Well, it took almost six months, but we’ve finally reached the summit. The cream of the crop. The best of the best. Out of 159 episodes covering the first five seasons of The Andy Griffith Show these are…in my humble opinion…the ten best. Your mileage may vary, but I don’t think I’d be venturing too far out on a limb to guess that amongst hardcore Griffith fans these ten would rank near the top of most every list. To any fellow TAGS loyalists I thank you for sticking with me thru this project and I hope I have echoed your high opinion & good feelings about the show. And for anyone who has perused these entries even though they aren’t that familiar with TAGS…well, it’s not too late. Contrary to what y’all might assume I haven’t relied completely on my memory in writing about the show. Every episode of every season is available on Netflix and I have gone back and re-watched many episodes while I have been working on all of this. It has been an immense pleasure for me, and I would enthusiastically encourage anyone to follow suit. So many television programs today wallow in what my brother The Owl calls “the spirit of the age”…dark, ungodly, arrogant, cynical, & sinful. The Andy Griffith Show is a throwback to a simpler time. It never tried to be somber social commentary or rip its subject matter from the headlines. Though it aired during a rather tumultuous decade the powers-that-be never allowed that gloom & doom into their storylines, and that’s just dandy with this guy. I’ve said it a thousand times and I’ll keep on saying it for the rest of my life…I wish a place like Mayberry actually existed. If it were a real place I would’ve fled there many years ago. Regrettably…to my knowledge…there is no such town in our real world, which is why watching TAGS is such a welcome respite. Thank you Andy Griffith for creating such an oasis. You did good.
10 Andy on Trial (S2E29)
Andy gives a speeding ticket a wealthy publisher but lets him go on the condition that he pay the fine within two weeks. After that time passes and the fine hasn’t been paid Andy travels to wherever the guy’s office is (Mt. Pilot?? Raleigh??) to arrest him. Angry over being hassled for a $15 ticket the spiteful businessman enlists the help of a lovely reporter, who goes to Mayberry posing as a college student to get dirt on the sheriff. A smitten Barney unknowingly obliges, trying to make himself look good by talking about how Andy doesn’t run a tight ship. A hearing is scheduled by whatever state authority Andy has to answer to and a stunned Barney is called as a witness. Realizing that he has been duped, Barney…in quite the dramatic scene for an episode of TAGS…passionately defends Andy, explaining just what he means to the entire town. I love this episode, mostly because of that scene of Barney sticking up for his friend. Barney, as we all know, sees himself as a by-the-book law & order man, but in this situation it seems like he has a sudden revelation that Andy’s casual, approachable, outside-the-box methods are actually a better methodology…atleast in a place like Mayberry.
9 Convicts-at-Large (S3E11)
While on a fishing trip Barney & Floyd are taken hostage by three female escaped convicts. They take refuge in Charlie O’Malley’s cabin just outside of Mayberry. Floyd & one of the escapees go to town for some food, and Andy thinks they’re having a party up at the cabin…until he runs into O’Malley and figures out what’s going on. Andy & O’Malley head to the woods to rescue the incompetent deputy & the equally inept barber. The scenes between the convicts and Floyd & Barney (who is hilariously referred to as Al multiple times) are comedy genius. Fantastic writing and great performances. One of the lady convicts famously portrayed another TAGS character…one of the notorious Fun Girls, while another would return the following season playing Barney’s voice coach Eleanora Poultice. After this episode Howard McNear, who played Floyd the barber, wouldn’t return to TAGS for over a year due to suffering a stroke in real life.
8 Mr. McBeevee (S3E1)
Andy’s misguided lack of faith in Opie roars its ugly head once more when the sheriff thinks a friend that Opie has described is imaginary. The boy says that this man “walks in the treetops, wears a silver hat, has twelve extra hands, blows smoke from his ears, and jingles when he walks”. Of course the audience is in on the fact that Mr. McBeevee is a telephone repairman and Opie’s depiction makes total sense, but Andy doesn’t know that. When Mr. McBeevee gives Opie a quarter Andy thinks the boy might have stolen it. At the end of the episode Andy runs into Mr. McBeevee and realizes how wrong he has been. I love Opie/Andy-centric episodes.
