“Barney Comes to Mayberry” materialized during the seventh, next-to-last season of the beloved Andy Griffith Show. Broadcast on January 23, 1967, it was the 212th episode of the classic CBS situation comedy.
Actor Don Knotts won his fifth and final Emmy for “Barney Comes to Mayberry.” Many fans do not care for the color seasons of the show, since their inception coincided with Knotts’ decision to leave the series. Regardless, any episode with the comedian as Deputy Barney Fife is a must-see.
After he left the series to pursue a film career with Universal Studios in 1965, Knotts made the unusual step of reappearing in five additional episodes staggered between 1966 and 1968. “Barney Comes to Mayberry” is his third guest appearance and a sequel of sorts to the episode aired one week prior – “A Visit to Barney Fife.”
In “A Visit to Barney Fife,” Sheriff Andy Taylor, portrayed by star Andy Griffith, calls on Barney in Raleigh, N.C. The lovable second banana now has a new job – in a new city – as a bumbling detective. Andy aids Barney in nabbing a gang of shop-lifters while simultaneously keeping Barney from being fired by his current superiors.
Andy asks Barney to visit his former home to catch up on old times in “Barney Comes to Mayberry.” Barney immediately seizes the opportunity and arrives via train. In a frenzied greeting worthy of American Idol, it seems as if the entire town is on hand to welcome him. When Barney realizes famous actress Teena Andrews is also returning to Mayberry – her hometown – in order to promote her latest movie, the one-bullet deputy is shell-shocked.
It turns out Barney and the actress were once classmates in elementary school. Since she needs a date to attend her film’s premiere, Andy suggests Barney, knowing the gesture will boost his flagging morale. Hilarious and surprisingly touching moments then occur as the episode progresses. Barney's unsuccessful seduction technique with the movie star and mistakenly kissing Andy are especially uproarious.
Ably directed by Lee Philips, who helmed the vast majority of the color episodes (1965–1968), and the writing of series newcomer Sid Morse – who penned just five episodes, including the underrated “Opie’s Rival” in season three – the episode continues the tradition of excellence established in the preceding seasons.
Regular cast members Ron Howard, Francis Bavier, Aneta Corsaut, and good 'ol boy auto mechanic Goober Pyle, played by actor George Lindsey, make brief appearances. Look out for cult actress Luana Anders, a Roger Corman protégé and frequent Jack Nicholson costar, in a minor role as "Miss Clark", the uninterested Raleigh police secretary.
Why does Andy always bails out Barney? Simply put – they are best friends. The hurt displayed on Barney's face when he finds out the actress has a fiancé is genuine, and it is comforting knowing that Andy is alongside his buddy even in the roughest of times.
Griffith played his role with supreme confidence, often acting the straight-man to Barney’s outlandish antics. He was the unsung hero of the series. Viewers tend to forget that Griffith was indeed not Sheriff Andy Taylor in real life. It is unfathomable that the gifted actor never won an Emmy. In fact, he was only nominated once – as Outstanding Supporting Actor – in Murder in Texas, a two-part 1981 television movie costarring Sam Elliott.
Fast forward a bit to the unexpected final scene of the main act. In Mayberry not everything always works out the way viewers would prefer it to, with Barney cutting his trip short to the rustic community.
After the main act, the two-minute wrap-up is not to be missed. Andy reads a letter from Barney, and he and Aunt Bee talk about how much they miss Barney. Andy solemnly utters, "I guess there's just one Barney Fife."
Take that scene out of the context of this episode, and it perfectly sums up the way many fans still feel when watching the color episodes. It is also difficult to not think that Griffith meant what he said outside of the show’s context, since he admitted in subsequent interviews that Knotts was his best friend in real life, too. Knotts had left the perfect world of Mayberry, and it unequivocally left a huge void. Astonishingly, the series kept climbing in the ratings, hitting No. 1 during its final season. Go figure.
Knotts was no doubt one of the most brilliant comedians of all-time. “Barney Comes to Mayberry” lets the viewer see a range of emotions in Barney, including rejection, hurt, cockiness, and sincerity. Even though it is a comedy, the character experiences feelings that many people have probably felt, investing the show with an added sense of realism. Fifty-plus years after the show debuted, viewers still identify with Barney on some level if they do a bit of soul searching.
In Knotts’ breezy 1999 autobiography, Barney Fife and Other Characters I Have Known, he fondly recalled that he considered Barney to be a child in a man's body, someone who cannot control his emotions. Fans of soon to be classic sitcom The Office should take notice that the previously noted description of Barney also applies to nutty office manager Michael Scott, portrayed by the venerable Steve Carell.
“Barney Comes to Mayberry” ultimately stands with many of the classic episodes from the black and white years of the show. It is a prime example of Knotts' intrinsic approach to playing Barney Fife and truly fitting that the actor won a final Emmy for his bravura performance.
DON'T GO ANYWHERE YET! Like their alter egos, Andy Griffith and Don Knotts were seemingly joined at the hip. Lost for nearly 50 years, a video clip from a CBS variety special entitled "The Andy Griffith, Don Knotts, and Jim Nabors Show" is now streaming on YouTube. It features the actors in living color reprising Sheriff Andy Taylor and Barney Fife on a glorious soundstage. Released in October 1965, mere months after Knotts controversially departed "The Andy Griffith Show" for a short-lived career on the big screen, the video proves that the actors were masters of comedic timing and relished performing together in front of live audiences.
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