Movie: Television on DVD has been making a lot of headway in recent years, with missing episodes, deleted footage, and the ever-popular "complete" episodes that we rarely find in the vast wasteland of syndicated television and cable. Usually, the type of shows that get the best treatment are those that involve Science Fiction since they tend to have the most dedicated fanbase but such is not always the case. 2004 marks the year when comedy television really started to shine on DVD with shows like Seinfeld, Pee Wee's Playhouse, Arrested Development and a great many others either out or about to be released but there's one show that I've longed to see in complete season sets, The Andy Griffith Show. Thankfully, the nice folks at Paramount have decided to bypass the multitude of lame edited material that slipped into the public domain and release The Andy Griffith Show: Complete First Season for the many fans out there in a four disc set.
The Andy Griffith Show is one of those down home comedies to spring forth in 1960 when television was in Black & White and the country was looking for a simpler time having emerged relatively unscathed from the worrisome 1950's. American's were seeing urban sprawl overtake many areas of the country and the country had not yet lost its innocence to Vietnam, Watergate, or the growing civil rights movement. In short, the time was perfect for a show that focused on the small town exploits of a sheriff in Mayberry, NC and his extended family of friends and neighbors as they went about their everyday lives. Andy Griffith played a widower raising a small son, Opie (Ron Howard), with the help of his aunt, Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier), while handling the minimal disturbances in the town with the help of his deputy, Barney Fife (Don Knotts). It's difficult to understand how pervasive the show is in our culture since each of these main characters has become something of an archetype over the years, spawning numerous copycats and setting the stage for so many other shows that came after it (I'd be surprised if I ran into any adult in this country that hadn't watched this show in syndication or when it first came out given how frequently it's on cable these days).
Andy's philosophy is simple; the people he polices are his friends and neighbors so he always attempts to do right by them as he keeps law and order in Mayberry. As an elected official (both sheriff and Justice of the Peace), he must be responsive to their needs while maintaining the function of his sworn offices and he managed to do so with the kind of common sense so often missing in these modern times. He balances his life out by raising Opie as best he can, a difficult task considering the way young boys have a way of getting into trouble (even good boys like Opie seem to find their way into trouble it seemed), and attending the usual social events like church, dances and the rest of American circa "the good old days". In the first season, Andy's sweetheart was the new female pharmacist, Ellie Walker (Elinor Donahue), a gal with a mind of her own, and while she really didn't have any onscreen chemistry with him, she did serve as the focal point of several very entertaining shows (Ellie Comes To Town, Irresistible Andy, and Ellie For Council come to mind).
The town was not shy of other eccentric characters either, with the town drunk, Otis Campbell (Hal Smith) being the most amusing for me (and most frequent attendee of the town jail where he'd turn himself in, lock the cell himself and leave in the morning without any trouble), especially in episodes that featured his situation such as A Plaque For Mayberry. The other characters, particularly in the first season, had not really fleshed out as much as the show found its niche, but the background characters like Floyd Lawson's town barber (Howard McNear) made the town so real you simply had to believe it really existed somewhere in the piney woods of Backwater, USA.
Much is made of the gentle teasing style of comedy the show had on display too. Unlike the jaded, cynical, and mean-spirited material that passes for comedy these days, the show was able to simply tell a tale where misunderstandings or mild character flaws (of which Andy had his own) could be the basis for many a laugh without denigrating the character or his situation. The wildest moments though were all reserved for Barney's deputy character. As a man who obtained his job due to his relationship to Andy (they were cousins and this was/is a common practice in small towns even today), Barney was high-strung and anxious to make it big in his chosen field of law enforcement. Given a single bullet due to his tendency to shoot his own foot, he would strictly enforce the law, forcing Andy to calm those Barney dealt with down on a regular basis, leading to a number of comic situations. The contrast between the two made for the most productive dynamic propelling the show over the years but particularly the first couple of seasons before the other characters had been given their moments to shine as well.
