I have made the decision to break down the Top 25 into two parts. I strive always to make these little productions of mine eminently readable but am all too aware that I occasionally get…carried away. At any rate, as we enter the hallowed ground of what I consider to be the very best episodes of TAGS my heart is filled with joy…because these stories were created in the first place, because decades after they stopped being made we can still enjoy them, because I have this forum that allows me to relive the memories and share my thoughts with the masses. As always, if you need to catch up with previous entries you may do so here, here, here, here, & here. Thanks for reading, and please stay tuned for the Top 10.
25 The Bank Job (S3E13)
Barney becomes amusingly obsessed with the idea that the bank is lacking in security & ripe pickings for a robbery. In order to prove his point he goes undercover as a cleaning lady and somehow manages to get himself locked in the bank vault. We are introduced to Gomer Pyle, who is recruited to torch open the vault to save Barney. The resourceful deputy escapes all by himself though, by busting thru the wall of the adjacent beauty salon. After all of that hullabaloo someone tries to rob the bank for real, and of course Barney (inadvertently) saves the day.
24 Citizen’s Arrest (S4E11)
Immediately after Barney cites Gomer for an illegal u-turn the dimwitted deputy does the same exact thing, prompting Gomer to make a citizen’s arrest. Andy tries to calm down the ensuing brouhaha by having Barney write himself a ticket, but he refuses to pay the fine, opting instead to lock himself in jail and eventually resign. When Gomer finds out from Opie how serious the situation has become he calls in a fake robbery hoping Barney will leap into action. The ruse works until Barney tickets Gomer again, this time for the false alarm. As Barney & Andy are leaving the filling station Barney once again makes a u-turn, eliciting a hilarious reaction by Gomer. At the end of the episode Andy puts Barney’s latest resignation in a file with previous ones, an amusing tip of the cap to what was a recurring joke within the show. Continuity isn’t a TAGS strength, and Barney’s length of service as a deputy changes multiple times. Here it is said that he’s had the job for ten years. Barney’s middle name also changes a few times.
23 The Manhunt (S1E2)
In only its second ever episode TAGS gives us a remarkable example of why it is so good. When an escaped convict is believed to be somewhere in the vicinity of Mayberry the state police arrive. However, they look down on Andy & Barney and refuse their assistance in apprehending the criminal. Andy & Barney decide to do their own investigation and, despite a hiccup or two, eventually lead the arrogant state cops right to the perp. There are really funny moments with Andy & Barney, as well as Opie, Otis Campbell (his first appearance), & Emma Watson (her first appearance). We also briefly meet Mayor Pike, see Barney’s mother for the first & last time, and find out that Barney carries only one bullet because he has a tendency to accidentally fire his gun at the floor. Andy being the smartest guy in the room despite others seeing him as merely the country bumpkin sheriff of a one horse town is a bedrock of the show.
22/21 Andy’s English Valet (S3E26) & The Return of Malcolm Merriweather (S4E28)
Many people of my generation may remember actor Bernard Fox as eccentric Dr. Bombay on Bewitched. However, my fondness for him stems from his memorable TAGS appearances as quirky Englishman Malcolm Merriweather. In Season 2 Malcolm is passing thru Mayberry on his bicycle and is employed to do some housework for Andy to pay off a fine he receives for causing an accident. It seems like a great plan at first since Aunt Bea is out of town taking care of her ill sister, but Malcolm ends up driving Andy nuts. In Season 4 Malcolm returns to Mayberry and Andy thinks it’d be a fine idea for him to help out around the house again to ease Aunt Bea’s burden. However, Aunt Bea, whose ego is almost as fragile as Barney’s, isn’t on board with that and Malcolm selflessly finds a way to get himself fired. Malcolm Merriweather would return one more time in Season 6 to hilariously tussle with Ernest T. Bass.
20 Barney Gets His Man (S1E30)
Barney decides to ticket a pedestrian for littering, unaware that he is a dangerous escaped convict. Spooked by the sudden appearance of the state police the criminal tries to run, but Barney inadvertently captures him, becoming a hero in the process. However, when word gets back that the perp has escaped again Barney becomes petrified that the guy is headed back to Mayberry for revenge. During yet another manhunt Andy decides to restore Barney’s confidence by covertly helping him re-capture the escapee. A car chase…rare in Mayberry…opens the episode.
19 The Loaded Goat (S3E18)
Some things could only happen in a small town. When farmer Cy Hudgins runs a few errands he decides to bring his goat Jimmy along. After being tied to a post just outside the courthouse Jimmy gets loose and is drawn to the sound of Barney playing the harmonica, but Barney runs him off. There is an underpass being built nearby, and frequent explosions are heard throughout the episode. Jimmy finds the building where the dynamite is being stored and eats some of it. Everyone freaks out because all the sudden this goat is an incendiary device that could cause a catastrophe at any minute. In the midst of everything Otis shows up and antagonizes the animal, which is h-i-l-a-r-i-o-u-s. Eventually Andy comes up with the idea of luring Jimmy out of town by having Barney play the harmonica. Tremendous stuff from Barney, Andy, & Otis. It is hinted that Wally from the filling station might be Mayor Pike’s brother, a storyline element that was never followed up on. I’m not an explosives expert, but I’d be willing to bet the central premise…the idea that the goat might explode…is probably far-fetched, but I can live with that.
