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Monday, October 4, 2010

WEEKEND REWIND: The Andy Griffith Show

October 3, 1960 - April 1, 1968
249 episodes
Starring: Andy Griffith, Don Knotts, Ron Howard, Frances Bavier, Jim Nabors, George Lindsey, Howard McNear, Aneta Corsaut, Elinor Donahue

The Andy Griffith Show celebrated the 50th anniversary of its premiere yesterday and in those 50 years, it has become one of the most beloved sitcoms of all time. It remains popular on TV today even when other classic sitcoms can't connect with modern day audiences. The fictional setting of Mayberry, NC makes everyone think of a simpler time (though things weren't that simple even when the show first aired). It has a first-rate cast, great stories, and a whole lot of heart.

Headlining the cast is of course the legendary Andy Griffith as Sheriff Andy Taylor. He never got the critical acclaim that his co-stars got but he was the glue that held the whole show together. His straight man to the more outlandish characters and his gentle southern spirit was absolutely needed to make the dynamics of the show work. The supporting cast - the Mayberry residents - rivals any supporting cast in sitcom history. Leading the group is Don Knotts as Barney Fife. One of TV's greatest sidekicks (and characters in general), Barney's manic sense of justice and authority is a comedic masterpiece. The young Ron Howard is adorable as Andy's son Opie and is one of the most believable tv kids ever. The father-son relationship between single father Andy and Opie is a very sweet one. It's also nice to know that Opie grew up to be a successful Hollywood director and wasn't one of the many child stars who lost their way. Rounding out the principal cast is Andy's Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier) who provides the stable home life for father and son. She has many sweet moments with Andy and Opie but also maintains a strict household. She also has many unexpectedly funny moments.

Of course naming Andy, Barney, Opie, and Aunt Bee is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the colorful characters who came in and out of Mayberry during the show's run. There was the down-home naive country boys Gomer and Goober Pyle (Jim Nabors and George Lindsey), good-natured barber Floyd (Howard McNear), town drunk Otis (Hal Smith), and Andy's girlfriend and future wife Helen (Aneta Corsaut) to name a few. Of course the setting is as integral to this show as the characters. Mayberry is a utopia that many who have watched The Andy Griffith Show would like to escape to. It is without a doubt one of the main reasons the show has held up so well. It has been a comfortable place to imagine when times have been tough over the years and it still connects to audiences today.

The Andy Griffith Show didn't break any ground the way shows like I Love Lucy, All in the Family, and The Cosby Show have. It was just good and it has endured. The relationships in the show feel real, they seem like real people in a real place called Mayberry. This is particularly evident in the classic black and white episodes before Don Knotts left the show. The Andy Griffith Show is a classic that was immensely popular during its original run and has rivaled I Love Lucy in terms of durability. The reruns helped floundering TBS get off the ground in the 1980s and have been immensely popular on TV Land for ten years. It's a classic through and through.

Disclaimer: this is completely based on personal opinion

10. #84 "Opie and the Spoiled Kid" (first aired February 18, 1963)
A tender episode between Opie and Andy, Opie throws temper tantrums to get his way like his new rich friend. This is an excellent performance by Ron Howard and there are some classic Barney moments as well.

9. #90 "Barney's First Car" (first aired April 1, 1963)
A classic among classic episodes, Barney's first car turns out to be a lemon and hilarity ensues. A classic Don Knotts performance.

8. #41 "Aunt Bee's Brief Encounter" (first aired December 4, 1961)
The always single Aunt Bee falls for a semi-con man in this episode that explores the character of Aunt Bee and has some great moments between Andy and Aunt Bee.

"The Pickle Story"
7. #43 "The Pickle Story" (first aired December 18, 1961)
Some Andy episodes are classic because of their sweetness, this one is classic because of its hilarity. Andy and Barney must eat Aunt Bee's horrible pickles that she intends to enter in the county fair. A simple premise leads to hilarious moments.

6. #35 "Andy and the Woman Speeder" (first aired October 16, 1961)
A very interesting episode that pits Andy against the town for Andy doing the right thing. The episode is notable too for its charming conclusion where the woman speeder bails Andy out after being his enemy the entire episode.

5. #96 "Opie the Birdman" (first aired September 30, 1963)
Without a doubt the sweetest episode of The Andy Griffith Show. Opie learns about death and life and the brilliant scene between father and son at the end is perhaps the most classic moment of a classic show.

4. #106 "Citizen's Arrest" (first aired December 16, 1963)
A very popular episode with the fans, Gomer and Barney go at it over U-turns when Gomer makes a "citizen's arrest." Barney's indignation and Gomer's determined law-following makes for a very funny dynamic between the two.

"Christmas Story"
3. #11 "Christmas Story" (first aired December 19, 1960)
The first season Christmas episode shows a whole lot of heart when the angry Ben Weaver insists on a bootlegger being jailed on Christmas Eve. This "Christmas Carol" like plot is the only Christmas episode of the series but it's a great one.

2. #52 "Barney and the Choir" (first aired February 19, 1962)
There is no funnier moment in The Andy Griffith Show's eight year run than Barney's attempt at joining the choir. It is Don Knotts at his finest - earnest but so hilariously bad.

1. #79 "Man in a Hurry" (first aired January 14, 1963)
This episode isn't as funny as "Barney and the Choir" or as sweet as "Opie the Birdman" but it is #1 in my book because it shows Mayberry in the most perfect light. As a passerby needing car assistance is frustrated by Mayberry's laid-back Sunday attitude, he learns the value of a small town in the process. The quintessential episode.

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