TUBE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (12)
August 12, 2018
One of 25 installments in a series of enthusiastic posts analyzing and celebrating a few of our favorite TV shows from the Fifties (1954–1963).
Don Knotts’ extraordinary turn — buffoonish, overweening, yet lovable — as Mayberry, N.C.’s Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife is a tour de force. Also, every scene featuring Opie (Ronny Howard) and/or Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier) is funny and heart-warming; the Taylor family is a beautifully broken and repaired one: an example of TV-family kintsugi. However, it’s Griffith’s powerful, uncanny performance (particularly in the first seasons) as Sheriff Andy Taylor that keeps me coming back to The Andy Griffith Show.
Sheriff Taylor is a rube: He gapes and gawks, he’s ignorant, he makes foolish errors. Worse, he’s a tinpot tyrant given to locking folks up on the slightest pretext. And yet… he cuts Gordian knots and dispenses Solomonic judgments; he’s a skilled cop who always gets his man; and he’s one of the most empathetic fathers in television history. From the show’s pilot — a 1960 episode of The Danny Thomas Show, in which Taylor imposes an outrageous fine on Thomas’s character for running a stop sign (where there’s no cross-road), then shames the loud-mouthed city slicker into admitting that small-town America shouldn’t be merely a source of knee-jerk derision — we’re left scratching our heads about this character. Is Taylor a Br’er Rabbit-like trickster? Is he wrong-footing us?
Griffith’s yokel act can seem sinister, at times, particularly if you’ve viewed Kazan’s 1957 movie A Face in the Crowd, in which Griffith plays a proto-Trumpian would-be dictator; or made-for-TV movies like Pray for the Wildcats, Savages, and Murder in Coweta County, in which Griffith plays frightening villains. One can’t help but speculate: Was Sheriff Nick Corey — the aw-shucks psychopath protagonist of Jim Thompson’s 1964 novel Pop. 1280 — perhaps inspired by Sheriff Taylor? Or was the Taylor character inspired by the cunning, depraved sociopath masquerading as a small-town cop in Thompson’s 1952 novel The Killer Inside Me?
Had anyone but Griffith played the role, Sheriff Taylor would have been a perfectly ordinary nice-guy character, a straight man for Knotts. Instead, Taylor’s goofy, aw-shucks geniality and down-home common sense is spiced (or spiked) by Griffith’s propensity for playing devilish figures. This cognitive dissonance, when combined with the bravura performances of Knotts, Howard, Bavier, and the other supporting players, makes watching The Andy Griffith Show weirdly fascinating, for me.
TUBE YOUR ENTHUSIASM: Series Introduction | Luc Sante on LOONEY TUNES | Chris Spurgeon on THE THREE STOOGES | Adrienne Crew on MY THREE SONS | Barbara Bogaev on ROCKY & BULLWINKLE | Devin McKinney on THE TWILIGHT ZONE | James Hannaham on THE NAT KING COLE SHOW | Mimi Lipson on THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES | Jessamyn West on THE JETSONS | Gary Panter on THE OUTER LIMITS | Peter Doyle on THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS | Mark Kingwell on ROUTE 66 | Josh Glenn on THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW | Lynn Peril on THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW | Rob Walker on LEAVE IT TO BEAVER | Dan Reines on DAVEY & GOLIATH | Adam McGovern on HIGHWAY PATROL | Erik Davis on HAVE GUN — WILL TRAVEL | Greg Rowland on THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW | Annie Nocenti on THE AVENGERS | Elizabeth Foy Larsen on GUNSMOKE | Sarah Weinman on NAKED CITY | Douglas Rushkoff on THE HONEYMOONERS | Kio Stark on ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS | Gordon Dahlquist on PERRY MASON | Brian Berger on CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU? | CODA: Crystal Durant on Marc Anthony & Pussyfoot shorts | CODA: Mike Watt on “A Stop at Willoughby”
FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1Q2021): Animated TV series. CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2020): “Sex Bomb” | “Going Underground” | “Soft South Africans” | “Typical Girls” | “Human Fly” & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) punk singles. KLAATU YOU (2020 weekly): ZARDOZ | METROPOLIS | DARK STAR | SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | SOLARIS | & dozens of other pre-STAR WARS sci-fi movies. CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2019): THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | ROLLERBALL | BLACK SUNDAY | SORCERER | STRAIGHT TIME | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) action movies. SERIOCOMIC (2019 weekly): LITTLE LULU | VIZ | MARSUPILAMI | ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | HELLBOY | & dozens of other comics. TUBE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2018): LOONEY TUNES | THREE STOOGES | THE AVENGERS | ROCKY & BULLWINKLE | THE TWILIGHT ZONE | & 20 other Fifties (1954–1963) TV shows. WOWEE ZOWEE (2018 weekly): UNISEX | UNDER THE PINK | DUMMY | AMOR PROHIBIDO | HIPS AND MAKERS | & dozens of other Nineties (1994–2003) albums. KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads. GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) new wave singles. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other Thirties (1934–1943) fantasy novels. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.