7 The Inspector (S1E26)
Andy is expecting a friendly state police inspector who he normally takes fishing, but is instead taken aback when a strict taskmaster arrives instead. The new inspector is equally stunned by the lackadaisical way things are done in Mayberry and cites Andy for multiple violations in his assessment of the jailhouse. Andy doesn’t take the situation seriously which further enrages the inspector, who calls his supervisor to come to Mayberry and fire Andy. In the meantime, moonshiner Luke Ranier has gone nuts and is indiscriminately shooting at people. When Andy & Barney head to Luke’s place to handle the issue the uptight inspector flips out calling for backup. The supervisor arrives just in time to witness Andy neutralize Luke without even drawing his own weapon. Great stuff from Barney & Otis in this episode, as well as the second appearance of actor Jack Prince, who would return to portray a different character…Rafe Hollister…a few times. Andy’s practical approach versus doing things by the book is a recurring TAGS premise and is always entertaining.
6 Alcohol and Old Lace (S1E17)
Who doesn’t love sweet little old ladies?? In this episode we meet the Morrison sisters, who appear to be two pleasant spinsters innocently growing flowers in their greenhouse. They also clandestinely tip off Andy & Barney about moonshiners in Mayberry, leading our favorite cops to believe they’ve finally succeeded in eliminating illegal booze from the town. However, as it turns out, the dainty senior citizens are hiding a secret…a still of their own. They’ve amusingly convinced themselves that they are only selling “elixir” to help folks celebrate special occasions, but people like Otis shrewdly invent new holidays for the gullible sisters. Oddly enough it is Opie who leads Andy & Barney to discover the covert operation. Overly eager Barney is all too happy to take an axe and “POW POW POW” the still, although Andy generously decides not to arrest Clarabelle & Jennifer Morrison. The aforementioned Jack Prince makes his first TAGS appearance playing farmer Ben Sewell, and this is the first time we see Barney inadvertently become intoxicated, a really funny gag repeated a few times. The title of the episode is a riff on a 1944 Frank Capra film called Arsenic & Old Lace, which is based on a 1939 play that features two homicidal old maids. Since we often see Otis snockered out of his mind throughout the remainder of the series the lawlessness obviously continues after the Morrison sisters are caught.
5 Aunt Bea the Warden (S2E23)
With the courthouse full of moonshiners Andy comes up with the unique idea of having a drunken Otis serve his weekly sentence at the Taylor house. Unfortunately for our favorite lush Aunt Bea is a harsh taskmaster and has no intention of letting Otis just chill out & do nothing. She puts him to work doing various chores, which displeases & quickly exhausts the slothful souse. He tries multiple times to escape, but Aunt Bea is too smart. Part of the magic of TAGS is the different combinations of characters that drive the story in various episodes. This is why the later color seasons don’t work as well, because Howard Sprague, Goober Pyle, & Emmett Clark aren’t nearly as fun as Barney Fife, Gomer Pyle, Mayors Pike & Stoner, and The Darlings. Aunt Bea & Otis are hilarious adversaries, and this is a really well done episode.
4 The Bed Jacket (S3E12)
Aunt Bea’s birthday is coming up and unbeknownst to Andy she really wants a bed jacket she spotted in a store window (a bed jacket is a short, lightweight, cape-like piece of clothing worn to cover the chest, shoulders, & arms and was popular back in the 1930’s). She gets excited when she sees Andy in the store and thinks he’s buying her the bed jacket, but he’s actually been sent there by the mayor to purchase the item for Mrs. Stoner. When Andy’s gift turns out to be some canning jars and a salt & pepper shaker set Aunt Bea is obviously disappointed. After Clara Edwards inadvertently reveals to Andy what Aunt Bea really wanted he convinces Mayor Stoner to give him the bed jacket in exchange for his beloved fishing pole, which the mayor had been trying to buy from him earlier. This episode has always reminded me of O. Henry’s famous short story The Gift of the Magi because of Andy’s sacrifice to make Aunt Bea happy. It is subtly sentimental without being mawkish.
