Citizens of The Manoverse may recall that a few years ago I rated The Andy Griffith Show as my 2nd favorite television show of all time. It lost out to Seinfeld by a thread only because Seinfeld actually aired its first run in my lifetime, whereas TAGS was off the air years before I was even born. It was broadcast on CBS from October 1960 to April 1968 on Monday nights on CBS and featured the small town adventures of Sheriff Andy Taylor, his young son Opie, blundering deputy Barney Fife, & Andy’s Aunt Bea, along with various residents of idyllic Mayberry, NC. Though original episodes ended decades ago TAGS has never truly been gone, as it has continuously aired in syndication. And of course nowadays, thru the magic of home video and streaming, it is even more readily available to fans. So awhile back I got an idea.
I have decided to rank 159 episodes of TAGS. Now you may saying “Wait…wait…weren’t there 249 episodes over 8 seasons??”, and you’d be right. However, there is a definitive split in the history of the show. When Don Knotts signed on to play Barney Fife he was told by Andy Griffith that the plan was to do five seasons. After those five years were up Knotts signed a movie deal that he couldn’t get out of when Griffith decided to keep the TV program going for three additional seasons. Therefore, Deputy Fife was quietly written out, taking a “big city” job as a detective in Raleigh. Concurrent with that change the show also switched technology and was produced in color for seasons 6-8 as opposed to black & white. I’m sure back then this was seen as an advancement, but thru the nostalgic prism that we view TAGS today the shift diminishes its quaint charm. New writers were also brought in, and they replaced the comedic genius of Barney Fife with other players, mainly dimwitted mechanic Goober Pyle and uptight, socially inept county clerk Howard Sprague, characters that have never been among my favorites. It’s not that TAGS was a bad show in its final three seasons. I’d choose to watch any of those episodes over 95% of the drivel on television these days. But for the purposes of this exercise I am concentrating on the first five seasons, broadcast in delightful B&W and showcasing the lovely town of Mayberry, a place that I can only assume is a fictionalized representation of Heaven. Enjoy.
159 A Black Day for Mayberry (S4E7)
$7 million in gold is clandestinely passing thru Mayberry on its way to Fort Knox, but when Barney accidentally spills the beans the whole town eventually finds out and completely overreacts. Seriously…they throw a freakin’ parade for an armored car. I love the idiosyncrasies of small town life and Mayberry usually captures such minutia in an appealing & comical way, but this is just weird. Both Ron Howard’s father Rance and brother Clint appear in the episode. Rance made four TAGS appearances as various characters, and Clint appeared five times as little Leon who never says a word.
158 Mayberry Goes Bankrupt (S2E4)
Andy is forced to evict an eccentric old man for failing to pay back taxes, but when the man finds a century-old savings bond which has grown to a value of over $300K he appears to have the town over a barrel. This is the kind of story that couldn’t be told nowadays because of course the man would just lawyer up and get his money, but since it was written over fifty years ago the mayor & Andy simply explain that the town doesn’t have the money and the man is forced to accept several people pitching in to fix up his dilapidated house as an adequate substitute. Then right at the end of the episode it is said that the bond may have been issued with Confederate money after North Carolina seceded during The Civil War, making it worthless. The question is never really answered. Very odd entry into the TAGS canon.
157 Andy the Marriage Counselor (S1E18)
Andy tries to mediate for a couple who frequently cause calls to the police due to their raucous domestic disputes. As always Sheriff Taylor finds a unique solution to the problem. The episode is notable for a few reasons. First, we get to see Barney practicing judo, which is hilarious. Secondly, the actor portraying one half of the quarreling couple is Jesse White, who would go on to become the lonely Maytag repairman in a series of commercials for over two decades. And finally, one must understand that whenever it looks like its nighttime in Mayberry it’s really not. The show was filmed during the day and a special night filter was utilized on the camera. This is its inaugural use. Unfortunately, while many attitudes & ideals expressed on TAGS make us hearken back to a simpler time and yearn for an America that has slipped into the wistful mist of history, seen thru the prism of modern sensibilities domestic violence is strange fodder for comedy.
156 Opie Flunks Arithmetic (S5E30)
When Helen informs Andy that Opie isn’t doing well in math he isn’t overly concerned. But when Barney butts in and gets Aunt Bea all worked up about the boy’s future Andy decides to crack the whip. That approach backfires. This is the final appearance of Barney Fife as a regular cast member, although he does visit a few times in later seasons. It’s funny how things have changed over the decades. Today when a star departs a TV show we know about it well in advance, the exodus is written into the script, and a big deal is made about the whole thing. But when Barney Fife…one of the most beloved characters in television history…left TAGS he was just there one day and gone the next, with nary a mention of where he went.
155 Floyd the Gay Deceiver (S3E9)
Floyd has pretended to be a rich entrepreneur in letters to a wealthy widowed pen pal, but when she suddenly decides to visit Mayberry the lonely barber has to live up to the ruse. For some reason Andy, normally a man of steadfast integrity, decides to help in the deception and as usual in these situations things don’t go smoothly. In an interesting twist it turns out that the woman is lying as well. Remember kids…honesty is the best policy.
