Watching syndicated reruns of The Andy Griffith Show as a kid, I had the same experience that many fans of the show have talked about; turning it on, there was always an element of anticipation to see if it was a going to be a "Barney" or "post-Barney" episode. And as fans of the show know, a "post-Barney" also meant a color episode of The Andy Griffith Show, which quit broadcasting in black-and-white at the beginning of the 1965 season - the same season Don Knotts moved off the show and into his movie career. Inevitably, there would be a small sense of let-down if it proved to be a color show. There are still memorable, classic episodes of The Andy Griffith Show contained in those final 90 stories, but at least for a kid, the peripatetic, blustering, hilariously inept Barney Fife, as conceived by the brilliant Don Knotts, was the main reason to watch The Andy Griffith Show.
There was always something lonely about the series after Knotts left. You could see it in Andy Griffith's face. Griffith, who has stated that a lot of his pleasure playing the part left when Knotts left, seemed more irritated, more anxious or preoccupied if you will, in some indefinable way, that may have been the result of carrying on the show without his strongest player on the team. The sense of family that the series had so artfully created for five seasons was irrevocably changed in 1965, and not for the better. Other characters had or would come and go (most notably Jim Nabors' Gomer Pyle), but the loss of Andy's sidekick Barney left an emotional hole in the show that even a kid could sense when he or she watched the later color episodes. Not helping matters, either, were the losses that same year of producer/story consultant Aaron Rubin, and writers Everett Greenbaum and Jim Fritzell (who were so adept at creating the almost surreal, small-town country antics of early black-and-white Mayberry). By the final season, Griffith, visibly bored with the role, was utilizing a whole new writing team, and their haphazard approach to the Mayberry myth is unfortunately evident in The Andy Griffith Show: The Complete Final Season, an odd, anti-climatic hodgepodge of shows that fail to live up the challenge of closing out this classic series.
Of course you wouldn't have known that back in 1967-1968, if you were watching the Nielsen ratings. The final eighth season of The Andy Griffith Show ended up as the number one rated show for the year - the only time the series attained that honor. Why it ended up number one is hard to say. Perhaps viewers wanted to hang on to the homey little series that had been like family to them for eight years. Certainly Knotts' successful movie career helped (when Knotts guest-starred for the last time on this final season, that episode received the highest single rating of the entire series). Looking back on the final season now, it's difficult, though, to capture a sense of what viewers back then might have been experiencing. There are a few episodes in this final chapter of the series that seem to indicate a rite of passage for the show (such as the various Opie stories where he's growing up and away from being a small boy dependant on Andy), but those are quickly followed by odd-ball shows that have nothing to do with the spirit of the original conception (such as Howard going off to live on a desert island). The introduction of the Sam Jones character, played by Ken Berry, who would take over the series when it was renamed Mayberry R.F.D., is artlessly accomplished. A character that supposedly everybody in Mayberry knows (but whom we the viewers have never heard of), Sam Jones is the epitome of the colorless, anonymous, bumbling suburban "everyman/Dad" that was already a cliche on TV back in 1968. What happened to the wild, crazy goings-on that made fictional Mayberry a direct descendant of the wacky, screwball, distinctly American comedy lineages of Preston Sturges and Frank Capra? It's a telling, reoccurring image in The Andy Giffith Show: The Complete Final Season when the first shot of the first episode of the season shows Griffith asleep on the couch: inert, lifeless, oblivious. There are other shots of Griffith, throughout the season, were he's miming nodding off, while supporting characters drone on behind him. It's a startling departure in Griffith's approach to the character, especially when seen against the joyous, almost raucous tone he imparted to Sheriff Taylor at the beginning of the series. Perhaps this depressing change in tone only served to illustrate how much Griffith wanted to move on with his career outside the confines of Mayberry.
What's missing from The Andy Giffith Show: The Complete Final Season is a sustained effort to impart to the viewer a sense of passing, a feeling of completing the cycle that was started with those first shadowy black-and-white episodes. What I wanted was an acknowledgment from Griffith and the cast that I was seeing the final days of Andy Taylor and family in Mayberry. Of course, there may have been studio pressure (or it may have been Griffith's idea) to keep such a sense of closure out of the final season. After all, Griffith was involved with the continuation of the series into Mayberry R.F.D., and the studio certainly wanted viewers to stick around the coming season for their number one show on television. And yes, the first episode of Mayberry R.F.D. did show Andy getting married and moving away from Mayberry (which, by all rights, should have been included in this DVD set). But still, there is almost no effort on the part of the writers or Griffith to sum up the Mayberry experience here, to put a point on their eight year effort that, although not yet the pop culture phenomenon it would become, was still a wildly popular success with critics and the public.