3 The Pickle Story (S2E11)
Aunt Bea is usually portrayed as a great cook, but in this episode we learn her weakness…pickles. Whereas Clara Edwards has won multiple awards for her homemade pickles, Aunt Bea’s pickles taste like kerosene. Andy, Barney, & Opie don’t want to hurt her feelings so they’ve never been honest about the horrible pickles, but after she cooks up a big batch they just can’t stomach eating them anymore and clandestinely replace them with store bought pickles. Regrettably their timing is really bad though, as the county fair is coming up and Aunt Bea decides to enter her pickles into competition. Andy, Barney, & Opie race to consume eight quarts of store bought pickles so she’ll have to make a new batch because they’re all about honesty & equality. Aunt Bea’s pickles are so terrible that when a fly lands on one it dies lol!! This is THE quintessential TAGS episode, and always ranks among most peoples’ favorites. The one thing that has always bothered me is that it is mentioned that Aunt Bea has lost the pickle competition at the fair 11 years straight to Clara Edwards. However, this is the second season of the show, and in the first episode of Season 1 Aunt Bea returns to Mayberry after being out of town for several years. Continuity is a bit of an issue with TAGS, and this is the most egregious example, which is unfortunate for such a beloved story.
2 Opie the Birdman (S4E1)
After Opie accidentally kills a mother bird with his new sling shot Andy makes him realize that his mistake has left three baby birds without a mother, a message that certainly resonates with the young boy. He decides to take care of the little birdies himself, feeding & caring for them on a daily basis. Of course the time comes when they are ready to escape the cage and fly out into the world, at which time Andy opines that though the cage is empty the trees now seem nice & full. This is a very sweet story full of the poignant father/son moments that are always a TAGS highlight. Lots of sitcoms do “very special episodes” that are a departure from their standard comedic recipe, and oftentimes it is easy to roll our eyes & be dismissive of such efforts, but TAGS had a way of telling these kinds of tales with great writing, solid performances, & just enough humor (usually from Barney) so that we happily accept it into the canon of the series. This is probably the best acting that Ron Howard has ever done.
1 Barney’s First Car (S3E27)
This is it. This is my very favorite TAGS episode ever!! If it’s on I stop whatever I am doing and watch. Barney makes the decision to take his entire life savings ($300) out of the bank and purchase a vehicle. He runs across an ad in the paper for a car that seems to be perfect and makes the call. Mrs. Lesh, the widow of the owner, brings the car to Andy’s house to complete the transaction. She tells Barney that her late husband’s name was also Bernard and that the car has only been driven to church on Sundays. Despite Andy’s misgivings Barney can’t hand the cash over to Mrs. Lesh fast enough. It is only after she leaves…indicating that she is going to stop by the church down the street to pray before her son picks her up to take her home to Mount Pilot…that we find out that the sweet little old lady is actually the tough leader of a chop shop that sells junk cars to chumps like Barney. We then see Barney hilariously gather Andy, Aunt Bea, Opie, Gomer, & Thelma Lou for the inaugural Sunday drive in his new machine. It is during this pleasurable journey that things go awry very quickly, with the car literally falling apart right before our very eyes. After a thorough examination of the car by Gomer it becomes obvious that Barney fell victim to a scam, so Andy & Barney decide to take the clunker back to where it came from. Despite breaking down again along the way Andy & Barney end up where they were headed and confront the old lady, who almost manages to fool Barney again. This episode is perfect in every way. Each scene is flawless. The organ music accompanying Mrs. Lesh is spot on. Barney meticulously organizing the Sunday drive is hysterical. The look on Thelma Lou’s face as the steering column pops out is stupendous. Barney despondently sitting in the broken down car while Aunt Bea helps Andy & Gomer push it is a nice touch. Mrs. Lesh is portrayed by Ellen Corby, who would go on to play Grandma on The Waltons, and character actor Allan Melvin makes his 4th of eight TAGS appearances playing one of the henchmen. Can you believe that Barney’s life savings was $300…and that he is able to purchase a car with that?? My how times have changed.