I was so sad last week to hear that Andy Griffith had died. I know actors aren’t their characters, but Andy Griffith is always going to be Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry for me. The one consolation in his death is that I imagine a lot of people dropped by Mayberry last week, or have been inspired to watch the show some time soon.
I’ve actually been wandering through The Andy Griffith Show for the last several months, so I thought it would be a very timely review topic today. I’ve probably seen almost every episode before, but it’s one of those shows I’ve caught here and there for my whole life, so I’ve enjoyed starting at the beginning and working forward through Netflix’s streaming collection.
The TV show, running from 1960 to 1968, focuses on life in small-town Mayberry. It centers on local sheriff Andy Taylor and his family and neighbors. It’s a sweet, warm, innocent show, where the problems are real but never too big or too dark, where the characters genuinely care about one another, and where any crisis can be resolved in 25 minutes, usually through some common-sense wisdom from Andy.
The cast of characters follows one of my favorite rules for comedy, with your fairly normal lead surrounded by much funnier figures. Deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts) is desperate to be a real law man, intent on rules and regulations, full of big plans. He’s at the ready with his citation pad and his gun–and one bullet, which he keeps in his shirt pocket. Barney is a hopelessly incompetent deputy, and keeping his ego intact is an ongoing job for Andy. Barney always tries so hard, and the feel-good nature of the show means that things always work out in the end.
Andy is a widower with one son, Opie, played by a very young Ron Howard. There are other shows from the same time period where the one kid character is either irritating (The Dick Van Dyke Show) or kind of a non-entity (I Love Lucy), but Opie is a genuinely good addition to the show. He’s not just cute–he has good comedic timing, and he’s a smart kid without being unreasonably precocious. Some of the Opie-episodes are a little saccharine, but others are really wonderful. Sometimes Andy sets Opie straight on an issue, and other times Opie, in his child innocence, teaches Andy something. There’s a very nice relationship between the characters, and if I was picking best TV dads, Andy would be in the top.
Other characters include the warm and kind Aunt Bea, slow but very nice Gomer Pyle, town drunk Otis Campbell (who lets himself into the jail after he ties one on of a Saturday evening), Barney’s very understanding girlfriend Thelma Lou, and a recurring host of others. It’s an odd thing to say, but it’s really a show full of good people. Sometimes the premise of a character-focused show is to have them fight with each other, but that’s rarely the case here. People get themselves into trouble one way or another (Barney rushes into something, Aunt Bea is taken in by a conman, Opie and his friends have problems with a teacher), or there’s a larger conflict (the bank is robbed or Gomer loses his job), and Andy and sometimes others have to solve the problem.
It’s not supposed to be a good adjective to use, but it’s a really nice show. It’s funny, it’s sweet and it’s positive. It promotes good common sense values like honesty and loyalty, and while sometimes things do get gray and complicated, at the end of the day there’s right and wrong and some kind of answer. In college, I had a roommate who liked to watch a show called Intervention, which was about exactly what it sounds like, dealing with drug users. While she was watching that, I was watching The Andy Griffith Show, and I think we both had our world views and mental health be heavily influenced by what we were watching. We can’t ignore the reality of the world, but we can choose what we focus on, and what entertainment populates our mental landscape. I’d prefer to have Mayberry in mine, rather than the dark and twisted worlds that show up in a lot of modern TV.
So if you’d like to spend 25 minutes with some lovely people and enjoy a positive, simpler world, I highly recommend you visit Mayberry. It’s streaming on Netflix, so choose any episode you like. I suggest buying a jar of pickles and sitting down with them to watch The Pickle Story (Season 2, Episode 11), when no one has the heart to tell Aunt Bea that her prized homemade pickles are terrible…so they get stuck eating jar upon jar. It’s one of the most popular episodes, very funny and it encapsulates the warm and caring nature of the show. It’s a town well-worth visiting.