Instead, we're treated to numerous stories where nagging concerns about money and personal success weigh down the buoyancy of the show's earlier spirit; it's a curious preoccupation with finances and money worries that puts an edge of anxiety onto many of the episodes. This much more subdued, somber tone to the proceedings unfortunately isn't balanced by a reflective approach to the material. One can only wonder what was on Griffith's mind when he did stories about Sheriff Taylor worrying about not having enough money for Opie's college fund, or doubting his own self-worth after sending Opie off to a ritzy day camp to hobnob with rich kids, as well as having Emmett and Goober be depressed about their stations in life. Were these personal concerns of Griffith, who knew he was leaving a highly successful TV series (perhaps a premonition of things to come, when his lovely, funny movie, Angel in My Pocket failed with audiences)? Other supporting characters get their chance to worry and fret about their lives, as well (the ridiculous Howard's New Life episode, where Howard tries to find meaning in his life...by moving to a desert island). The writers of the final season even go so far as to invent a criminal past for Helen Crump, which almost breaks up her relationship with Andy (after hearing Andy's totally unconvincing explanation of her acquittal, I'm sure most lawyers out there would agree that she's still guilty of those felony charges!). This emphasis on more moody concerns - whether through the efforts of the new writing staff or from Griffith - hampers the comedic appeal of the show; frankly, there just aren't nearly enough outright laughs in The Andy Giffith Show: The Complete Final Season. I'm not saying there aren't occaisional sparks of the old show's hallmark of genuine warmth and feeling in these final episodes. Several of these stories, in particular the Goober story about going to the auto show and meeting his old buddy from trade school, as well as a couple of the Emmett stories, where he sells life insurance and where he tries to buy his wife a mink coat, have moments of real depth for the audience -- an achievement that owes more to the acting talents of George Lindsay and Paul Hartman rather than to any special screenwriting. But what was once a heartwarming, affirmative, affectionate comedy that had moments of surreal, almost perverse comedy, had descended into a relatively moody, melancholy drama, with moments of mild laughter spread thinly about.
It's a good indication of how far things went out of kilter in The Andy Giffith Show: The Complete Final Season when the final episode that was actually shot (although it wasn't the final episode aired) has Goober -- with absolutely no irony -- forgoing his comic books and reading Aristotle for god's sake, in an effort to improve his mind and impress his computer date. This is the last episode that made it to the production schedule? This is the definitive note that Andy Griffith wanted to close the show out on? Where's Andy's last, understanding word of advice for Opie on a problem he's having at school? Where's the final, funny moment where Aunt Bee fusses lovingly over Andy and Opie? And where's that closing front porch moment, with Andy and his family quietly listening to the night sounds as they say goodbye to the day, and to us? Maybe it's on that first episode of Mayberry R.F.D. (although honestly, I don't remember - that show didn't run as often in syndication -- nor was it particularly memorable in its own right). But it's not anywhere here in this last season, and it should be.
Here are the episodes included in The Andy Giffith Show: The Complete Final Season:
Opie's First Love
Opie is dejected when Mary Alice Carter cancels their date so she can attend Arnold's thirteenth birthday party with the popular Fred Simpson.
Howard, the Bowler
Howard is on his way to bowling immortality with a perfect game - until a power failure at the bowling alley disrupts his winning streak on the very last frame! Will his luck hold out when the match is rescheduled?
A Trip to Mexico
When Aunt Bee wins a trip to Mexico, she invites her close friends Clara and Myrtle to go with her. But when they return from the trip, none of the women are speaking to one another!
Andy's Trip to Raleigh
Andy's jaunt to Raleigh and back opens up a can of worms with Helen Crump when he tries to explain away the mysterious sunburn he acquired while away "on business."
Opie Steps Up in Class
Opie's new buddy is a boy from a wealthy family, and the newfound friendship begins to affect Opie in not-so-positive manner.
Howard's Main Event
Howard falls head-over-heels for Millie Hutchins, the new woman at the bakery. But his romantic bliss evaporates when he discovers the identity of Millie's former boyfriend!
Aunt Bee, The Juror
There's disorder in the court when Aunt Bee, while seated on a jury, becomes the sole holdout against convicting a man accused of a department store burglary.
The Tape Recorder
When Opie and Arnold secretly bug one of the jail cells with a new tape recorder, the device picks up a conversation that throws the entire Mayberry Police Department into a perplexing legal predicament.
Opie's rockin' and rollin' as the new guitar player for a local band - until his school grades begin to suffer from his preoccupation with his new musical endeavor.
Aunt Bee and the Lecturer
A visiting lecturer becomes smitten with Aunt Bee and expresses an interest in tying the knot. Could wedding bells be about to chime for Aunt Bee?
T ensure that there will be plenty of money for Opie's college education, Andy goes into the laundromat business on the side - but the new venture is soon running him ragged.
Howard and Millie
When Howard and Millie decide to marry in Millie's home state of West Virginia, they ask Andy and Helen to come along to serve as best man and maid of honor. But by the time the travelers reach their destination, the wedding is off!