154 Goober Takes a Car Apart (S5E17)
Andy has to go out of town. Barney is out of town as well. Someone has to man the courthouse, and the only person available is Goober, who proceeds to inexplicably dismantle a car and reassemble it inside the building. Goober-centric episodes don’t usually frost my cupcake. There is a reason Gomer got a spinoff and Goober didn’t.
153 A Medal for Opie (S2E19)
Opie signs up for the 50 yard dash at the annual Sheriff’s Day event and fantasizes about winning a medal, but when he comes in last he doesn’t take it well…at all. Opie is usually a cute, easygoing, good kid, but here he morphs into a petulant brat. Of course Andy steps in to teach the lad about good sportsmanship and being an honorable loser. There is some fun interaction between Opie and Barney, who volunteers to be a coach/trainer.
152 Stranger in Town (S1E12)
Citizens of Mayberry become suspicious of a new arrival from NY City who seems to know everything about them. It turns out that he had an Army buddy from Mayberry and fell in love with it thru the stories he was told by that friend. When an angry mob confronts the stranger it is Andy who steps in and gives the situation a positive spin. We meet barber Floyd Lawson in this episode, although he is portrayed by a different actor than the one who would become synonymous with the character. It’s funny that even a half-century ago the stranger’s peculiar tactics of ingratiating himself into Mayberry were met with distrust. Heck, nowadays the dude might get beat up or worse.
151 My Fair Ernest T. Bass (S4E17)
After wild & crazy Ernest T. Bass causes a disturbance at a social gathering Andy decides to turn him into a sophisticated gentleman and pass him off as an out of town relative at the same weekly party he’d interrupted previously. This is where Ernest T. meets his sweet Romeena, the girl he would talk incessantly about in two later TAGS appearances. The episode is just fine, although regular characters like Opie, Aunt Bea, Floyd, Goober, & Otis are MIA. I don’t know…I can’t really articulate a reason, but Ernest T. Bass tends to annoy me rather than make me laugh.
150 Cousin Virgil (S2E30)
Barney’s bumbling cousin Virgil from New Jersey visits Mayberry and inadvertently causes havoc at every turn. Of course it’s up to Andy to give a boost to the young man’s confidence, something he does multiple times over the years for Barney. Amusing, yet for some reason I find Virgil to be one of the more annoying guests to ever visit Mayberry. I think it’s his perpetual creepy smile.
149 The Family Visit (S5E3)
Aunt Bea’s sister, obnoxious brother-in-law, & their bratty kids come for a visit. They annoy Andy tremendously until he finds a way to get them to leave. There’s no Barney in this episode, which is a shame. It’s a prime example of how easygoing, friendly, understanding Andy began to become more easily irritated in later seasons.
148 The Jinx (S2E17)
Andy tries to help Mayberry resident Henry Bennett end his apparent bad luck and convince him that he is not hexed, as Barney, Floyd, & others believe. Unfortunately plans backfire…twice. It’s up to Andy to talk Henry out of leaving town.
147 Barney Runs for Sheriff (S5E21)
Andy is pretty sure he’s getting a big city corporate gig so he encourages Barney to file election papers to run for Sheriff while leaving his own name off the ballot. However, Andy’s job falls thru, so everyone agrees to support a write-in campaign for him. The problem is that Barney ends up feeling embarrassed & overlooked. Eventually all’s well that ends well, but for a bit things are a little testy between Andy & Barney, and that’s just not much fun. Politics & TAGS don’t mix well.
146 The Perfect Female (S2E8)
Barney & Thelma Lou fix Andy up with Thelma Lou’s visiting cousin from Arkansas. The pair hit it off, but Barney screws things up with his big mouth. The young lady, who unbeknownst to the guys is a champion shooter, decides to use her skills to prove a point to Andy. The rather old-fashioned sentiments espoused by Andy & Barney might come across as a bit misogynistic to modern viewers.
145 Opie and the Carnival (S5E31)
Opie tries to win a birthday present for Andy at a carnival, unaware that the shooting gallery is rigged. Andy figures out the deception and persuades the carnies that it’d be in their best interest if Opie wins the prize he desires. This is the first episode after the departure of Don Knotts as Barney, although his absence is never mentioned.
144 Guest of Honor (S2E21)
A pickpocket is ironically made the random “guest of honor” in Mayberry, a harebrained idea conceived as a way to celebrate Founder’s Day. They even have a parade and give the guy the key to the city. One of the great charms of TAGS is the kindhearted & guileless townsfolk of Mayberry, but sometimes they go a bit overboard and are portrayed as clueless rubes. There is a really funny scene where Barney is “training” a few emergency deputies (including Floyd the Barber). Anytime the word “mollycoddling” makes it into the script it’s a good thing.
143 Opie Loves Helen (S5E1)
Unbeknownst to Andy or anyone else Opie develops a crush on Helen. Aunt Bea is nowhere around for some reason. I suppose it isn’t unusual for kids to crush on an adult. It’s probably even fairly common for students to crush on a teacher. But when that teacher is dating the child’s father and is the boy’s future stepmother it’s a little strange, especially when he gifts her a pair of pantyhose. There are some good interactions between Opie & Andy and Opie & Barney in this episode.
