TV's been on my brain lately. I just finished Netflix's Ozark and started Altered Carbon. Intermittently, however, I've been re-watching episodes of what could be my favorite TV show and is, arguably, the greatest ever: The Andy Griffith Show. My dad loves it, so I grew up watching it along with others like Hogan's Heroes and Happy Days. I've always wanted to articulate the reasons for my affinity and examine why the sixth season marks a drop in quality from which the show never recovers. During this process, I'll be recounting a few facts that influence my opinion of the show and its seasons. For more in-depth information, consult the Wikipedia article. The picture above is from ReelRundown, the one below is from Wikipedia, and the one far below is from The Andy Griffith Show Wiki.
What I like about The Andy Griffith Show is its endearing characters, humorous plots, and lively, if exaggerated, acting. Also praiseworthy is the fact that its content is appropriate for any audience. I'm not one who personally cares about that--I love South Park, for instance--but it's nice being able to watch the show with people of any age. According to Wikipedia, The Andy Griffith Show "aired on CBS from October 3, 1960, to April 1, 1968, with a total of 249 half-hour episodes spanning over eight seasons, 159 in black and white and 90 in color." Coincidentally, the transition from black and white (seasons 1-5) to color (seasons 6-8) marks the dip in quality as well. I haven't seen any of Mayberry R.F.D. (1968-71) or The New Andy Griffith Show (1971), but I'm guessing they're mediocre if not downright bad.
The Best Years: Seasons 1-5 (1960-65)
Part of what makes the first five seasons special is that the core cast, pictured above, remained the same. Starting out, the show has more of a rural feel to it (characters' diction and accents) that was later abandoned. Andy is consistently pleasant, whereas, in later seasons, he always seems to be pissed off. Opie is at his youngest, naturally, and his most likeable. Similar to many, my favorite character is Barney Fife, played by Don Knotts, who would leave the show after the fifth season to pursue movie stardom, before returning to TV stardom as a regular cast member of Three's Company (1977-1984), and then, again, to film. Other regular characters such as Floyd Lawson (Howard McNear), Otis Campbell (Hal Smith), and Ernest T. Bass (Howard Morris) contribute to the show's success. Even guest stars like the Darlings, the Fun Girls, and Malcolm Merriweather (Bernard Fox) serve as welcome additions to an already robust cast. The departures disappoint, however: pharmacist Ellie Walker (Elinor Donahue) in '61, nurse Peggy McMillan (Joanna Moore) in '63, mechanic Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors) in '64 who would go on to Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. (1964-69), and Thelma Lou (Betty Lynn) in '65. I always hoped that Andy would marry either Ellie or Peggy, but I was fine with Helen Crump (Aneta Corsaut). Because every season is 32 episodes (with the exception of the second, which is 31), there's a lot to enjoy. There are too many great scenes to recall, but what follows are my favorite episodes.
Season 1 (1960-61)
The Not-So-Good Years: Seasons 6-8 (1965-68)
I've already mentioned a few things that led to the quality decrease in the show's latter years--switch to color, Opie's aging, etc.--but what is undoubtedly the main culprit is the departure of some characters and the addition (or increased presence) of others. While several likeable characters exit the show over the course of its first five seasons, the replacements don't add much. The new deputy, Warren Ferguson (Jack Burns), is terrible. Yes, he has a tough role to fill, but he doesn't do anything to endear himself. Similarly, Goober Pyle (George Lindsey), who first appeared in '64, replaces Gomer, but isn't as enjoyable to watch. Unfortunately, Howard Sprague (Jack Dodson), Emmett Clark (Paul Hartman), Sam Jones (Ken Berry), and Mike Jones (Buddy Foster) are forgettable at best. Frankly, the show ceased to be funny in season 6, which is why I haven't watched most of the last three seasons. There are highlights, though, that manage to be entertaining and sad--Barney's guest appearances and Thelma Lou's cameo, for example, reminding one of better times for both the characters and the viewers. What follows is a list of notable episodes.
Season 6 (1965-66)
And, though it doesn't capture the magic of the old days, Return to Mayberry (1986), the made-for-TV movie, is worth watching as well. The reunion specials include The Andy Griffith Show Reunion (1993) and The Andy Griffith Show: Back to Mayberry (2003).
Sure, like any work of art, the show has a host of faults, but it is also one that, in seasons 1-5, is able to overcome them. Sadly, most of the cast are dead and gone. This means that there will never be another live-action reunion. Their work will live on, however, in one of the greatest, if not the greatest, TV shows of all time. What sparked this post, besides always wanting to write down my thoughts about TAGS, is that I was recently at a restaurant where I saw an older woman wearing a pink sweatshirt, which read "I'd rather be in Mayberry, N.C." Some days I think I would, too. For those days, The Andy Griffith Show is, as of this writing, available to stream via Netflix. (And no, my blog isn't one big ad for Netflix. I've just been watching Netflix a lot lately.)