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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

'Mayberry RFD' DVD: Taylor-Made 'The Andy Griffith Show' Spin-off

The 1968-69 first season of the rural sitcom "Mayberry RFD," which Warner Archive is releasing on DVD on February 27 2018, is perfect example of a spinoff that fulfills the mission of putting a fresh spin on the parent show. In this case, "Mayberry" is the second act of the uber-classic "The Andy Griffith Show."

The basic premise of "Griffith" is that sensible and compassionate widowed sheriff Andy Taylor tries keeping the peace and dispensing justice in both the  small town of Mayberry, North Carolina and the household that consists of Andy's son Opie and our hero's aunt/housekeeper Bea. Many of the sits relate to mayhem caused by the eccentric residents of Mayberry, who are the source of much of the com in this exceptional series.

"Mayberry" picks up right where "Griffith" leaves off; the highly rated pilot of the spinoff partially focuses on the wedding of Andy and long-time girlfriend Helen Crump. The other focus is on the transition regarding Aunt Bea moving from the Taylor household to that of "Griffith" regular and "Mayberry" central character widowed farmer/city council head Sam Jones and his young son Mike in a house that is very similar to the Taylor abode.

Sam portrayor Ken Berry undergoes his own transition; he takes on this role after starring in the also '60s classic sitcom "F Troop." Berry's subsequent role in the '80s sitcom "Mama's Family" can be considered the "Matlock" of his career. 

The "Mayberry" premise of Aunt Bea going from a home near the center of town to a farm on the outskirts of that burg is very reminiscent of the "Griffith" pilot. Things start very badly but work out well enough that that new girl in town stays a while.

Andy also stays around but does not make many appearances; the times that he shows up mostly relate to his role as sheriff. One episode has him co-ordinating Sam hiring ex-cons as field hands and another relates to a real-life civics lesson that includes having Mike be sheriff for a few hours.

One very odd scene in an episode has Andy and Bea interact as if they are casual friends, rather than close relatives who jointly raised Opie.

"Mayberry" additionally retains many "Griffith" mainstays as regulars and does not make changes in their lives. Using the "Griffith" sets for downtown Mayberry, which includes the business establishments of those individuals, contributes to this sense of continuity.

Man-child Goober Pyle still runs the local gas station, quasi-curmudgeon Emmett Clark spends much of his day holding court in his fixit shop in this era in which broken items are not automatically thrown out, and wimpy mama's boy Howard Sprague still is county clerk.

Perky bakery clerk Millie Swanson is the only one in this group who undergoes a major change between "Griffith" and "Mayberry." She transitions from almost marrying Howard to being the main squeeze of Sam. 

Other "Griffith" characters who pop up every so often include Bee's spinster friend Clara Edwards and Opie's BFF Arnold Bailey. Alas, Don Knotts' Barney Fife and Ron Howard's Opie show up even less often.

The homages that "Mayberry" pays to "Griffith" extends beyond the pilot and populating the main cast with "Griffith" veterans. The opening credits in which Sam and Mike toss a ball are similar to the classic "Griffith" opening credits and use background music from "Griffith" as a theme.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the "Mayberry" opening and closing credits provide a sense of the spirit described above. The versions on the DVD do not include the sponsorship announcements in this clip.

"Mayberry" further offers the same amusing and wholesome (but hardly boring) stories as its predecessor.

Additionally, "Mayberry" stories that seem similar to "Griffith" episodes put a fresh spin on them. An episode in which Aunt Bea takes a cruise has common elements of a "Griffith" episode in which she goes to Mexico but goes in a different direction in many senses.

Additionally, a story in which Mike inadvertently buys (and subsequently breaks) an expensive copier evokes thoughts of the "Griffith" episode "Opie's Drugstore Job" that has that boy inadvertently breaking a bottle of perfume. However, the circumstances and outcomes significantly differ.

An episode in which Sam and his gang take Mike and his buddy on a camping trip full of mishaps that include hilarious slapstick is one of the best of the season; another episode in which Howard undergoes a major personality shift during a short visit to New York City is another memorable one.

The season ends with a fun (and still timely) fable regarding Mayberry entering a sister city relationship with a city in Mexico. In true "Griffith" and "Mayberry" style, the characters and the audience learn a great deal about the proper means for developing international relationships.

Anyone with questions regarding "Mayberry" or "Griffith" is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.