Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Classic Reborn: Mayberry, RFD (1968)

Over at the Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, Ivan Shreve has been doing a regular feature, reviewing every episode of Mayberry, RFD in total detail. He's near the end of the series now, so now would be a good time for ye humble blogologist to chime in.

After 8 seasons, Andy Griffith decided to end his self-titled sitcom, but CBS wasn't willing to say goodbye to the modest little town of Mayberry, North Carolina, and, so, in a way, the series continued under a new title, Mayberry, RFD (for those of you who don't know, RFD stands for Rural Free Delivery). Sheriff Andy Taylor (Griffith) and his longtime girlfriend, school teacher Helen Crump (Aneta Corsault) were married in the series opener, and, save for spot appearances here and there, the Taylors, other than Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier) were written out of the show.

Aunt Bee wasn't about to be thrust deep into the background, however, and so she became a housekeeper to another widower, Sam Jones (Ken Berry, ex-F-Troop), and his son, Mike (Buddy Foster), whom Ivan regards as being well down the sitcom kid evolutionary scale, far, far below Opie (Ron Howard), and somewhere closer to Dennis the Menace, if you catch my drift. However, I can't for the life of me justify Ivan's reference to Mike as "Idiot Boy", when at the same time, he dismisses Goober Pyle (George Lindsey) as the "village idiot". Ol' Goob just isn't that well learned, period, and I guess Ivan was afraid Mike would grow up to be another Goober. Sorry, buddy, but when they created Goober, they broke the mold.

Aside from ol' Goob & Aunt Bee, there are very few holdovers from the Griffith series, including resident nebbish Howard Sprague (Jack Dodson) and handyman-for-hire Emmett Clark (Paul Hartman), who came along when the series shifted to color around season 5 or 6. Like Andy before him, Sam has his own sweetheart, in this case, bakery princess Millie Swanson (Arlene Golonka), who's as cute as a button. Really.

With Andy & Helen having moved away, Mayberry doesn't seem to have a sheriff anymore, but rather, it's left to Sam, head of the City Council, to be the moral center. Well, it's a step up from being a bumbling, accident prone Civil War officer. The vacant sheriff's office, it seems, was never addressed in the course of the series' 3 seasons. Bavier was gone after 2, with Alice Ghostley (a recurring player on Bewitched) stepping in to take her place. As for the rest........

Ken Berry tried his hand at hosting his own variety show, this after frequent appearances on The Carol Burnett Show and elsewhere, but The Ken Berry WOW! Show lasted one season, if that, on ABC. From there, Berry would resurface on the belated Burnett spinoff, Mama's Family, which to date was his last series gig.

Jack Dodson would make frequent guest appearances here & there, including Emergency! and a recurring gig as dentist Mickey Malph on Happy Days. If you ever wondered why Mickey's son, Ralph, was a buffoon, well.......! As we've documented, George Lindsey took his act to Kornfield Kounty, USA, joining the cast of Hee Haw, which, like RFD, was a victim of CBS' "Rural Purge" of 1971. Arlene Golonka's only other notable series gig was........a cartoon. She's known to the cereal & pajama set of a certain age as the voice of Debbie from Speed Buggy.

Now, let's offer up a sample open & close, which includes a sponsor tag for General Foods, and a couple of items no longer available. Heck, the classic GF logo is now a thing of the past, after the company was bought out by Kraft a few years back.....

In recent times, the series has aired on TV Land & TNT, but I'm sure Ivan can fill you in on where's it been since its run on those channels ended. Since TV Land, in particular, can't be bothered to balance its schedule the right way these days, you have to hope either INSP or Me-TV picks it up.....

Rating: B-.


Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

I was going to maintain radio silence on a couple of these points until one of the episodes came up in the rotation: specifically "Mike's Car," in which Sam Jones' progeny (affectionately known as Mike the Idiot Boy) starts to build a bankroll toward the titular purchase by working at Goober's gas station. Am I "afraid Mike would grow up to be another Goober"? You better believe it. There's a future Sunoco uniform with that kid's name on it, mark my words.

"The vacant sheriff's office, it seems, was never addressed in the course of the series' 3 seasons." Believe it or not, it was -- in one of R.F.D.'s funniest episodes, "The Caper". Howard, concerned that the lack of a proper sheriff in town is discouraging people from moving to Mayberry, tries to convince the town council into dismissing the boob that is Goober as deputy sheriff and hiring a real lawman. The council members (including Sam and Emmett) think this is unnecessary because Mayberry is relatively crime-free and vote down Howard's Howard tries to convince them they're wrong by pretending to rob Mayberry's bank. This episode is funny in and of itself, but the underlying implications (if Mayberry is crime-free, why was Andy on the county payroll for eight years?) also make it gut-busting hilarious.

I know I'm pretty rough on Mayberry R.F.D. over at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear but in watching the entirety of the series I never cease to be astounded by the overwhelming blandness of the show. This is a series that someone seriously should have reconsidered putting on the air...and yet it was a Top Fifteen series (with its first two seasons in the Top 5) performer in the Nielsens during its entire run. Granted, the show isn't an entire loss: there are occasionally funny episodes (few and far between, but they're there) and I've developed a new appreciation for Jack Dodson, whose Howard Sprague is one of the greatest supporting characters to ever appear on a sitcom. Oh, and my love for Arlene Golonka (as Millie) knows no bounds.

Oh...Mayberry R.F.D. did have a brief run on GoodLife TV (also known as AmericanLife TV) a few years back...paired in a Saturday night time slot with Ken Berry's other 60s television success, F Troop.

hobbyfan said...

Now that you mention it, I did read your review of "The Caper", which was the closest they ever got to resolving the issue of the vacancy in the sheriff's office.

Howard always struck me as dumber than Goober, actually. How he could be a city clerk is beyond me. Admittedly, he looks the part---he is a nerd, after all!

I can see why you're sweet on Arlene Golonka. It's a shame she didn't have too many other primetime gigs, if at all, after RFD.