Here are my ten favorite visits to the mythical town of Mayberry, North Carolina, the setting for ‘The Andy Griffith Show.’
If producers hadn’t decided a whistled version of the theme of The Andy Griffith Show was the right choice, you would have heard lyrics that began, “Well now take down your fishin’ pole and meet me at the fishin’ hole.”
As lyrics, they would have been a fine accompaniment to the iconic footage of a father and son walking down to a lake and spending some quality time together. For longtime fans of the show, every visit to Mayberry was quality time spent with friends.
That father and son, Sheriff Andy Taylor and his son Opie, along with Aunt Bee, Deputy Barney Fife and a cast full of quirky characters made the fictional Mayberry, North Carolina a living, breathing town for its long-time fans.
I’m one of them.
So I thought I’d share my 10 favorite episodes of the show and why they jump off the screen for me. Note: some of these descriptions contain spoilers, so if you’ve managed to go up to 55 years without managing to watch episodes but still intend to do so, you’ve been warned.
1. “Man in a Hurry”
If I was pressed to pick a favorite single episode, I would choose this one without hesitation. It’s the story of a businessman, Malcolm Tucker, whose car breaks down on a Sunday when everything is closed. He’s desperate, even manic, about getting to his business meeting and hasn’t the time or patience for Mayberry’s slow, easy living. As he is met with one piece of resistance after another to getting out of the town in time for his Monday morning meeting, his frustration grows to a point that perfectly mirrors what most of our reactions would be…especially today.
Here’s an example:
In syndicated versions of the show, the epilogue is usually removed to allow for more commercial time. In an earlier scene, while Tucker waits for word on his car, Andy, sitting on the front porch with an apple and knife in hand, asks if Tucker has ever tried to peel an apple without breaking the skin. Hanging from the apple is a strip of apple skin, making it clear Andy is in the process of attempting the feat once again. Tucker rolls his eyes and says he has not, dismissing the idea as absurd.
But in the final scene, (skip to 22:35 in this clip) also played on the Taylor front porch, Andy and Barney plan to walk to town. Facing them, with his back to the camera, is Tucker in a rocking chair. They ask Tucker if he’d like to come along, but he doesn’t respond. The shot changes to reveal Tucker peacefully asleep in the rocking chair. The camera then trucks in to a close-up of his hands, where he’s holding an apple and a knife and the start of an unbroken apple peel.
Tucker is under the town’s spell. It’s such a beautifully-written and executed scene that it almost brings a tear to your eye.
And this single episode essentially captures the humor and the charm of the entire series. No other episode, I think, does it quite as well.
2. “Opie’s Charity”
This episode from early in the show’s first season is about teaching young Opie the importance of giving to charity. But it turns out to be his father, Andy, who learns the real lesson.
The dialog is snappy as Andy desperately tries to teach Opie about the “joy of giving:”
By the end of the episode, the reason Opie has been accused of being stingy isn’t at all what Andy thought it was. And as he puts it, he’s the one who ends up “eating crow.”
3. “Those Gossipin’ Men”
It’s a battle of the sexes when it comes to who can contrive the biggest gossip. The men are convinced no one gossips quite like the ladies who congregate in Walker’s Drug Store. Met with that accusation, Aunt Bee decides to prove once and for all that the women can’t hold a candle to what the male townsfolk can come up with given half a chance.
4. “Barney and Thelma Lou, Phfftt”
It begins with a simple enough problem: Thelma Lou, Barney’s girlfriend, needs a ride to her dentist in nearby Mount Pilot, but the squad car is in the shop and Barney can’t get her there. Enter gas station attendant Gomer Pyle (played by Jim Nabors), who offers to drive there. Andy jokes that Barney might want to ride along to make sure Gomer doesn’t steal her away. But Barney’s not worried: he claims he has Thelma Lou “in his hip pocket.” During the ride, Gomer, who isn’t the brightest bulb in the pack, innocently mentions Barney’s remarks during the conversation and Thelma Lou decides to teach Barney a lesson!
