Is There Any Excuse for Enjoying The Andy Griffith Show?

When I was a kid and watched Cubs games on WGN in Chicago, they were almost always preceded or followed by an episode of The Andy Griffith Show, and it often popped up as the filler during mid-game rain delays. I remember so well my reaction just to hearing the opening whistled strains of the theme song and the view of Opie and his fishing pole walking beside his Pop: run to the tv and switch the channel before the show actually begins!!! It was a rather strange, gut kind of reaction, stronger than for other annoying sitcoms that might show up undesired on my screen. And it motivated me up out of my chair because we didn't have remotes in them days.

Now, I do remember a period when I felt similarly about The Three Stooges, but that changed over time and I grew to like them on occasion, especially when the shorts were interspersed with the Our Gang comedies for a Little Rascals/Three Stooges hour that I watched often after junior high/high school let out. But the loathing or anxiety or whatever it was about Andy Griffith continued long into adulthood, ending only after living in Tennessee for more than five years.

In retrospect, I know my reaction was certainly what the show seemed to represent, not the actual characters or plots. After all, I never watched the show, so immediate was my urge to get up and change the channel. The setting, I think, is what troubled me. A totally middle-class Jewish girl from the suburbs of Chicago with no connection to or interest in rural life -- and certainly nothing below the Mason-Dixon line -- The Andy Griffith Show was just hick and alien and thus for hick, alien people to watch.

Now, as someone who has been living in the South for the past 13+ years, I have come to groove on some aspects of the show, from the amazing precocious cuteness of Ron Howard's Opie to Don Knotts' superb performances to the creepy delight that is Floyd the Barber. It's fun to watch the endless rerun cycle of Andy's love affairs, from the blonde nurse whose name I forget to the sharp-minded Ellie (my favorite) to the milksop Helen Crump. And you gotta love the episodes centered on Ernest T. Bass as well as the Darling family. Superb campy comedy.

I will say I have mixed feelings about Otis Campbell. I love the actor. The humorous town drunk is not a character you're going to see much of anymore, not with the fond and tolerant way it's played on Andy Griffith. From the episode where he buys a car to the one where his brother (also a town drunk) comes to Mayberry to the one where he's given an award for his family heritage: the series can't seem to decide what to do with alcoholism, so it just ends each episode happily ever after with Otis feeling good about himself before he returns to bit part episodes where he's just walking into the cell full of pink elephants and having a lie-down, much to Barney's chagrin (and Andy's delight at Barney's chagrin).

I suppose my greatest pleasure in the series comes from the fact that my husband and I have developed a way of watching the show through pop psychology. We read Andy as an "enabler" (or rescuer). Andy keeps the status quo going beautifully in Mayberry, from the easy-going charm of it all to Otis's alcoholism to Barney's pathological overcompensation for pipsqueaky ineptitute. Episode after episode has Andy saving Barney's ass with a loving smile, excusing everything from his bungling to his powermongering and even trying to make him look more competent than he ever is. And Andy rescues and enables even when Barney's actions threaten Andy's livelihood or his very life. Given that, without a doubt, Barney is a pretty realistic and still-timely portrayal of those scary-ass small-town officers who thrive on treating others like crap to make themselves feel adequate all across this great nation of ours (wow, sounds like Dubya, don't it?), it can be downright painful to watch Andy keep puffing him up when he should remain deflated awhile...or forever.

But somehow it's addictive. The pleasure of knowing what will happen every episode, that everything will be "all right" in this safe little white Southern town... If I think too much about it, it's appalling. But just before bed it can put a ridiculous smile on my face that I shoud certainly not be admitting to.

All that said, I will say that the episodes where Aunt Bee gets a man and loses him over and over are just painful. Even worse are the later ones where she keeps ending up on television. You can mark the worst of it by the change from black-and-white to color.

Sadly, the show kept going far past its prime. Once Opie's going to school dances and we have to watch the likes of characters Howard Sprague and replacement deputy Warren Ferguson, I'm switching channels faster than when I was a kid. It's obvious what they should've done when Don Knotts quit the show: nip it in the bud!


Stavner said...

"Read Yourself Raw" features an interesting Drew Friedman comic about Andy Griffith that captures how I feel about the show.

Anonymous said...

(wow, sounds like Dubya, don't it?

Sounds more like Nobama and the new TSA