Aunt Bee's Cousin
Aunt Bee's well-to-do, globe-trottin' cousin, Bradford, is due to arrive for a visit - but Andy discovers that Bradford my have an ulterior motive for his visit.
Suppose Andy Gets Sick
Pandemonium reigns in Mayberry when Andy is bedridden with the flu and the town's "Police Emergency Committee" takes over - a questionable team consisting of Goober, Emmett and Howard!
Howard's New Life
Howard decides to bid Mayberry good-bye and moves to the Caribbean. But he soon discovers that life in an island paradise isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Goober, the Executive
Goober, intent on becoming his own boss, buys the gas station from Wally - and becomes overwhelmed by the trials and tribulations that come with running a business.
The Mayberry Chef
Aunt Bee lands her very own cooking show on a local television station in Silver City - but her new showbiz career takes its toll on the Taylor household.
Emmett's brother-in-law, Ben Beecham, convinces Emmett to leave his beloved fix-it shop and get involved in the insurance business.
Opie's Drugstore Job
To earn money to buy a new electric guitar, Opie gets a job at the drugstore - and learns an important lesson in responsibility when he is left alone in charge of the store.
The Church Benefactors
The Mayberry church members agree to disagree over how a $500 endowment for the church should be spent - should it go towards new choir robes, or for much-needed structural repairs?
Barney Hosts a Summit Meeting
Barney Fife returns to Mayberry as a man with an important mission - he is to arrange accommodations for an upcoming U.S.-Soviet summit. Will his efforts result in an international incident?
Goober Goes to the Auto Show
Goober encounters an old friend during a visit to an automobile show - which triggers an accelerating case of one-upmanship between the two men.
Aunt Bee's Big Moment
Aunt Bee aims for the sky - literally - when she decides that she needs a little more excitement in her life - and promptly signs up to take flying lessons!
Helen must face a shocked school board when news of a prior arrest surfaces - and the bearer of the stunning news is none other than Sheriff Andy Taylor!
Emmett's innocent plan to surprise his wife with a fur for their anniversary snowballs into a misunderstanding - one in which his wife accuses the hapless Emmett of having an affair behind her back!
When Howard's domineering mother remarries and moves out of the house, a gleeful Howard turns the home into a swinging bachelor pad and plans a wild party to celebrate the momentous occasion.
Sam for Town Council
There's a showdown brewing on the streets of Mayberry when a town council seat comes up for grabs and the two candidates are the wily Emmett and gentleman farmer Sam Jones.
Opie and Mike
When Sam's son Mike is targeted by a bully, Opie decides to step in and act as Mike's protector - until he's sidetracked by the new girl in town, Heather Campbell.
A Girl for Goober
Goober's responses on a dating service's application results in a perfect (mis)match - he's paired with Dr. Edith Gibson, an intellectual woman with a Ph.D. degree!
Sam Jones hires an immigrant Italian family to work his farm, but the newcomers have difficulty adapting to their new surroundings. The final episode of The Andy Griffith Show, which introduces the new spin-off series, Mayberry R.F.D..
The video image for The Andy Giffith Show: The Complete Final Season is quite good, although there are obvious color shifts and washes throughout some of the episodes. Still, the full-frame images look a lot better than they did during all those years of syndicated reruns.
The strong Dolby Digital English mono soundtrack preserves the original audio presentation of the series. Close-captioning is not an option on the menus, but it does work when you use your TV's close-captioning function.
Criminally, there are no extras for the final season of this great series. One can only assume that extras are being carefully compiled for the inevitable massive box set of the entire series, but for now -- nothing.
There's still some of the old Mayberry magic in a few of the episodes of The Andy Giffith Show: The Complete Final Season, but overall, it's a rather melancholy affair, with emphasis put more on drama -- and rather depressing drama, at that -- rather than on comedy. Whether it was new writers, or Andy Griffith wanting to move on quickly from the series, it's hard to say, but there are many episodes in The Andy Giffith Show: The Complete Final Season that fail to live up to the standards set by the earlier shows. Perhaps most sad of all about The Andy Giffith Show: The Complete Final Season is the fact that no one involved bothered to give the viewers a proper send-off of the series. Yes, Andy does get married in the first episode of Mayberry R.F.D. (not included, unfortunately, as a bonus on this set), and leaves Mayberry. But in The Andy Giffith Show: The Complete Final Season, there's no sense of summation, no nostalgic feeling of an era coming to an end. Audiences had welcomed these characters into their homes, as if they were family, for eight years, but the show unfortunately didn't conclude on a note worthy of that admiration -- or indeed, worthy of its own accomplished comedic heritage. I'm recommending The Andy Giffith Show: The Complete Final Season because there are still flashes, still glimpses of what would eventually make Sheriff Taylor and Mayberry cultural icons for generations to come. However, it's an inconclusive, faltering, and ultimately unsatisfying end to a truly brilliant series.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.