18/17 The Guitar Player (S1E3) & The Guitar Player Returns (S1E31)
James Best is beloved by many for his portrayal of slightly unethical, cluelessly inept Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard. Way before that though he guest starred on a couple of outstanding Season 1 episodes of TAGS. In his first appearance Best portrays Jim Lindsey, a local musician who doesn’t understand how talented he really is. When Bobby Fleet & His Band with a Beat (a fantastic name) passes thru Mayberry Andy finds a way to get the band & Jim all in one place for an impromptu audition. After Jim is offered a spot in the band they all take off for their next gig. Jim returns to Mayberry seven months later (in real time anyway) a big star. He’s had a falling out with the band and become a solo act. Soon enough though suspicions are raised when Jim isn’t paying his bills. It turns out that he’s broke and is too proud to go crawling back to Bobby Fleet. As always Andy steps in to fix the problem. A couple of interesting notes. Fleet made three appearances in Mayberry (one more than Jim Lindsay ironically enough) and was portrayed by three different actors. Also, this episode marks the final appearance of Ellie Walker, who disappeared afterward, never to be heard from or spoken about again. I suppose my love for these two episodes owe an awful lot to my affection for James Best & The Dukes of Hazzard, and I’m alright with that.
16 Barney’s Uniform (S5E8)
Barney tickets another litterbug, this time an employee at the grocery store. The guy doesn’t appreciate the ticket and tells Barney that he is going to beat him up the next time he’s not on duty. As a solution Barney decides to wear his uniform all the time, which Andy finds strange. Character actor Allan Melvin makes his 7th of eight TAGS appearances, this time playing the store clerk with a nasty attitude. As always Andy comes to the rescue by recruiting the local martial arts instructor to pose as Barney to scare off the bad guy. Barney always makes us laugh, but he also evokes a certain pathos, therefore he is extended some latitude that other cowards might not be given.
15 The Cow Thief (S3E5)
Cow theft is another quintessential small town problem that just endears Mayberry to us even more. After a rash of such robberies remains a mystery high strung Mayor Stoner brings in an investigator from the state capitol. Barney is at first alarmed & offended by the mayor’s actions, but ends up trying to kiss up to the investigator. Meanwhile, Andy becomes suspicious of local troublemaker Luke Jensen and decides to set a trap to catch him in the act. It turns out that Luke is putting shoes on the cows when leading them away. Andy figures out what the big city investigator couldn’t, a common theme throughout the series. There is a rather poignant moment when Barney decides to stand by Andy and ignore the mayor’s admonitions…a wise choice indeed.
14/13 Barney and the Choir (S2E20) & The Song Festers (S4E20)
I feel like these two episodes are often confused due to similar…and in some ways contradictory…storylines. In Season 2 Barney volunteers to sing in the town choir when they find themselves in need of a tenor. The problem is that Barney couldn’t carry a tune in a pickup truck. Choirmaster John Masters (an underutilized secondary character) enlists Andy’s help to force Barney out of the group, but everything they try hilariously backfires until Andy…as always…finds a unique way to solve the problem without hurting Barney’s feelings. I’d love for my church choir to do a rousing rendition of Welcome Sweet Springtime, aka good ol’ 14A. A couple of seasons later Barney is still in the choir, but despite being tone deaf he’s been tapped to perform a solo. That is until John Masters overhears Gomer Pyle singing to himself and gives him the solo. When Gomer finds out that Barney is heartbroken about losing the solo he fakes laryngitis, but the ruse is discovered and Barney, Gomer, & Andy end up singing the song Santa Lucia together as a trio.
12 The Haunted House (S4E2)
Opie & a pal accidentally lose a baseball in a local house that is allegedly haunted. When Andy gives Barney the task of retrieving the ball the anxious deputy tricks Gomer into going with him. Barney & Gomer together are comedy gold, but of course they are ineffective at getting the job done, so Andy decides that the three of them will head back to the old Rimshaw place to take a look around. Once there weird things happen, totally freaking out Barney & Gomer. It is eventually revealed that a local moonshiner is running a still out of the house, with the knowledge of our favorite drunkard Otis Campbell. Andy discovers the still at the end of the episode. To my recollection this is the only time TAGS ever did a quasi-Halloween-ish story, and it is said to have become the inspiration for one of Don Knotts’ better known films…1966’s The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.
11 Man in a Hurry (S3E16)
Businessman Malcolm Tucker’s car breaks down as he is passing thru Mayberry on his way to a big meeting in Charlotte. Unfortunately for him it’s Sunday, and Wally doesn’t work on Sundays. Gomer is at the filling station, but contrary to his alleged mechanical prowess a year later, here he is said to only know how to pump gas & inflate tires. Mr. Tucker becomes really frustrated and doesn’t understand Mayberry at all. He can’t even make a phone call on the party line because the Mendelbright sisters have it tied up all day. Andy graciously invites the exasperated businessman home for supper, and slowly the hospitality of the Taylors, Barney, & Gomer and the laidback pace of the town erode his defenses, helping him to relax just a bit. When Gomer brings his car back with a repaired fuel line (who fixed it…Gomer?? Goober?? Wally??) Mr. Tucker decides to stick around by pretending there is something else wrong with the vehicle. This is an episode that perfectly sums up what Mayberry is and who its citizens are. It makes one want desperately, especially thru the prism of our modern broken society, to find such a community and settle down there forever. Sadly we understand that to be an impossible dream, which is why we still watch TAGS a half century after it stopped production.