MayberryRFD1coverGrade: C+
Entire family: Yes, but most kids will think it dull
1968-69, 667 min. (26 episodes), Color
Warner Bros.
Not Rated (would be G)
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Bonus features: none
1968 fall preview 

The Andy Griffith Show ranks #9 on TV Guide’s List of 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time, and it’s easy to see why. Like I Love Lucy, another Top 10 series and perennial favorite of parents AND children, it featured comic situations and characters that were as endearing as they were funny. Plus, the show had the added attraction of a Norman Rockwell, small-town wholesomeness and Griffith’s folksy manner as Sheriff Andy Taylor.

But the series changed when it went from black-and-white to color. New writers took over and the emphasis shifted from laugh-out-loud comedy to gentler humor and small-town folksiness—an emphasis that continued with Mayberry, R.F.D., which aired from 1968-71.

The first episode of Season 1 will be of interest to fans of The Andy Griffith Show because it provides closure. Andy and longtime sweetheart Helen Crump (Aneta Corset) finally get married, and Barney is at his goofy best as Best Man. While they’re on their honeymoon (yes, Barney too), back in Mayberry widowed farmer-turned-councilman Sam Jones (Ken Berry) and his son Mike (Buddy Foster) manage to convince Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier) to move in with them and cook and clean and mother them, as she had done for Andy and his son Opie (Ron Howard) in The Andy Griffith Show.

The structure and tone are the same, with Millie Swanson (Arlene Golonka) providing the romantic interest for Sam, but Mayberry just isn’t the same without Andy Taylor and Deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts). Despite a carryover of minor characters like Goober (George Lindsey), who inexplicably rises from grease monkey to lawman, and handyman Emmett (Paul Hartman) or perennial shy-guy Howard Sprague (Jack Dodson), the show just doesn’t have the same personality and pizazz of the original. There are no mountain folk like Ernest T. Bass, no town drunk like Otis Campbell, and no gossiping Floyd the Barber to liven things up and give Andy something a little more extreme than the mundane to react to.  

Then again, that wasn’t the plan. The plan was obviously to squeeze a few more years out of the series while the public was still fascinated by rural humor and small-town sitcoms like The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres.

MayberryRFD1screenSurprisingly—and I say that because this show isn’t nearly as strong as the original—the public was still enthralled enough with Mayberry that the series finished #4 in the Nielsen ratings its first two seasons, before dropping to 15th and then disappearing altogether with the other rural comedies.

It may have been entertaining enough then, but contemporary audiences will find it slower paced and just not as funny as the original series. There isn’t the same crackle of energy, and the characters don’t seem to have great chemistry or charisma. Then too, while The Andy Griffith Show seemed to feature plenty of young Opie, only four out of 26 Season 1 episodes spotlight little Mike: “The Copy Machine” (where Mike and a friend go into business without telling their fathers), “Mike’s Losing Streak” (where Mike is threatened with a punishment if he loses one more thing), “The Camper” (where the dads take their sons camping to try to get them to patch up their differences), and “The Pet Shop” (where Mike gets a job at the town’s new pet store and falls for a dog there). And frankly, he just doesn’t have the charisma that Ronnie Howard did to carry those episodes.

The weakest episodes are those that feature Aunt Bee in love—a go-to plot late in the first series—while the strongest episodes are the ones that feature characters in competition or in situations where the pressure (though always minimal) is on. It’s amusing to see Goober as a high school driving instructor whose job is threatened after he hits the principal’s parked car, and to watch farmer Sam squirm after his baker girlfriend Millie grows string beans that are bigger than his. But without the same level of laughs as the previous series, I don’t see this series having the same family night potential—though if you go into it expecting a lighter version of The Waltons or a less funny Andy Griffith Show, you’ll be okay.