Paramount // 1960 // 915 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // May 6th, 2014
Sheriff Andy Taylor welcomes you.
Welcome to Mayberry, a sleepy little town that will offer viewers a throwback to a simpler time, when fishing was the afternoon activity and cherry pie was the dessert of the day. Overseeing the daily activities is genial Sheriff Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith, Matlock), a widowed lawman who is raising his young son, Opie (Ron Howard, Happy Days), with the help of his doting housekeeper, Aunt Bee (Francis Bavier, The Day the Earth Stood Still). Andy's cousin Barney Fife (Don Knotts, The Private Eyes) works as his deputy, always fumbling his way into some kind of mess. Andy also has interactions with other Mayberry citizens, including Floyd the barber (Howard McNear, The Fortune Cookie), Otis the town drunk (voice over actor Hal Smith), and Barney's girlfriend Thelma Lou (Betty Lynn, Meet Me in Las Vegas).
The Andy Giffith Show's seed was planted during the hit sitcom The Danny Thomas Show. One of the show's veteran comedy writers, Sheldon Leonard, hired Arthur Stander to write a series revolving around Andy Griffith, an actor with rural roots. Andy Taylor's first appearance would be on The Danny Thomas Show as a small town sheriff who arrests Danny for running a stop sign in the fictional town of Mayberry. The episode also featured soon-to-be recurring characters played by Ron Howard and Francis Bavier (who played a different character than the well known Aunt Bee). Six months later, in October of 1960, The Andy Griffith Show hit the airwaves and was an immediate smash hit with viewers.
Truly, is there anything more American than The Andy Griffith Show? To be clear, I'm not asking that question with an ironic smirk but with genuine affection. I don't think I've seen a show that is so distinctly American in its execution. Actually, if we're being honest, The Andy Griffith Show isn't really a show about America as much as a show that emulates what Americans think we should be like. That was always one of the series' charms: it gave us a peek into an idealized version of our country. Andy Taylor and his crew were what we all aspire to. Who wouldn't want to raise their children in a cozy small town with friendly homespun citizens, interesting but never life altering adventures, and the sweet smell of baked goods wafting through the air? Mayberry was a town everyone on the show loved, and that feeling was reflected back by the viewers who made the show a smash hit for eight seasons (from 1960 to 1968, even placing #1 during its final season).
Like a lot of people my age, I had seen The Andy Griffith Show on and off during its syndicated reruns in the 1980s and 1990s. I knew the characters -- law abiding Andy Taylor, bumbling Deputy Barney Fife, doting Aunt Bee, and precocious Opie Taylor -- and the storylines were cute and easy to follow. The show was on so often that it just sort of seemed like it had been around forever; it's hard to believe that there was a time when the show wasn't on the airwaves. Watching this many years removed from my childhood was a truly enjoyable experience. After decades of digesting recent television fare -- crime scene investigators, yuppie 'friends', shambling zombies -- it was a true pleasure to kick back and watch the townsfolk of Mayberry just be. Because, make no mistake, it is really just about normal people living normal lives. There is no clever hook to the show (unless you consider having no hook was their hook). I believe that truly was the key to the show's success; The Andy Griffith Show didn't try to complicate things with dense stories or Great Big Ideas. An entire episode could revolve around Opie running away, and the writers were able to stretch out that paper thin idea into an entire episode.
The characters are so engrained in our culture that they are beyond any real criticism. Andy Taylor is the epitome of the perfect American father. Andy was always a loving figurehead, a supportive friend, and a man who cared deeply about his small town community. Griffith radiates genuine goodness, a quality that is hard to find, and even harder to convey for most actors. The supporting cast is buoyed by the irreplaceable Don Knotts as Deputy Barney Fife, Andy's bumbling cousin (something I didn't know until I watched the pilot episode). Knotts won three Emmy awards for his portrayal of Barney Fife, and audiences loved his slapstick approach to the character. Rounding out the main cast is the least annoying child actor ever, Ron Howard, as Andy's curious son, Opie, and Francis Bavier as the loving Aunt Bee. Interestingly, Bavier had a love-hate relationship with her character, and clashed often with Griffith on-set.
Season One features some of the show's best loved episodes. From feuding families to learning about the goodness of giving to charity to a rock star's return to his hometown of Mayberry, all of these episodes are thoughtfully written and executed, which is exactly why they work so well. Griffith orbits around the town of Mayberry with a Cheshire Cat smile and a laidback attitude, often with the stumbling Barney Fife at his side. If there was any single appeal to the show I can pinpoint, it would be Knotts and Griffith's kindly interaction. The twosome's relationship is indicative of what The Andy Griffith Show is: amusing, inclusive, friendly, and warm. This is a television series that has held up because of how little it needed to be a success. Sometimes low-concept shows about everyday folk is just what the doctor ordered.
The Andy Griffith Show: Season 1 (Blu-ray) features 32 black and white episodes (spread across four discs), each of them presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 full frame. Fans of the show have been waiting eagerly to see the town of Mayberry in pristine 1080p, and once they do they won't be disappointed. Each episode looks almost brand new with deep black levels and sharp, crisp whites. The images have a small amount of grain in them but it's very natural looking and doesn't distract from the show. Overall, these episodes are going to make fans exceptionally happy. The LPCM 2.0 audio track may not provide a lot of excitement (they're all front heavy without any surrounds), but the presentations give an adequate reproduction of the original broadcasts. Each episode includes English SDH subtitles.
Usually I don't discuss supplemental materials at length, but I have to make mention of the inclusion of the 1986 made-for-TV reunion movie Return to Mayberry, which is featured on the final disc of this set. The inclusion of this 90-minute movie is a real treat. Much of the surviving cast returns (including Griffith, Knotts, Howard, Nabors, and Lindsey), and while the movie itself is fairly predictable and pedestrian, it's a joy to see these characters back together, if only for a brief moment. I give Paramount props for including this substantial bonus. In addition, we also get a bonus episode from The Danny Thomas Show that features Andy Taylor ("Danny Meets Andy Griffith"), some on-set home movies ("The Howard's On-Set Home Movies"), a few original sponsor advertisements, and an interview with Andy Griffith ("Person to Person with Andy Griffith").
Some television shows become so engrained in our culture that they become almost critic proof. Is The Andy Griffith Show perfect? No, but after six decades of being on the air it's hard to see many of its flaws due to how gosh-darn warm and cozy it is. Paramount has done a nice job on this set, offering up the first season in sparkling 1080p high definition that will have fans whistling all the way to the pond.
Free to go and spread its cheer around your hometown.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame (1080p)
* PCM 2.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 915 Minutes
Release Year: 1960
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Movie
* Bonus Episode
* Home Movies
* Sponsor Promos