5. “The Pickle Story”
You’d think there’s no culinary feat that Aunt Bee can’t handle…until it comes to making homemade pickles, which Barney refers to as “kerosene cucumbers.” The boys decide to swap Aunt Bee’s homemade pickles for store-bought pickles so they can enjoy them without risk of hurting her feelings. Then they realize an upcoming pickle contest could cause a calamity if Bee enters the “counterfeit” pickles…so they have to find a way to get her old pickles back in those jars!
6. “Aunt Bee the Warden”
Town drunk Otis Campbell has a few too many, which isn’t a surprise. But this time, the jail is full with moonshiners who assume Otis led deputies to them, and they want to take out their revenge, so Andy is forced to let Otis sleep off his intoxication at his home. Aunt Bee, however, isn’t having any of it and decides to put Otis to work. Realizing he’s stuck in this predicament, Otis laments, “Oh, what a mess I’ve made of my life!” There’s a great sequence, beginning at about 17:37 in this clip, in which Otis decides to “break out,” only to be thwarted time after time by Aunt Bee and her snap of a finger. Note the great musical accompaniment:
Andy tells Aunt Bee she “missed her calling” and should’ve been a warden…and even gives her a second chance to “rehabilitate.”
7. “Three Wishes for Opie”
In one of the several occasions in which Barney begins spreading the rumor that Andy is about to get married, this time to school teacher Helen Crump, Barney feels he has supernatural justification this time around: Opie has “wished” for the marriage to happen after being granted three wishes from a long-deceased count Barney has supposedly conjured up. Unbeknownst to Barney, that’s not exactly what Opie wished for. Unbeknownst to Andy and Helen, who are shocked at Barney’s belief of this absurd notion, the count will wind up having the last word!
8. “Barney and the Choir”
Barney can’t sing. Not a lick. That, at least, is how his beloved Thelma Lou describes his talent. See for yourself:
But Barney’s in the choir and no one has the heart to tell him he’s got to go. So Andy works out an idea to allow him to stay in the choir without causing any damage: let Barney do the solo!
With the choir director in a state of shock, Andy explains the idea and when you see it pulled off, Barney’s own reaction is priceless.
9. “Mountain Wedding”
I have a confession to make: I’m not a huge fan of the Darling family or Ernest T. Bass. The Darlings are a hillbilly family who lives in the mountains and is led by patriarch Briscoe Darling (portrayed by Denver Pyle). Bass is also from the mountains and is a longtime ne’er-do-well whose primary claim to fame is throwing rocks when he doesn’t get his way. The characters were extremely well done, but so outrageous in their backwoods thinking that they are right on the cusp of being annoying to me. I realize that for a lot of fans of the show, the Bass episodes top their lists, and Howard Morris’s portrayal of the wild Ernest T. was fantastic. I just liked the other supporting nutjobs more, for whatever reason.
The beauty of this episode, however, is that it combines both Bass and the Darlings in one: Briscoe Darling’s only daughter, Charlene, is about get married, but Bass wants her for himself. So he interrupts a wedding and makes an attempt to kidnap the bride. There was just one little problem with that plan, thanks to Andy’s strategic planning.
10. “The Bank Job”
Fired up after watching a Glenn Ford movie, (the movie mentioned was G-Men although it didn’t star Glenn Ford), Barney insists the entire town has become unconcerned with security. He and Andy have this exchange about what Barney sees as a growing apathy on the part of townsfolk:
Barney: A) Earl Johnson left his key in the car all night.
Andy: Well don’t you remember, Barn? That key broke off in there last spring. He can’t get it out.
Barney: B) No nightlight in the office of the Mayberry Ice House.
Andy: I know it.
Barney: What do you mean, you know it?
Andy: The light keeps the watchman awake.
Barney: That’s C!
Barney becomes convinced that the Mayberry Bank is the likely target of robbers, and sets out to prove what a “pushover” the bank’s security would be…and winds up getting trapped in the bank’s vault!