used to get during the Barney years), rooted in the expansion of Goober’s persona. And while I’ve heard some fans take issue with the way the rest of the town reacts to his change (namely Andy), I think Goober’s grounding authenticity, or lack thereof, warrants the others’ response and ends up yielding a relatable message that reinforces the era’s affection for its ensemble. A smart one.
07) Episode 206: “Dinner At Eight” (Aired: 01/09/67)
Andy has to endure three different spaghetti dinners.
Written by Budd Grossman | Directed by Lee Philips
We mentioned this entry several weeks ago, for the same story was used on The Danny Thomas Show… where it too was a remake of an old I Married Joan! So, I have to again dock points for this offering’s unoriginality (and for not being the best version — that honor goes to Danny Thomas’, which indeed deserved to be an MVE). But I think it works fine here also, largely because the Goober characterization can support it. And, in this year of amusingly elevated Victories In Premise, this one does well by its laughs and is thus a credit to Seven’s comedy.
08) Episode 207: “A Visit To Barney Fife” (Aired: 01/16/67)
Andy visits Barney in Raleigh and tries to help him solve a case.
Written by Bill Idelson & Sam Bobrick | Directed by Lee Philips
Don Knotts is back to make his first of two guest appearances this year with a story set in Raleigh, as Andy visits Barney and quickly learns that his former deputy’s new job is at stake… unless he can somehow help the now-detective solve an obvious case involving a band of grocery store robbers. We forgive the plot’s predictability because of its comedy, and the fine work by Griffith and Knotts, whose chemistry is as sharp as ever. This is my favorite of all Barney’s guest stints in the color era. (Also, Betty Kean appears as “Ma Parker.”)
09) Episode 208: “Barney Comes To Mayberry” (Aired: 01/23/67)
Barney returns to Mayberry at the same time as an old girlfriend, now a movie star.
Written by Sid Morse | Directed by Lee Philips
Although I prefer the above for its comedy and the extended screen time it gives to Andy and Barney as a duo, it’s this episode that won Knotts his fifth and final Emmy for playing Barney Fife, and I think that’s mostly because it does a better job of allowing the actor to display a range of emotions, as he’s caught up in the local publicity of being a casual escort for his former sweetheart (Diahn Williams), now a big movie star in town for a premiere.
10) Episode 216: “Howard, The Comedian” (Aired: 03/20/67)
Howard offends Mayberry’s residents when he jokes about them on television.
Written by Michael Morris & Seaman Jacobs | Directed by Lee Philips
Howard is not exactly the comedic titan the color era hopes, primarily because it doesn’t commit to a bold enough characterization. To wit, the weak mama’s boy image on display in his debut (and in the aforementioned “The Lodge”), which could have been maximized for more laughs, is only used when convenient, and this outing does the opposite and makes Howard something of a success, courtesy of an amusing story where he tells jokes about Mayberry’s residents on TV and offends them — a victorious premise for an easily offended small town.
Other notable episodes that merit mention include: “Opie’s Girlfriend,” which feels very much like a Leave It To Beaver, with a lot of Opie but not enough Andy with Opie, “Aunt Bee’s Crowning Glory,” funny only for the ridiculous image of Aunt Bee in a ridiculous blonde wig (incidentally, Bavier was awarded with her only Emmy win for her work this season), “Big Fish In A Small Town,” a popular entry for those who have a high tolerance for Howard (it better integrates him into the ensemble, but falls short of the above list’s comic baseline), “Otis, The Deputy,” which is, unfortunately, Otis’ swan song, and “Goober’s Contest,” the final aired show with Howard McNear as Floyd, who looks distractingly ill.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Seven of The Andy Griffith Show goes to…
Come back next week for Season Eight! Stay tuned tomorrow for a new Wildcard!