Christmas is just over, and maybe you’re happy or exhausted or overwhelmed or at peace. There is no mood, however, that cannot be lifted or enhanced by watching a few episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. A new DVD, The Best of Mayberry, celebrates the 50th anniversary of the show’s 1960 debut, and collects what is, by fan common consensus, 17 episodes that are the all-time favorites of the series that ran from 1960-1968. It starred Griffith as Sheriff Andy Taylor, presiding over Mayberry, a town that is at once an idealized small town, and a quietly realistic embodiment of small-town habits and values.
Just last night, for example, I watched “Man in a Hurry,” considered by the authors of The Andy Griffith Show Book (1985) to be the best Griffith Show ever (it was episode number 77, if you’re a scholar of such things). It tells the tale of a big-city businessman, anxious to get onto his appointments, who becomes stranded in Mayberry when his car breaks down. Once there for a while, he becomes soothed and charmed by the slower, less tense, and welcoming pace of Mayberry life.
“Man in a Hurry” marked the first time Jim Nabors’ gas-station attendant Gomer Pyle appeared in the series. But the heart of the show resides in the quietly humorous conversations between Sheriff Andy and his deputy Barney Fife (the great Don Knotts). They sit on Andy’s porch on a Sunday afternoon, chatting and singing snatches of songs whose melodies Andy plunks out on an acoustic guitar. Barney talks about his plans for the rest of the day — Barney reckons he’ll take a nap, then go over to his girlfriend Thelma Lou’s, and maybe they’ll “watch some TV.”
Gradually, the man in a hurry (played with a fine mixture of irritation, impatience, and gradual wonderment by Robert Emhardt) becomes transfixed by these Mayberry denizens. He marvels at their lack of anxiety, saying at one point, “You people live in another world!”
Indeed they did. The Andy Griffith Show, conceived by a big-city actor-producer Sheldon Leonard as a spin from The Danny Thomas Show, was a little miracle of television. It was built around the stage persona of Griffith, up to that point known as a folksy comedian and actor (No Time For Sergeants). Don Knotts had specialized in embodying nervous, neurotic men on The Steve Allen Show variety hour. And of course, Sheriff Andy’s son, Opie, was portrayed by Ron Howard with a winning mixture of sweetness and tartness. The Andy Griffith Show developed the passionate following it deserved.
The 50th Anniversay DVD set includes classic episodes such as “Opie the Birdman,” “Barney’s Sidecar,” “The Christmas Story,” and “The Sermon For Today.”
What were your favorite Andy Griffith Show characters, and your favorite episodes?