The Ten Best THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW Episodes of Season Five

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!