The TV Series
It's 1968, and Andy Griffith is pissed. Well, maybe not pissed exactly, but ready to move on. After eight years starring in The Andy Griffith Show, Griffith arranged to have his Sheriff Andy Taylor step aside and let some of the other folks in Mayberry, North Carolina take the spotlight. Mayberry R.F.D. was the result, a pleasant rural sitcom finally getting its first season issued on DVD. Surprisingly, Warner Home Video has this 4-disc, 22 episode available as a full-blown commercial release and not part of their Warner Archive made-to-order program for more obscure titles. Does it hold up, or is it a bunch of corn?
At first glance, it appears that Mayberry R.F.D. has no logical reason to exist, yet it was an advantageous move for CBS and Griffith - as an executive producer on this and his previous series. Despite getting weaker as the years went on, Andy Griffith bowed out as the most-watched show of the 1967-68 television season. It stands to reason that there was still great demand for an Andy Griffith minus Griffith - and luckily the transition between the two series was a seamless one. Andy Taylor would still make occasional appearances on R.F.D., while all of the R.F.D. regulars carried over from the later Andy Griffith seasons. In the first episode - the one R.F.D. that fans still remember fondly - Andy marries his girlfriend Helen Crump (Aneta Corsaut), with Don Knotts' Barney Fife returning as Andy's best man. "Andy and Helen Get Married" not only sent its lovebirds sailing off into the sunset, it also adequately set up the format which R.F.D. would run with for its entire three-year run. The marriage has Andy's Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier) in a tizzy, hung up on the weird belief that no proper household ought to have two women in charge. Originally she plans to move in with her sister (another woman!) in a different state. Upon hearing of this, however, Sam Jones (Ken Berry) - the nice-guy head of Mayberry's city council - convinces Aunt Bee to stay at his farm to help cook and be a motherly presence to his son, Mike (Buddy Foster). The R.F.D. episodes mostly concentrate on the genial Sam and his Mayberry pals - dim bulb gas station attendant Goober Pyle (George Lindsey), know-it-all city clerk Howard Sprague (Jack Dodson), and crotchety fix-it man Emmett Clark (Paul Hartman). Introduced as Howard's date on Andy Griffith, Arlene Golonka's pert Millie Swanson became another R.F.D. fixture as Sam's girlfriend and the proprietor of Mayberry's bakery. A few episodes also sport before-they-were-stars sightings, such as Teri Garr in "Miss Farmerette" and a very young Jodie Foster (Buddy Foster's sister) as one of Mike's schoolmates.
Mayberry R.F.D. continues the soft, observational humor of Andy Griffith's later years, a weekly dose of homespun country yuks for the Vietnam-weary generation. While it's incredibly bland and lacking the quirks of contemporary stuff like Green Acres and Petticoat Junction, I found myself drawn in by the show (I suppose "it's never boring" isn't much of a compliment, but there you go). The changes between this and Andy Griffith can get disorienting, however - while Sheriff Taylor still makes occasional appearances during this season, it seems strange that he isn't much involved in the day-to-day activities of Sam, Emmett, Goober and Howard (just how big is this Mayberry town, anyhow?). Those who enjoy laid-back rural humor would enjoy this, although personally I thought the better episodes this season involved the outside world intruding on Mayberry's turf. For example, "The Panel Show" has Howard and Emmett traveling to New York City to expound on the benefits of country life on a talk show - only Howard screws it up by getting seduced by the trendy metropolis (even buying himself a hideous gold Nehru jacket). Another highlight has Aunt Bee going off on an ocean cruise and getting romanced by the ship's captain, Wolford (played by The Waltons' Will Geer). The lovestruck pair are all set to marry, with Bee and the captain enjoying endless nights of conjugal bliss at the nearby farm Wolford plans to run upon his retirement. While the two-parter sets up the enticing prospect of the salty ex-sea captain being another R.F.D. regular (and Bee escaping spinsterhood!), things unfortunately don't turn out so happily-ever-after for them.
As with many other '60s sitcoms, the lack of continuity between episodes in R.F.D. becomes a regular occurence - especially seen all together on these DVDs. In the early episode "The Race Horse," Aunt Bee reveals a previously un-hinted at enthusiasm for a fiery stallion. This, coming from the woman who was terrified of chickens and cows only a few episodes prior. So long as you don't mind those lapses in logic, this first season of Mayberry R.F.D. ought to prove enjoyable for the non-discriminating Andy Griffith fan.
Warner Home Video's DVD edition of Mayberry RFD: Season One consists of the following episodes, spread over four discs:
Warner Bros. went back to the source for Mayberry RFD, using the original filmed elements for an astonishingly clean, sharp picture. Colors are vibrant, while the details are so finely rendered, you can make out every line on Emmet's face. The episodes do sport a slight amount of age here and there, but for 45 year-old prints they look outstanding.
The discs' Dolby Digital mono soundtrack also provides clean sound - a dynamically limited, yet pleasant mix. Optional English and French subtitles are also provided.
No extras on the DVDs themselves, but Warners has provided a 4-page booklet with photos, episode titles and original airdates.
Genial as he was, Ken Berry made for a feeble substitute for Andy Griffith on the Andy Griffith Show spinoff, Mayberry R.F.D.. The first R.F.D. season's overdue arrival on DVD proves that it was a sitcom that coasted along on past greatness, although the marshmallow-soft rural humor it doled out week after week manages to never be boring. These are uncut episodes on this four-disc set, and they look fantastic. Recommended.