142 Bargain Day (S4E24)
Aunt Bea buys a side of beef at a discount market but her back porch freezer is old & shaky. When it breaks down she is hesitant to call a repairman in Mount Pilot, despite repeated pleas from Andy to do so. Aunt Bea eventually has to go to her regular grocery store and sheepishly ask if the owner will store the meat until her freezer is repaired. Of course this being Mayberry the grocer happily helps her out. There’s some funny stuff here from Andy & Gomer.
141 Guest in the House (S5E24)
When a rather attractive family friend comes to visit the Taylors after a recent breakup Helen becomes jealous of the young lady. Andy eventually reunites his friend with her fiancée. Jealousy isn’t a good look for Helen Crump. No Barney in this episode. The actress who plays Gloria (the visiting friend) is absolutely beautiful. I’m surprised she never became a big star.
140 Opie and the Spoiled Kid (S3E21)
Opie’s manipulative, spoiled, obnoxious, disrespectful pal Arnold convinces him that he shouldn’t have to work for his allowance. Unfortunately for Opie the tricks Arnold teaches him don’t work at all on Andy.
139 Aunt Bea’s Romance (S5E5)
Aunt Bea rekindles her romance with an insufferable former flame who is passing thru Mayberry. He’s a know-it-all who thinks he’s hilarious when in reality he’s not funny at all. Andy & Opie quickly tire of the dude’s shtick. When he hints that he needs money or else he might just marry Aunt Bea and move in Andy doesn’t fall for it and the guy leaves town. TAGS has a bit of an obsession with the idea of Aunt Bea as an eligible bachelorette just waiting for the right mate to come along, which is odd since she’s a frumpy old maid two or three decades past her prime. And I mean that in the nicest way possible.
138 The Education of Ernest T. Bass (S5E4)
Ernest T. Bass comes back to town seeking an education at the request of his sweet Romeena. Andy talks Helen into letting the crazy mountain man sit in on her classes, but he becomes a major nuisance. After Helen gets angry with him and smacks him with a ruler he falls in love with her…some kind of weird Oedipal thing. Andy devises a way to satisfy Ernest T. by having Helen administer a “test” that he’ll pass and then receive a “diploma”. Barney has some fun moments in this episode.
137 A Deal Is a Deal (S4E26)
Opie & his buddies get involved in a scam selling worthless “miracle” salve. Barney & Gomer head to Mount Pilot to check out the situation at the company that produces the stuff. Hilarity ensues. Barney & Gomer are obviously funny on an individual basis, but the two of them together is classic.
136 Andy and the Woman Speeder (S2E3)
Andy gives a woman passing thru Mayberry a ticket for speeding. She refuses to pay the fine and is held in the jail pending trial. Female prisoners are rare in Mayberry, and Andy indicates that by law a female prisoner must have a matron (a plot device used only this one time). Enter Aunt Bea. The episode is amusing, but it’s one that feels antiquated in its views on women.
135 The Christmas Story (S1E11)
Storeowner Ben Weaver is the town Scrooge, forcing Andy to arrest Sam Muggins on Christmas Eve for making moonshine. But Andy makes lemonade out of lemons and helps the entire Muggins family have a delightful holiday. Mr. Weaver has a Dickensian change of heart and joins in the merriment. Oddly enough this is the only Christmas themed episode in TAGS’ eight seasons.
134 Opie’s Ill-Gotten Gain (S4E8)
Everyone is pleasantly surprised when Opie gets straight A’s on his report card. Andy & Aunt Bea are beaming with pride and reward the boy with a brand new bicycle. Unfortunately the teacher…Miss Helen Crump…made a mistake when tallying the grades (another reason to dislike Helen). Opie actually earned an F in math!! Rather than disappoint his father the boy runs away from home, but he doesn’t get very far before Andy catches up to him and reassures him that he is proud of him no matter what. There’s a really funny scene where Barney claims to remember the preamble to The Constitution that he learned in grade school, but Andy has to hilariously walk him thru it word-by-word.
133 The Case of the Punch in the Nose (S5E25)
While looking at old files Barney comes across an unsolved assault case from two decades earlier involving Floyd and a local grocer. Rather than let the matter rest Barney stirs the pot, causing the situation to escalate into a serious quarrel. Anytime Barney goes overboard…which is often…it’s pretty funny.
132 Andy and the Gentleman Crook (S1E21)
An infamous con man being held temporarily in the Mayberry jail charms just about everyone but Andy. They all learn their lesson when the criminal takes advantage of their kindness and tries to escape. There is some fun interaction between Andy & Opie, Barney accidentally fires his gun in the courthouse (a joke repeated multiple times thru the series), & we learn that Barney’s gun usually has no bullets and he carries one single bullet in his shirt pocket.
131 Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. (S4E32)
In this backdoor pilot for a Gomer Pyle spinoff Gomer enlists in the Marines and Andy tags along to boot camp to help the transition go smoothly. It’s not that there isn’t some funny stuff here, it’s just that it doesn’t really feel like an episode of TAGS.
I think this might be a good place to pause for now. Stay tuned.