Here's a breakdown of the episodes in order on the DVD with their original air dates from CBS:
Episode 1: The New Housekeeper: (October 3, 1960):
Episode 2: The Manhunt: (October 10, 1960):
Episode 3: Guitar Player: (October 17, 1960):
Episode 4: Ellie Comes To Town: (October 24, 1960):
Episode 5: Irresistible Andy: (October 31, 1960):
Episode 6: Runaway Kid: (November 7, 1960):
Episode 7: Andy The Matchmaker: (November 14 1960):
Episode 8: Opie's Charity: (November 28, 1960):
Episode 9: A Feud Is A Feud: (December 5, 1960):
Episode 10: Ellie For Council: (December 12, 1960):
Episode 11: Christmas Story: (December 19, 1960):
Episode 12: Stranger In Town: (December 26, 1960):
Episode 13: Mayberry Goes Hollywood: (January 2, 1961):
Episode 14: The Horse Trader: (January 9, 1961):
Episode 15: Those Gossipin' Men: (January 16, 1961):
Episode 16: The Beauty Contest: (January 23, 1961):
Episode 17: Alcohol And Old Lace: (January 30, 1961):
Episode 18: Andy, The Marriage Counselor: (February 6, 1961):
Episode 19: Mayberry On Record: (February 13, 1961):
Episode 20: Andy Saves Barney's Morale: (February 20, 1961):
Episode 21: Andy And The Gentleman Crook: (February 27, 1961):
Episode 22: Cyrano Andy: (March 6, 1961):
Episode 23: Andy And Opie, Housekeepers: (March 13, 1961):
Episode 24: The New Doctor: (March 27, 1961):
Episode 25: A Plaque For Mayberry: (April 3, 1961):
Episode 26: The Inspector: (April 10, 1961):
Episode 27: Ellie Saves A Female: (April 17, 1961):
Episode 28: Andy Forecloses: (April 24, 1961):
Episode 29: Quiet Sam: (May 1, 1961):
Episode 30: Barney Gets His Man: (May 8, 1961):
Episode 31: The Guitar Player Returns: (May 15, 1961):
Episode 32: Bringing Up Opie: (May 22, 1961):
I know it isn't "cool" to appreciate the classics of television comedy and you can make what you want of the way the characters were written (only to slowly evolve later) but Mayberry, North Carolina is the kind of town that a great many people wish we could return to, in a time encapsulated bubble, free of the outside world; a place where things don't change much, you don't have to lock your front door at night while you sleep, and where your neighbor can fuss at you one day but come to your aid the next, all without the rigors of modern day life getting too much in the way.
For years now, the only episodes you could get on DVD have been those that somehow slipped into the public domain, a limited few that were highly edited by those that released them. Paramount Pictures did the right thing and released this season set uncut (to the best of my knowledge; a fact supported by the running times' consistency) in a manner that they have haven't been available since their original air dates, over forty years ago. I've seen most of these episodes on cable for decades and didn't know what was cut out until I watched this set over the last week. For those who care, the cuts were often very noticeable too, from the restored epilogues to the various set ups, it all seemed new to me and I simply couldn't turn away as I watched. Each DVD contained eight episodes and I'm glad it wasn't more or my boss would've been jumping up and down about how late I was getting to work each day. The original music was still here (the infamous whistling theme at the beginning being the most important) and the show hasn't looked this good ever that I can recall.
I'm going to rate this DVD release as Recommended for all the wit and charm that went into the original show as well as the cleaned up visuals and audio here, but keep in mind that the limitations of the original masters and technology kept it from looking brand new (of course). There were no extras to speak of either and that hampered my rating just a bit since a lot of people involved with the show are still around or have made various television appearances that could've been included in the set (Ron Howard or Andy Griffith might've given excellent commentaries and I'm sure a great many photo's and memorabilia could've been included too) but the gold mine of material is the episodes themselves and with a complete season set, fans will be going crazy reliving, or enjoying for the first time, the full versions of the episodes.
Picture: The picture was presented in its original 1.33:1 ratio full frame Black & White. The content being from a network television show airing well over forty years ago, you have to expect the limitations of the visuals on the DVDs. The picture was sometimes a touch grainy, the focus a bit weak, and the contrasts a bit off but overall it looked fine. A few episodes showed some pattern noise where a rainbow of colors shimmered across the screen but I only noticed it on occasion and it still looked better than cable. The compression rate was decent and the dual layer discs all managed to hold the material of eight episodes apiece quite well although I think a few less episodes might've been optimal for the picture. I'd be willing to pay a bit more for the set if another disc or two was added but most people wouldn't notice the difference.
Sound: The audio was presented with the original monaural track. It wasn't perfect but I've never heard the show sounding that way and venture a guess that it never did (the limitations of network television recording back when this was made were numerous), yet the Dolby Digital used to help clean up the various noises managed to improve the material a fair amount. For those who care, there was a Closed Caption symbol on the box so I presume it has the usual closed captioning (I don't have the equipment to test that out but Paramount is pretty good about such things if listed).
Extras: The closest thing to an extra here would be the four slim DVD cases having some minor liner notes on the inside cover. I wish there had been audio commentaries, photos of the cast, some of the original sponsor commercials that appear to be lost forever, and/or a great many other things but I can't deny the appeal of the uncut episodes themselves. Maybe future sets will go for a Collector's rating by giving fans a lot of value adding extras but the strength of the material is timeless and the extras would just be icing on the cake.
Final Thoughts: The show is as American as apple pie and I'm glad it's being released on DVD after all these years. As a slice of pure Americana and pop culture, The Andy Griffith Show was a treat to watch and it should come as no surprise that it plays all over the world, creating new fans every day. The DVD set is not perfect but material comprising it is and while there were no extras, I think a lot of people are going to thoroughly enjoy a show so in tune with a lifestyle mostly lost to the ravages of "progress". For good clean fun that you wouldn't be ashamed of watching with anyone at all, this show excels and the replay value is among the best for its time-tested nature. I hope you enjoy the show!